Flower Men of Korea

by Lilia Yamakawa

“Beauty” and what one considers beautiful depend a lot on a person’s own culture and ethnicity. On the streets of Korea, it is not unusual to find Flower Men (FMs), called “kkotminam” (“flower handsome men”). You will know them by their pretty and “soft masculinity” and by their attention to the way they look. They are willing to spend a lot of time and money on their appearance and lifestyle. They may use make-up and other beauty products, pluck their eyebrows, manicure their nails, gel and style their hair, get facials, get massages, and even have cosmetic surgery. They are also associated with soft speech and traits such as gently caring for their families. They are seen as being pure and innocent, and they are very polite. In this report, I will examine some of the reasons to explain the Flower Man boom.

First, the boom is part of the larger global phenomenon of the “metrosexual” male, which has spread throughout both the East and the West. The metrosexual man is one who takes care of his physical appearance through means that were once considered feminine. The FM is just one example of this wide global trend. The East Asian metrosexual trend is so prominent that Time magazine did a cover story on it in 2005. Ling Liu wrote in this article:

A few years ago it may have been considered sissy for a guy to be fussy about his clothing and appearance. Real men demanded the world accept them on their own uncouth, unkempt terms. But in Asia nowadays, the definition of masculinity is undergoing a makeover – and narcissism is in, thanks to economic growth, higher disposable incomes, shifting gender roles, and fashion and cosmetics industries eager to expand their customer bases. No longer content to be the drabber sex, Asian males are preening like peacocks, perming, plucking and powering themselves to perfection in an effort to make themselves more attractive to their bosses, their peers and, of course, to women.

Although the boom is worldwide, it seems that Korean Flower Men have taken it to a further extreme than men of any other ethnic group and nationality. In 2013, South Korean men spent roughly $900 million on skincare. This was almost one-fourth of sales worldwide for men’s skin care. There are many salons and spas just for men that offer hair, facials, massages, and other procedures. Plastic surgery is also common, and there are also a number of clinics that cater solely to men. In 2013, Korean Air began training male staff to use beauty products (Fujita 2005).

The FM phenomenon itself began in the 1990s, around the time the Korean government began to allow more pop culture from Japan to come into the country (in 1998). Many manga and anime, which were previously hard to find, could now be bought and read in public. Young male actors and singers, especially in the boy bands, began to look like Japanese and Korean manga and anime characters, especially those in “girls’ comics” or “shojo manga” where the ideal image of a male is “bishonen” or “beautiful boy.” The flow of media between Korea and Japan also included tv dramas, cinema, and advertising (Sun 2010). The “yaoi” type of manga, which became very popular in Korea, is also said to be a big influence on the FM trend. The men in these manga often look like elves or fairies, and they are soft, sweet, and sensitive.

Up to the 1990’s the popular image of male beauty in Korea was a rather macho-type man. Since then, the soft male type has become much more popular. Two groups of FBs best exemplify the phenomenon today. One is the Korean boy band DBSK of idols. The other is the Korean tv drama called “Boys Over Flowers.” It was based on the Japanese manga and anime called “Hana yori dango” and was broadcast in Korea in 2009. It is a typical shojo Cinderella story of a poor high school girl who is befriended by the four richest, most handsome boys in the school, the F4. It became super popular in Korea, and later, in many other Asian countries including Japan. With “Boys Over Flowers”, the male image of the “kkotminam” became even more popular in Korea. More and more males aspired to look soft and gentle and pretty. Men’s fashion came to include pinks and floral prints, and cute “boyish” hairstyles with long bangs became the rage (Lee 2010).

Advertising has played an important role in spreading the FM image. Cosmetics companies have been very eager to sell cosmetics to this whole new group of buyers. Large areas of department stores are now devoted to men’s beauty care. Famous idols and actors, including members of both the DBSK and the F4, are used to advertise men’s beauty products. More and more men in Korea aspire to look like these idols.

The Korean economy is very strong now. This makes it possible for many Korean men to spend their money on personal beauty. With the economic power they become more confident, and more men want to look good even if it costs them.

