The fallacy of Japaneseness identity through the ideal of “white” Japanese skin 

by Agathe Schwaar

For the four years I have been living in Japan, I have never felt attracted to Japanese cosmetic products, and for many different reasons. First of all, the TV commercials. They always show beautiful Japanese ladies with perfect skin, they would compliment the effect of their “whitening lotion”. They also would have this strange way to play with their skin as it was some British jelly and cry out how their skin is soft after applying the product. Second, I had never been able to find my skin tone among all the Japanese makeup available in the drug store. The foundation creams in Japanese are so pale that I would have looked sick if I had tried to wear some.

To remedy this situation, every time I go back to France I buy all the products that I need from face cleansing to shampoo and conditioner (for thin hair, which is not like Japanese hair). By being a western women in Japan, I clearly felt the assumption that Japanese people consider their skin tone as unique and specific to their “people”.

clipimage_21In her research on Japanese whiteness, Mikiko Ashikari (2005) tries to explain where the idea of a specific white skin among the “Japanese race” comes from. According to Ashikari, it seems less likely to be from Caucasians’ influence, since Japanese women considered Caucasian skin as “rough, aged quickly and had too many spots” (Ashikari 2005:82). The idea of white skin in the Japanese society is even more specific than any other features that could define the idea of being “Japanese”. Although Japanese change their hair color with dying products, their eye color with contact lenses, and their physical features with plastic surgery, they would never change their skin color because “the notion of Japanese skin works as one medium to express and represent Japaneseness” (Ashikari 2005:76). As Ashikari notes, by defining a specific skin color to their race, Japanese people are even able to reject the Okinawan people as a “second-class citizens” (Gibney quoted by Ashikari, 2005, p. 80).

b02602_ph02Actually, Japanese whiteness has its roots even before the Black Ships arriving in Japan during the 16th century. It is said that during Nara Period (710–94) and Heian Period (794–1185), Japanese women were already using diverse products to light their skin tone (Kyo 2012). The ideal of white skin is also found in a lot of literature of this period such as the Diary of Lady Murasaki and Tale of Genji (Kyo 2012). Back in the Heian Period, women would blacken their teeth and shave their eyebrows. Nowadays nobody would shave their eyebrows as a sign of beauty but the idea of white skin as the ideal of beauty among Japanese women is still a recurrent topic in Japanese society.

In the case of Japan, we are actually not facing an issue of white supremacy on a “secondary” race, but the emergence of the uniqueness of a specific and idealised race through notions of a Japanese race. The idea of a race is still a controversial subject in scientific research, and I think that the Japanese people’s attitude toward their own skin as a part of their own race should be also considered as controversial. If we follow the idea that whitening one’s skin in order to follow an old tradition that dates back to the 10th century, then the “French race” also should wear white makeup in order to respect the traditions from the 15th century.

The commerce of whitening products in Japan is not an issue of how much Japanese people spend on those products, it is an issue of how it feeds the Japanese mentality on their own uniqueness. As Ashikari (2005) explains, white skin in Japan is not only a beauty feature among Japanese women, it idealises the white face as a symbol of the “Japanese identity as a race and therefore very different from — and even “superior” — to western whiteness” (p.89). The marketing is using a single element to increase the belief of a unique race in order to make more profits. With these actions, they instill in Japanese people a fallacy of their identity and create an idea of a skin superior to any other white skin and so superior to any other kind of “white race”.

Reference

Ashikari, Mikiko. 2005. “Cultivating Japanese Whiteness: The ‘Whitening’ Cosmetics Boom and the Japanese Identity.” Journal of Material Culture 10(1):73-91.

Kyo, C. (2012). Search for the Beautiful Woman: A Culture History of Japanese and Chinese Beauty (Asia/Pacific/Perspectives). Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Japanese Whiteness and Bihaku Products: Media Influence on Aesthetic Values of Japanese Skin

by Rena Shoji

Japanese model Chie Kumazawa in an interview for an online fashion magazine For F

Bihaku (skin-whitening) products are “must-haves” in Japan. I think using those products is almost considered as etiquette to avoid getting sun tanned to keep your skin tone “appropriate”. The market size is huge in Japan. In 2012, study shows that bihaku products consist of over 210 billion yen in the domestic market (TPC Bibliotech 2014). However, it is not that Japanese women have color complexes or feel inferior to the skin tone of Caucasians. They seek “Japanese whiteness”, which they claim a “traditional” aesthetic value in Japan. In “Cultivating Japanese Whiteness” (2005), Mikiko Ashikari argues that Japan has its own skin identity and aesthetic values, in which whiter skin is preferred.