A major reason for the “kkonminam” craze is that men want to look good to be competitive in the job market. They want to have “the right face”, which looks youthful, lively, friendly, and upper-class. Job applicants must send in photographs with their applications. Many Koreans believe that a person’s character can be read in the face, and even that their looks are more important than their skills (Jeffreys 2007).

Historically, Korean is a country ruled by strong Confucian ideals, which emphasize taking care of and making both the mind and the body strong. It is said that one reason for the “hallyu” (“hanryu” or “Korean Wave”) throughout East Asia is that the men are good-looking but show “a lack of profanity and sex, as befitting Confucian morals” (Maliangkay 2010).

David Coad believes that sports figures, such as David Beckham have been important in popularizing the metrosexual and the FB trend. They stand for traditional masculinity in their sports skills, but they also take care of their personal appearance in ways that were once thought feminine. The long-haired Korean soccer player, Ahn Jung-Hwan became very popular at the 2002 World Cup. He is known not only for his soccer skills, but also for his looks and his actions that show a softer side of men. He kissed his wedding ring after winning a major game. Then, he went on to advertise men’s liquid foundation. Coad writes:

The immediately obvious hyper-masculine and generally assumed heterosexual status of most sportsmen has been vital in changing attitudes about exposing, eroticizing, and taking care of the male body. Without some of the most celebrated heterosexual athletes in the world endorsing and embodying different facets of metrosexuality it is uncertain if masculinity norms would have changed so rapidly in so many different cultures. Metrosexuality, in a way, is indebted to sportsmen for its very existence. (Coad 2008)

Some people believe the most important reason the FM phenomenon is spreading throughout Korea, but especially in urban areas, is that women like it.  Bae Yong-joon, who was so popular in the tv drama “Autumn Sonata”, is also well liked among somewhat older Korean women. His popularity is based on his character in the drama which was soft looking, passionate, sincere, and polite. James Turnbull, who writes for The Korea Times, has an interesting theory about the origins of the FM.

When focusing on men, it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that it is actually women’s changing tastes in them that drive changes in their fashions and grooming jabits, and accordingly it ultimately proves to be married Korean women in the late-1990s that are responsible for flower men’s origins. (Turnbull 2009)

Turnbull goes on to explain that during the “IMF Crisis” of 1997, many more women were laid off from their companies than men were because it was assumed that their husbands could support them. They had only recently gotten the legal right to not be fired upon marriage. Then they were encouraged by society to support “Korean’s hardworking men” to help get through the crisis. He says that many women, at this time, started to reject “the ideals of men as strong, provider types, and it is no coincidence that a sudden glut of movies appeared featuring romances between older women and younger men, and that this was when the first, identifiable, flower men began appearing in advertising too.” Korean women wanted men who were more interested in satisfying them than their companies (Turnbull 2009).

It is obvious that many females from mid-teens to their 30s also like the FM. They fill social media sites with comments about popular singers and actors. They use various interesting words to describe the men: pretty, sweet looking, a hootie, cute, looks like a pretty girl, etc. One blogger on Korean pop culture expresses what seem to be the views of many young women:

So why do flower boys act like women? There is only one answer to this. Because their fans love it. I guess there is something about a handsome man trying to act like a woman which makes them even more endearing. Somehow, there is an inexplicable and irresistible urge that makes women want to pinch flower boys’ cheeks every time they do their “cute acts”…flower boys are pretty to look at and they are cute and entertaining. But, why are they so popular? The ultimate reason, I believe, is that flower boys represent certain qualities of a man women look for – a man unafraid to explore his soft side…his emotional side and admit that he is vain after all. (Deen 2011)

About those pretty cheeks the women want to pinch, many times they might be pretty as a result of plastic surgery. The Korean Association for Plastic Surgeons estimated that in 2010 approximately 15% of Korean men had plastic surgery. The Korean Herald reported that 44% of male college students were considering plastic surgery (“Think plastic surgery” 2013).

In an excellent article on cosmetic surgery in Korea, Ruth Holliday and Jo Hwang point out that plastic surgery is popular and accepted in Korean society. The former president of Korea, among many other famous people have had work done on their faces. They write that “the body emerges as a site for negotiating and reinforcing national identity.” After1945, Koreans wanted to look more western in order to look very different from the Japanese colonizers. Later, they wanted to embrace their Koreanness by consulting with fortune tellers of physiognomy to find out what is their particular auspicious face. Surgeons and physiognomists often work together in the clinics. A survey found that 7 of 10 Koreans approve of plastic surgery, and even more say they would do it if they had the money. The government supports plastic surgery tourism, does not control the industry strictly, and even approves of it through the insurance program in many cases. With plastic surgery accepted so widely in Korea, it is not surprising that men are commonly having surgery on their eyelids to make them look bigger, on their noses to make them more pointed, and on their jaws to make them look less angular. Liposuction to suck out fat is also popular among men. (Holliday & Hwang n.d.)

The Flower Man as a positive male image partly has its origins in the worldwide metrosexual trend and in Japanese manga and anime. It is, however, uniquely Korean. It was made popular by the “soft masculinity” of pop idols and actors in dramas. It has been promoted by advertising of cosmetic firms who want to open up and make money in the new market of male beauty aids. This happened just at a time when the Korean economy was relatively strong. The Korean job market is very competitive, and appearance is important. Nonsexual boys fit in with traditional Confucian ideals. Sportsmen have shown that a man can be traditionally masculine and traditionally feminine at the same time. Some women want men to be a mixture of male and female, more androgynous, and not masculine Rambo types. Finally, striving for ideal beauty (and the range of what is considered “beauty” seems to be quite narrow in Korea) and using means such as plastic surgery to get it has been a part of the Korean culture for a long time. Procedures such as cosmetic surgery are readily accepted by the general public.

South Korea is a country with a military draft. All men must serve in the military for at least one year. Some men said they started using face creams as soldiers because they wanted protection in the sunshine. It is even possible to buy a set of camouflage face paint, healthier for the skin than the usual, to wear during military service. (Ling 2012) This shows that the traditionally male identity and the newer Flower Man identity are blending well in Korean society.


  1. Coad, David. (2008). The metrosexual: Gender, sexuality and sport . (p. 196). Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
  2. Deen, Catherine. (2011, November 30). Understanding the lure of ‘flower boys’. Retrieved from https://ph.omg.yahoo.com/blogs/okpop/understanding-lure-flower-boys-050944369.html
  3. Fujita, Akiko. (2005, October 28). South Korean men cosmetics-crazed. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/lifestyle/2013/05/south-korean-men-cosmetics-crazed/
  4. Holiday, Ruth, & Jo Hwang. (n.d.). Gender, globalization and aesthetic surgery in south korea. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/726850/Gender_Globalization_and_Cosmetic_Surgey_in_South_Korea 
  5. Jeffreys, Daniel. (2007, April 28). Koreans go under the knife in a cut-throat race for jobs. Retrieved from https://www.google.co.jp/webhp?hl=en&tab ww&gws_rd=cr&ei
  6. Lee, H. (2010). Men, be beautiful for spring, summer. Retrieved from http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/…/199_39427.html
  7. Liu, Ling. (2005, October 28). Asia’s metrosexuals: Mirror, mirror…. Retrieved from http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/english/doc/2005-10/28/content_488529.html
  8. Maliangkay, Roald. (2010). The effeminacy of male beauty in korea. Retrieved from http://www.iias.nl/sites/default/files/IIAS_NL55_0607.pdf
  9. Sun, J. (2010). Pan-east asian soft masculinitity: Reading boys over flowers, coffee prince and shinhwa fan fiction. Retrieved from http://books.publishing.monash.edu/aps/bookworm/view/Complicated Currents/122/xhtml/frontmatter1.html
  10. Think plastic surgery is only popular with girls in Korea? Take a look at the guys – See more at: http://yourhealth.asiaone.com/content/think-plastic-surgery-only-popular-girls-korea-take-look-guys/page/0/1#sthash.FsaKcvCZ.dpuf
  11. Turnbull, James. (2009). Flower men: the hot topic of 2009. Retrieved from http://thegrandnarrative.com/2009.04/03/flower-men-the-hot-topic-of-2009/
  12. Williamson, Lucy. (2012, December 3). South korean men get the make-up habit. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-20522028