First, Japanese people tend to think that they have a distinct skin tone (Ashikari 2005). Despite individual differences, people with darker skin by nature (jiguro), are seen as different or unusual. For example, people from Okinawa are likely to be considered as different from “usual (futsu-no)” Japanese because they share different historical backgrounds. Their darker skin is distinguished from ordinary Japanese. As a result, darker skin generates “otherness”. It reminds me of a friend of mine, who has relatively darker skin. She is often teased about her skin tone. “You don’t look like Japanese.” Her darker complexion makes her look like non-Japanese in the Japanese society. Therefore, Japanese people tend to think that they have “unique” and “traditional” skin identity and aesthetic values.

Second, with regard to Japanese skin identity, the author’s survey illustrates that Japanese women claim that they have “traditional” aesthetic values in terms of whiteness. Their Japanese whiteness, they think, is even superior to the skin of White people. Thus, skin-whitening in Japan is not mimicry of Caucasians. In addition, skin-whitening products are widely spread and its market scale is huge. However, the purpose of using those bihaku products is not to make their skin tone lighter than their “innate” complexion. Rather, skin-whitening in Japan are used to regain youth on their skin. It implies that the consumers think that they naturally have lighter skin and can regain youth and whiteness with those products. Many Japanese women try to avoid sun tanning in order to “protect their whiteness”.

Kumazawa in a SHISEIDO’s advertisement

Kumazawa in a SHISEIDO’s advertisement

However, I argue that the skin identity and aesthetic values, which Japanese think they traditionally have, can be questioned. Also, I would say that these ideas are strongly influenced by beauty companies in Japan because of its market size and the regulations on the advertisements. As mentioned above, bihaku products are very popular, or sometimes considered as “necessary”, and used by the majority of Japanese women. It can be said that those products, in part, influence the beauty standard of Japanese women. What are the media messages of the products through selling them? In fact, Japan Cosmetic Industry Association (JCIA) prohibits advertisements of cosmetic products from claiming skin-whitening effects (JCIA 2012). The recovery and prevention from san tanning are the only things that are permitted in cosmetic advertisements. The regulations would certainly affect the content of the advertisements. It also should be noted that even under the regulations, the models for the skin-whitening products actually show whiter skin than they really have.

Given both of Ashikari’s arguments and these two factors above, it can be said that the Japanese “traditional” aesthetic values are, in actuality, constructed by media messages. That is, in order to pass through the regulations and still create a demand for skin-whitening products, cosmetic companies claim Japanese women’s “innate” whiteness on their skin. Reciprocally, the media message from those prevalent market products influence on the aesthetic values of Japanese women. Furthermore, its influence is so huge that the consumers strongly believe in their “natural” light skin tone. Therefore, I argue that Ashikari’s arguments about Japanese skin identity and female aesthetic values are strongly influenced by bihaku products in Japan.

Many women enjoy using cosmetic and skincare products, but applying and consuming products can be an obsession if the society creates the specific beauty standard. In the case of Japanese skin-whitening, the products themselves and the media message create the social norm and aesthetic standard. We, consumers of these products, have to be aware of the impacts of media influence from cosmetic advertisements.

References

Ashikari, Mikiko. 2005. “Cultivating Japanese Whiteness: The ‘Whitening’ Cosmetics Boom and the Japanese Identity”. Journal of Material Culture 10:73-91.

Japan Cosmetic Industry Association. (2012). Guidelines for fair advertising practices of Cosmetics, 2012 Edition. Retrieved from http://www.jcia.org/n/all_pdf/gul/JCIA2012_ADguide.pdf

TPC Bibliotech. (2014). The market analysis and research of skin-whitening products. Osaka: Total Planning Center Osaka Corp.

The Meanings of Lightness

productsby Lin Tzu-Chun

In “Consuming Lightness,” Evelyn Nakano Glenn discusses how skin lightening products and the value of lighter skin are different in various regions around the world. Based on that, different marketing strategies may be planned because of the different formations of the ideology of beauty and the meaning of lighter skin. In Glenn’s work, we can find that among the regions that have a history of colonization, for example Africa, Latin America, and India, lighter skin is recognized as the representation of the elite, higher social capital, and education. Besides skin tone, the people also migrate to regions with more light-skin people to be socially whiter.

In Asian areas, the Philippines is an example of a colonized country. However, instead of taking white people as the beauty standard, people tend to make themselves like Japanese or Koreans, as the standard of beauty. For Japan, makeup has become a basic manner for woman, and some men also use cosmetic products.

In the following part, I will discuss specifically my observations of what whiteness means in China. To end Glenn’s work here, I want to mention that as a whole, Glenn argues that the ideology of “white is right” is due to “the workings of the Western-dominated global system”.