How could social media transform racism?

by Miho Tanaka

Could internet communications change the structure of race? The revolution of media has changed how people communicate and connect with the others, and forms of media have been constantly changing as internet technology has been developed. Internet communications have enabled us to communicate each other without borders. In other words, people have gotten unrestricted tools to get to know the others having far different cultures and backgrounds.

In this post, I attempt to discover the relevance between media and race and how the emergence of social media could make changes, especially in the United States. Therefore this post looks first at the development of media from tangible products to intangible services, secondly how race awareness or consciousness has been transforming as the forms of media have been changing, and thirdly some expectations that could positively or negatively influence race structure in relevance to the changes of media.

Development of media: Imagined communities

Media is one of the strongest tools to foster and penetrate some ideas, biases and stereotypes to its viewers and construct their perception toward their world. Newspapers, magazines and printed advertisements were the major media for the last centuries, however new types of media such as online media, social media and so forth have appeared in the last decade and these dynamically influence people’s lives. Jessie Daniels (2013) posted on Racism Review that newspapers used to play a role to function for creating “imagined communities” among those who engage with the communities. However Joanne L. Rondilla (2009) argues that globalization and technological advances have changed the formation of imagined communities (p.64-65). Rondilla borrows Hall’s description of globalization and cites that globalization is:

the process by which relatively separate areas of the globe come to intersect in a single imaginary “space”; when their respective histories are convened in a time-zone or time-frame dominated by the time of the West; when the sharp boundaries reinforced by space and distance are bridged by connections (travel, trade, conquest, colonization, markets, capital and the flows of labor, goods and profits) which gradually eroded the clear-cut distinction between “inside” and “outside.” (p. 64-65)

Online media has enabled us to shorten our communication style and has released the West-dominated time-frame. An imaginary space platform, in the case of online media, works as an intersection of people in different areas. She concluded that “globalization involves the flow of ideas, products, images, and so forth, that, through technological advances in the media, closes the gap between perceived differences among people” (p. 65). Considering how media has been changing especially in the 21st century the range of imagined communities must have expanded. Now social media has started to function just like newspapers, as people go to online in order to affirm their racial identity and to seek community around that identity (Daniels, ibid).

Media’s objectives

Popukin, Kabashima, and Taniguchi (2008) point out that public media controlled by national institution and private media owned by private companies take different roles (p.71). Public media seeks societal objectives including political and national purposes, since it considers the viewers or listeners as voters for next elections, while private media seeks profit since it considers the customers as buyers (ibid). As Harris (2009, p. 1) insists, racism is constituted through “economies of difference.” In other words, “economies of color” have great power over market capitalism. Before the emergences of social media, the messages of media were always sent from companies or institutions to consumers based on the senders’ objectives, which are often “selling more products and increasing revenue” or from public organizations to the supporters to achieve some kinds of political goals.

However social media totally broke the previous rule and now the senders of message also include individuals or users on the internet. They do not have to seek certain outcomes because they can send any messages even if they are not tied from some groups, therefore their messages might be sometimes emotional. Racial minorities also got a chance to speak out their feelings and experiences on the internet.

Changes of race awareness

Daniels clarified the fact that “people go online to affirm their identity and to find community, often along racial lines.” In 2009 the chart of popular social network sites shows BlackPlanet.com was ranked in as 13th (Daniels, 2013). There are further more social networking sites focusing on the encouragement of African Americans and the other minority groups in the U.S. For instance, Atlanta Blackstar is one of the media which strives for becoming the central voice in black media. It applauds black peoples’ achievement and self-esteem, and simultaneously analyzes and reflects black culture or its representation in societies, which is often considered as a negative phenomenon.