The very first reaction of my friends from China or Taiwan when visiting a Japanese drug store is “How could these brands sell in a drug store at such a cheap price?” These similar reactions told me that this brand must be more expensive and may not be simply found in drug stores like in Japan, which is actually true. Back before I came to Japan, I actually held an image of Sekkisei or KOSE as luxury goods, but now I have gotten used to seeing them in every drug store and seeing them as normal goods with a little bit higher price but still goods that everyone may consume. That is a dramatic transition in my values.

products2In China, for example, you have to go find some exclusive shops to buy a KOSE products, but here in Japan they are put at the entrance of many drug stores. This different marketing strategy reminds the Chinese phrase “Bai, fu, mei” or “White, Rich, Beauty”, is that white means you are rich because you are able to consume expensive lightening products. Does that mean that the products might be more effective? If we compare the income difference, it may be true that you really need money to buy expensive cosmetics but there is no guarantee they will be effective. For whiteness, I refer to a common saying in China, “one white covers hundred (three) ugly”, which means that if you are white and make it the focus point of people’s sight, people won’t care much about your other problems.

In conclusion, whiteness seems the representation of education, status, beauty, wealth, and more. But it is nearly impossible to stop the lightness consuming as long as the huge profitable industry still runs, argues Glenn.

Reference

Glenn, Evelyn Nakano. 2009. “Consuming Lightness: Segmented Markets and Global Capital in the Skin-Whitening Trade.” In Shades of Difference, edited by Evelyn Nakano Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Whiteness vs. Lightness: Advertising Happiness

by Chelsea Mochizuki

In “Consuming Lightness”, Evelyn Nakano Glenn describes research that suggests there is a correlation between light skin and socioeconomic status, and that lighter-skinned individuals are perceived to be more intelligent, trustworthy, and attractive. Skin tone, she writes, is a form of symbolic capital, and the lighter the skin the more social privileges you are awarded, such as increased job and marital prospects, as well as the concession to shop at “white” stores without being followed around by a security guard who profiles you as a shoplifter because your skin is dark.

Why is light skin favored over dark skin?

Glenn writes about 6 regions where light skin has been and continues to be favored over dark skin: Africa, African America, India, the Philippines, East Asia (Japan, China, Korea), and Latin America. She attempts to identify the origins of the preference for light skin over dark skin in these regions. In Africa, she says, women with red or yellow undertones to their skin were traditionally considered more attractive, and European colonization created a hierarchy based on skin tone, in which the social privileges of lighter skin became institutionalized. In this way, she describes the origins of preferring lighter skin in these regions as based more on a traditional beauty ideal than on the influences of colonization. Lighter skin preferences in the United States and the Philippines were due to racialization and colonization, and especially slavery in the United States. In East Asia, she writes, there are instances of preferring white skin long before the threat of colonization. In India, however, she writes that the origins of skin preference are lesser known, but most likely became ingrained into social hierarchy due to colonial influence.

So was the preference for light skin mostly created by colonization and/or contact with Western European powers? According to Dr Premen Addy, a senior lecturer in Asian and international history at Kellogg College, Oxford, before the Raj in India, good characters from folklore were always described as light skinned, and bad characters as dark skinned. This association of light as good and dark as bad is certainly not unique to India. In many regions, it seems that colonization did not directly influence the preference for light skin, but rather, through institutionalizing the social privileges of having light skin, made having lighter skin socially beneficial.If a new government formed in your country and said that people with green skin do not have to wait in line and get extra income without having to work, people without green skin would suddenly want to have green skin, regardless of whether there was a preference for green skin before the new government formed.

Is the preference for whiteness or lightness?

Glenn was careful to point out that women and men were not trying to emulate white beauty standards or look more like Caucasians. According to Glenn, in all of the regions she described, most women are aspiring to become two or three shades lighter, even out their skin tone, or reduce signs of aging. Even in the case of the Philippines, most women, she says, aspire to look more Chinese or mixed-Spanish, like Filipino celebrities. Using skin lightening products does not necessarily mean that one wants to become “white” or “Caucasian”. Rather, it suggests the opposite. Lighter skin has become the Indian, or Filipino, or South African beauty ideals, separate from the beauty ideals of Europe or the United States. To say that skin lightening is emulating western culture is not only inaccurate (except for individuals who literally aspire to become more Caucasian in appearance), but ethnocentric in assuming that “Caucasian” beauty is the universal ideal and consumers of skin lightening products aim to emulate this.

The “Evils” of Advertising

Glenn describes the types of commercials and advertising used to sell skin lightening products, such as infomercials that associate light skin with modernity, mobility, and cleanliness, and others that bluntly suggest dark skin leads to unhappiness and with only light skin will you achieve prosperity. This insight is nothing new; advertisers, informercials, and commercials often use this “problem, solution” strategy to sell their products– just look at the examples in this youtube video, “hilarious informercial struggles compilation”.

“This skin-lightening product is the solution to your dark skin and the unhappiness and misfortune it brings you!”

In order to sell products using this strategy, advertisers have to paint their skin-lightening product as the solution. In order to have a solution, there must be a problem to solve, and solving that problem must be perceived by individuals as worthwhile. Acne, unwanted hair growth, enlarged pores, cellulite, flabby arms, single-lidded eyes– there is a plethora of media-painted “problems” we must focus our efforts and wallets on “solving” in order to be “happy”. However, how many of these problems have been institutionalized, to the point where it affects anything from social status to the degree in which certain laws are enforced? Has anyone with bad acne ever been barred from entering certain stores or sitting in certain seats? How about cellulite? None to the extent in which skin tone dictates social privilege.

Do you think advertisers created the association between dark skin and unhappiness in order to sell skin lightening products, or rather are introducing a solution to a problem that has already been established in society? What do you think?

Reference

Glenn, Evelyn Nakano. 2009. “Consuming Lightness: Segmented Markets and Global Capital in the Skin-Whitening Trade.” In Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters, edited by Evelyn Nakano Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

“People want to watch people who look like them”?

From the Japanese television program “Takeshi’s Castle”

by Robert Moorehead

I’m quoted in a French news article on the limited appeal of Japanese television programs in Western countries. The journalist, Mathias Cena, questions the answer Japanese producers gave him as to why many Japanese programs are popular in Asia, but not in the West.

The producers claimed that audiences want to watch people on TV who look like them. But is that true? Isn’t the appeal of some shows due to the fact that the characters are different from us? Don’t we watch the super-wealthy, the beautiful, the glamorous because we want to be like them, but currently aren’t? What about shows like Jerry Springer? In The Money Shot: Trash, Class, and the Making of TV Talk ShowsLaura Grindstaff argues that part of the appeal of shows like Springer is that audiences feel that they’re better than the losers on the show.

Some Japanese shows are popular in part because the shows are Japanese. Shows like Iron Chef and Takeshi’s Castle fit the stereotype of Japan as a wacky, zany, crazy country—a stereotype routinely nurtured by Western press’s penchant for articles about Japan as inscrutable and bizarre.

It’s great to have a journalist seeking out a sociological perspective. Now if only someone writing in English could show sociology some love …

Limited by White

by Ellen Brookes

In a world where the standards of beauty are held explicitly by people of fairer complexion, a damsel, with her ebony hues, would be seen as substandard, under par, or, to put it simply, ugly. Therefore, in order to assimilate into an ideal beauty, she must find a herbal concoction that will lighten her features and allow her to fulfill her destiny.

This sounds like it should be the beginning of a sort of adventure-type fairytale; and yet, this is not the case.
This is the reality faced by many young people around the world today.

This is the reality that many young women feel they have to conform to in order to be successful.

Sure, there are young men who may feel the same, and older women too, but it’s the youth who are having their potential and their self-esteems curbed. Not only is it colorist, but it is gender-based. Women are more likely be targeted by advertising agencies for these reasons; women are more likely to be scrutinized for their looks; women are more likely for their success to be judged on the color of their skin, rather than their individual talents or merit, especially in places like the workplace. Women are the largest target audience for beauty products, because why look at what is on the inside without looking at what is being sold on the outside?

Because of consumer culture, where we are taught to sell ourselves into a market that’s demand is never satisfied, women are turning to any means to become the commodity of the moment. Being beautiful seems to equal employability, marriageability, and long-term success. To achieve this, white skin is a must – in the minds of these affected women.

This mentality of white is right has been around since the times of colonization, the time when the white man decided that having “white” skin was the epitome of civilized, and therefore the lighter you were the more “privilege” you were afforded (Glenn 2009). This mentality still exists today, in its more extreme forms, but this form is rarely ever addressed. The need for cosmetics and procedures to lighten ones skin can be seen as misplaced vanity, or as an unwanted legacy of imperialism, or a strange mixture of both. Despite the fact people realize that discrimination based on looks is universally wrong, there seems to be something keeping this mentality strong in the beliefs of women globally.

Globally is being used here, as cosmetic whitening products are a multibillion dollar industry worldwide. There is effectively no country where these creams and lotions are not sold, no matter legal status (Glenn 2009). This basically implies that, globally, women want whiter skin. This also uncovers a larger problem when someone explains what goes into the creation of the facial scrubs.

The main ingredients include mercury salts and hydroquinone, two highly toxic substances, and a large cocktail of steroids and copious amounts of other highly addictive substances, that work together to artificially lighten the skin (Ravichandran 2013). Women are being told that it is okay to put highly lethal powders onto their faces because society says so. Many women don’t know of the harm they are doing, but many also do. In a twisted form of vanity, these women believe that their health is worth less than their beauty (Anekwe 2014).

These women are vulnerable, already facing different stigmas of being of a darker color in their societies, and the markets are effectively preying on these women. I say ‘targeted’ because that is what it is. These women are being lured into a trap by these marketing agencies and are shown pictures of how their lives could be if they were lighter (Goldstein 2012). If you are put into a position where you can see everything you want in your grasp, you’d naturally do anything to get it.

Essentially we try to preach gender and race equality at the front of the stage, and then we sell the very things we are against at the back stage door. Is the contradiction clear?

But moving away from the social values that dictate the need for light skin and the dangers of obtaining light skin, I came across a speech, given by a woman who, only days later, received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress (Selby 2014). This speech that took everything that is wrong with what was ‘”safe” and “known” about skin color and turned it on its head. Singlehandedly, Lupita Nyong’o, a Mexican-born Kenya-raised actress who made her film debut in the acclaimed feature film “12 Years A Slave”, managed to raise a question, an opinion, about something that had been shoved under the rug for so long.

As mentioned previously, people never seem to speak out publicly about skin whitening. We never address the often superficial way in which we define what is beautiful. We never speak about the ensuing self-esteem issues, loss of opportunity, false consciousness and stigma that stem from societies where color is more than a shade; it’s a life sentence. Ms. Nyong’o speaks from experience, remembering in her speech a letter from a young girl who was about to purchase whitening cream, because one could not “be so black” in Hollywood, let alone be considered beautiful or successful (Nyong’o 2014). She speaks on the limitations she felt as a young person because she was quite distinctly “not white”, and places a large amount of emphasis on the images she had been force-fed by international media about the ideal beauty. She poses questions about why this is the “reality”, why this is thought to be a “fixed” ideal? For the young girl mentioned in the speech, Lupita Nyong’o was a beacon of hope that girls with “night-shaded skin” could be beautiful, or be a prominent figure in society for reasons other than her body. The message that everyone has potential, that no one standard of beauty is correct, and that is certainly is not worth dying for.

If only Ms. Nyong’o’s message could have come earlier, before the whitening industry became so large, and before the creams and powders and lotions became such a pivotal point of young women’s lives. Yet starting with this one girl, and maybe many more since then, the message that Lupita Nyong’o sends may revolutionize, or even save, many lives – we just need to let it be heard by the over one billion potential users of skin whitening creams for it to work and then we can start to take the “color” out of “colorism” and put it into “colorful”.

References

Anekwe, O. N. (2014). The Global Phenomenon of Skin Bleaching: A Crisis in in Public Health (Part 1). Voices in Bioethics. Retrieved on October 12th, 2014. Retrieved from http://voicesinbioethics.org/2014/01/29/the-global-phenomenon-of-skin-bleaching-a-crisis-in-public-health-an-opinion-editorial-part-1/

Glenn, E. N. (2009). Consuming Lightness: Segmented Markets and Global Capital in the Skin-Whitening Trade. In E. N. Glenn (Ed.), Shades of Difference (pp 166-187). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press

Goldstein, R. (2012). Time for a reality check on skin lightening creams. The Conversation. Retrieved on October 12th, 2014. Retrieved from http://theconversation.com/time-for-a-reality-check-on-skin-lightening-creams-7770

Nyong’o, L. (2014). Lupita Nyong’o Delivers Moving ‘Black Women in Hollywood’ Acceptance Speech. Essence (Magazine). Retrieved on October 12th, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.essence.com/2014/02/27/lupita-nyongo-delivers-moving-black-women-hollywood-acceptance-speech/

Ravichandran, N. (2013). Skin whitening creams can cause long-term damage, doctors warn. The Daily Mail. Retrieved on October 12th, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/indiahome/indianews/article-2384456/Skin-whitening-creams-cause-long-term-damage-doctors-warn.html

Selby, J. (2014). 12 Years A Slave star Lupita Nyong’o on racism in beauty: ‘Every day I woke up hoping my skin was a little lighter’. The Independent. Retrieved on October 12th, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/news/lupita-nyongo-on-racism-in-beauty-every-day-i-woke-up-hoping-my-skin-was-a-little-bit-lighter-9171487.html

Why should I enhance and accentuate my “natural” beauty? On “almond-shaped” eyes

by Chelsea Mochizuki

I’m sure you’ve seen them at one point in time, displayed along the aisle shelves of drugstores in cultural and “racial” melting pots like the United States—makeup and hair products marketed to “enhance” and “accentuate” the “natural” features of certain races. However, there is no one physical trait that all members of a racial group share; all “Blacks” do not have x amount of melanin in their skin, all “Asians” do not have almond-shaped eyes with a curvature of y, and all “Japanese” do not have hair with a diameter of z. So how is it we learn to associate, define, and read physical traits and racial categories?

Let’s see this process in action. Try to imagine a “Black” person. Next, imagine a “White” person. Okay, now imagine a “Japanese” person. How did you draw them? What features do they have? How did you know what features to give each “race”? We learn to expect the way people look like based on our encounters in the social world- through interactions in our daily lives and through popular media representations of “races”. Through this cultural learning process, we internalize how to code race and categorize individuals based on what we think they should and should not look like compared to other “races”.

Terry Kawashima illustrated this social phenomenon using the racial “ambiguity” of characters from Japanese shojo manga. Will a manga character with a small mouth, straight tall but small nose, large “saucer” eyes, and blond hair be recognized as “Japanese” or “White”? According to Kawashima, American audiences tended to view this character as “White” because it had blond hair, while Japanese audiences tended to view this same character as “Japanese” because of its small mouth and nose. Americans were surprised that this character is also thought of as “Japanese” because Americans tend to learn that blond hair is a central indicator of “Whiteness”, while Japanese audiences tend to learn that blond hair does not necessarily indicate being “White” in combination with other telling features of “Japanese-ness”. Different cultures and societies have their own set of rules and criteria for defining and categorizing “races”, which accounts for the differences in the way American and Japanese audiences code the character. We are taught what traits define which races, and what races should or shouldn’t have which traits.

I remember when I was a child growing up the United States, and children would mock Chinese people (this term was all-encompassing to mean anyone of East-Asian “descent”), by pulling the outer corners of their eyes towards their ears to form a more almond-looking shape, and yell “ching-chong” to imitate the “Asian” language. While both my parents and I identify as “White” and are viewed by society as “White”, I remember thinking that both my mother and many other of my “white” acquaintances also had smaller, almond-shaped eyes, so I did not understand why “almond eyes” were a trait associated with “Asian-ness”. As I entered high school and became more aware of and interested in Japanese popular culture, I began to notice differences in the way “Asian-ness” or “Japanese-ness” were represented in the media. When I showed pictures of the Japanese pop singer Ayumi Hamasaki to my peers, they said her “orange” hair was weird and here eyes were too “big”; in other words, they came to the conclusion she was trying to be “White”, when she should otherwise be accentuating her “Asian” features because she is racially perceived as “Asian”.

Famous Japanese pop singer Ayumi Hamasaki

In comparing Japanese media representations of Ayumi Hamasaki to images of Lucy Liu, who was embraced by American popular media and described by Kawashima, there are noticeable differences in the appearances of these women. Ayumi Hamasaki’s makeup gives her eyes a large and rounded appearance, while Lucy Liu’s makeup leaves her eyes in an “almond” shape- just as “Asians” are expected to look by American audiences. You may speculate that Ayumi Hamasaki enlarges and thus in-authenticates her eyes using  makeup techniques or has undergone plastic surgery, but in arguing so, you are giving in to socialization processes and assuming that “natural” Asian eyes are almond-shaped, and therefore cannot “naturally” be “saucer shaped”.

Lucy Liu, who was generally embraced by American popular media

This blog is not attempting to define or identify any defining physical characteristics of each race; race is in the eye of the beholder- what is authentic, what is natural. Women are often told they should accentuate their natural features—follow the natural curves of your face when contouring, play up your lips if they are naturally plump, and so forth, but this becomes a problem when “naturalness” and “authenticity” are racially coded. If you are “White”, makeup leaving you with deep-set eyes and medium-high cheek bones is viewed “authentic”; if you are “Asian”, any makeup that does not render your eyes in an “almond” shape is “inauthentic”. If there are many physical variations of the same features among members of the same “race”, why does “natural” makeup for each race only portray one set of variation of physical features?

I will be sure to think of Kawashima’s work, the next time I hear someone say “It’s such a waste that he/she is hiding his/her “natural White/Asian/Black/Brown” features”. There are no physical traits “natural” or essential to any one race, so why should one race have just one “natural” or “authentic” form of makeup and beauty alteration? We must re-examine the innate racialization of “natural” beauty.

Reference

Kawashima, Terry. 2002. “Seeing Faces, Making Races: Challenging Visual Tropes of Racial Difference in Japan.” Meridians 3(1):161-190.

“Whitening” manga figures?

by Lyu Dian

mangaIt is easy to recognize Japanese Manga characters from their exaggerated round eyes, small nose, spindly legs and colorful hair. These features that are generally common for most Japanese readers confuse Western readers sometimes because in their eyes Manga characters look like Caucasians but Japanese. In Kawashima’s article, many Westerners consider stylized Manga figure as an expression of “trying to be white” and the idea of “becoming white” is a product of cultural imperialism since the white people were historically dominant in the world. They even express their sympathy to “Asian people” who try to become white by stating that their should stay who they are but not constrained to racial hierarchy thinking. In fact, the thought of regarding Manga figures as white or trying to be white is a symptom of visual production of race and racial privilege thinking.

Different from Western viewers, Japanese readers naturally regard Manga figures as Japanese, blonde hair and round eyes are nothing more than exaggerated factors of Manga, as well as spindly arms and legs. In addition, colorful hair and round eyes are widely used for highlighting distinct personalities and showing emotional performance in artistic works, same as characters in Disney cartoon who usually have oversized head (eyes too) and disproportioned body. As a Chinese reader, it never occurs to me that these characters look more Caucasians since they do not even look like man in reality with their unbelievable shape of hair and limbs thin as stick. The reason why Western viewers especially tend to think Manga characters as white, as Kawashima pointed out, is that they usually hold stereotype of “Asian look” in their mind. In their and mass media’s views, Asian look should be flat face, small and slanted eyes, yellow skin and straight black hair which are actually not correct (see the Disney movie Mulan as a example). In the American drama, The Big Bang Theory, when Sheldon’s mother carved a smiling face on a pancake she said “his eyes are little thin but pretend him to be Chinese”. It is really common to see stereotype of “Asian looking” face in mass media, thus it would not be surprise to understand why Westerner viewers cannot accept Asian face with round eye and lighten hair naturally because that against their typical expectation of Asian people. Exactly as Kawashima discussed, the idea of “Asian looking face” or “what Asian people should look like” is a process of picking and ignoring certain features as standards to create and evaluate race. This fixed mind-set is artificially and socially constructed, rigid characters in films, cartoons, dramas are outcome of it and also reinforced it. Even though, mass media are far less racial than in the past but stereotype still exists.

References

Terry Kawashima. 2002. Seeing Faces, Making Races: Challenging Visual Tropes of Racial Difference. Meridians 3(1):161-190.

Matt Thorn. The Face of the Other.  http://www.matt-thorn.com/mangagaku/faceoftheother.html

How come Japanese cartoon do not look like Japanese people. http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/archive/index.php/t-77407.html

The Portrayal of Black People in Manga and Anime

by Allan Kastiro

UntitledI have been a big fan of Manga and Anime for as long as I can remember. I always admired how the Japanese style of drawing cartoon characters was different from that of popular western comics and animations. The characters in Manga and Anime have always stood out because they are unique. That is, many of them have exaggerated and flamboyant features and this always stood out for me and many other fans alike. Never did it ever occur to me that the way the Japanese creators illustrate their artistic work had significance on how race and ethnicity is viewed or construed in Japan.

As I began to read and watch more Manga and Anime, I began to notice how non-Japanese characters (people of color, specifically of African origin) were drawn and represented and many of them had very stereotypical characteristics. This can be seen in their dressing style, behavior, speech patterns and activities they are engaged in.  One such character is ChocoLove McDonell (pictured above) from the manga and Anime ‘Shaman King’. Where do I even start with this … His name is CHOCOLOVE!!! The character is an African American who has his hair in an afro, has exaggerated lips and wears an African wrap on the lower half of his body. Ohh and his animal spirit is a Jaguar! Many other non-Japanese characters are as controversial for example Mr. Popo from Dragon Ball and Jynx from pokemon who both appear to be in black face, Staff Officer Black and Killa from Dragon Ball, Bugnug or ‘dark eyes’ from Crying freeman et cetera. The characters mentioned are all African American with the exception of Bugnug  (which means Ant-Eater pokemonapparently) who is the leader of the Askari (Swahili word to mean soldier) which is an African revolutionary organization.  Bugnug is first introduced to Crying Freeman manga readers when she launches a surprise attack on Yō Hinomura who is the main character.  She is illustrated to look ‘exotic’. She is beautiful with long curly hair but is muscular and masculine in her behavior. It is  impossible to compare her to the other Japanese females in the same manga as they seem more fragile and feminine.

bugnugDuring the battle with Yō Hinomura (Crying Freeman), Bugnug is completely naked and only carries a blade. When she is finally defeated by Yō Hinomura, the two become allies and she later on gets his assistance to defeat a coup d’état in her organization. It seems as though the creators of this manga and anime went all out to display Bugnug’s supposed ‘Africanness’ by naming the character Bugnug which they go on to translate as Ant-Eater, having her fight naked, which I believe represents a kind of primitiveness and then including a coup d’état in her storyline which occurs within her revolutionary organization. So this leaves me to question why some characters of African ancestry are represented in this manner in manga and anime.  Do all the people of African ancestry have these characteristics and why have these stereotypes been continuously perpetuated?

When trying to answer these questions, it is important to note that Japan has always been a homogeneous nation and this has created a kind of distance between them and other cultures from many parts of the world. Thus, a lot of what Japanese people know and perceive has been spread through western media which is dominated by America through entertainment, news, music et cetera.  In the article ‘What does “American” Mean in Postwar Japan?’ by Yoshimi Shunya (2008) he writes that,

From the late1950’s onward, “America” was distilled as a uniform image with even greater power than before to gain people’s hearts. ..Until the early 1950’s the word “America” was simply invoked as a model to be emulated… “America” also came to be associated with the “pop-culture” of Japanese youth. As “America” became less direct, more mediated, and increasingly confined to images, it conversely became more interiorized and its effect on people’s consciousness became deep. (Yoshimi Shunya, 2008)

slamdunkThis exposure has been both positive and negative in that it has opened up Japan to other cultures and has made the Japanese people more aware of the differences between their cultures, traditions and those of people from other parts of the world but has also promoted the adoption of negative stereotypes thus most of what the Japanese know are imagined racial distinctions that have been created and promoted by the western media.

As I come to the end of this blog post, I would like to point out that not all black people are represented stereotypically in some of the Manga and Anime works and some Japanese characters have even been made to have darker skin tones or even display several characteristics that one would categorize as being black. An example that comes to mind is  Takenori Akagi from Slam Dunk!

In conclusion, I believe that as Manga and Anime continue to spread and attain wider audiences, their popularity will help raise awareness on how race and ethnicity is viewed in different parts of the world and this will in turn create a better understanding of these different cultures and ethnicities.

Reference

Shunya Y. (2008). “What Does ‘American’ Mean in Postwar Japan?” Nanzan Review of American Studies 30:83-87

Constructing the Standard of Beauty

by Wang Yang

In the section “Does Sailor Moon ‘look white’?” of Terry Kawashima’s article “Seeing Faces, Making Races: Challenging Visual Tropes of Racial Difference”, Kawashima argues that facial features and skin color commonly found in the Shojo Manga characters should be understood as “an assertion of a certain kind of aesthetic promoted in contemporary Japan”. Whiteness, as well as those body features (like smallish noses, mouths, and round faces), is read as a standard of beauty. Those elements are not necessarily characteristics of the white. The process of “Japanizing” of “white” figures and “whitening” of Japanese figures occurs simultaneously. The white or the westerners spread their value

One of the contemporary results for a western-dominated world setting up the standard of beauty is just as what Terry mentioned in the next part of her article, “self-alteration” of Japanese. Japanese consumers purchase products to make themselves look white. Seeking whiteness became a fashion and more economic value was created through the idea of being whiter. However, this is definitely not just a contemporary phenomenon. Historically, there are more serious issues which shares similarities with the spreading aesthetic of seeking whiteness.

The example of the “Hadairo” (Skin Color) crayons, which the color of the “Hadairo” crayons selling in Japanese market is actually whiter than the color of Japanese. Japanese children also tend to paint the skin of Japanese with a brighter color, which reminds me of the famous Clark doll experiment conducted by Dr. Kenneth Clark and his wife. The experiment was conducted under the social context of racial segregation in 1954. During the period of racial segregation, whites were separated from African Americans in terms of various social facilities or services such as education, transportation, etc. As segregation and discrimination against African Americans went on, the social image of African Americans was constructed as inferior to whites. Under the legal doctrine of “separate but equal” admitted by the U.S Supreme Court, the segregation was justified. The experiment was a key evidence to show the negative influence of segregation to the children.

Clark Doll Experiment

The construction of the image of a certain race might be through segregation. In the experiment, Dr. Clark showed one white doll and one black doll to African American children and asked them the following questions in such order:

“Show me the doll that you like best or that you’d like to play with,”

“Show me the doll that is the ‘nice’ doll,”

“Show me the doll that looks ‘bad’,”

“Give me the doll that looks like a white child,”

“Give me the doll that looks like a colored child,”

“Give me the doll that looks like a Negro child,”

“Give me the doll that looks like you.”

As a result, most of the black children regarded the black doll as bad one and surprisingly 44 percent of the African American children said that the white doll looked like them. This is indeed similar as the Hadairo crayon case. Both Japanese and black children’s mindset of beauty are influenced and set by the dominant white race.

It is natural for a race with dominant power over other races to create a better self-image and set up the standard of beauty in any historic period. This might be achieved through different methods. In case of the Clark doll experiment, this was achieved through racial segregation. In the modern version, it was through globalization and mass media. Personally I feel that the phenomenon may lead to one possible conclusion: The standard of beauty changes all the time according to the global power balance and there are always new methods to spread those values. I strongly believe that this is an ever-lasting phenomenon.

For more information about the racial segregation and Clark Doll Experiment, I would like to recommend the movie, Separate But Equal.

 

References

 

Stereotypes and the Clark Doll Test by Clark & Clark (2012). Retrieved from Web site: https://explorable.com/stereotypes

 

Stevens, G. (Producer), & Margulies.S (Director). (1991). Separate But Equal [Motion picture]. United States: New Liberty Films & Republic Pictures