Especially some media focusing on encouragement of isolated minorities such as BlackPlanet.com and Atlanta Blackstar are considered an enhancement of self-esteem among them. According to Verna Keith, self-esteem is defined as “the evaluative dimension of the self” (2009, p.33) and borrowing Porter and Washington’s definition, it is “feelings of intrinsic worth, competence and self-approval rather than self-rejection and self-contempt” (ibid). Among black people in the United States, media would be used for both sides, in negative and positive ways. In negative ways it is used for accelerating black culture and its representation, and the images are often applied to all black people without considering characteristics of the individuals. However in positive way it could be used for encouraging themselves and applauding black culture and its experiences. In this case the idea of “double consciousness” would be related.

Double consciousness is presented by W. E. B. Du Bois and according to Craig (2009), the concept “provides a useful way to think about the interrelationships between white and black systems of representation” (p.84). Double consciousness is two dimensions of how black see their world from their view. One dimension is that blacks have to see themselves and judge themselves as whites see them, which describes the internalization of racist systems of representation. Another is an internalization of dominant views of oneself and a critical awareness of the structure of racism along with an ability to recognize the presence of racism (ibid, p.84-85).

Until the emergence of social media, only the former dimension had covered people’s viewd, but social media gave them an opportunity to share their second insight, a critical awareness of the structure of racism. If it might have been the great chance to recall black consciousness and lighten their self-esteem, what kind of positive aspects would appear?

Positive and negative aspects

Now this paper will look at whether the emergence of social media is positive or negative. Grasmuck, Martin, and Zhao (2009) explored racial issues which often come along with injustice frequently included by the African American, Latino, and Indian students on their Facebook wall. The authors theorize that these wall postings accelerate “a sense of group belonging, color consciousness, and identification with groups historically stigmatized by dominant society” (ibid). That means racism still occurs in social media.
However Daniels also examined that some dominant groups rarely signed up as their racial categorized group and they foster an idea of “racelessness” through it. In addition according to Popukin, Kabashima, and Kawaguchi, the internet doesn’t work for erasing racism and even ignorance is very dominant on the internet (p.64). Though the internet has been penetrated and larger number of people now have access to talk openly about issue of racism, the open network works not only to improve the issue but also to foster blindness toward racism and colorism.

Through this post, I have looked at the relationship between media and racism and how it has changed. As media has been developing, the racial awareness and consciousness has changed, however media could not only influence racism in positive way. In social networking sites and social media, people have started to get around with the others belonging in the same group but simultaneously race blindness and racelessness have gotten bigger power than before. Whether the feud between more powerful voices and encouragements which minorities got in social networking and racelessness that racial dominant group of people often foster would weaken or not will be the next challenge of racism we will face.


  1. Craig, Maxine Leeds. (2009). The color of an ideal negro beauty queen: miss bronze 1961-1968. In Glenn, E. N. (Ed.) (2009). Shades of difference: why skin color matters. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press (pp.81-94).
  2. Daniels, Jessie. (March 2nd, 2013). Race, Racism & Social Networking Sites: What the Research Tells Us. Retrieved on December 23, 2013 from http://www.racismreview.com/blog/category/social-networking-sites/
  3. Gordon, T., Jones, J. & Morris, S. (2014) Atlanta blackstar: about us. http://atlantablackstar.com/about-us/
  4. Glenn, Evelyn Nakano. (Ed.) (2009). Shades of difference: why skin color matters. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.
  5. Harris, Angela P. (2009). Introduction. In Glenn, N. E. (Ed.) (2009). Shades of difference: why skin color matters. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  6. Keith, Verna M. (2009). A colorstruck world: skin tone, achievement, and self-esteem among African American women. In Glenn, E. N. (Ed.) (2009). Shades of difference: why skin color matters. Stanford, CA : Stanford University Press.
  7. Popukin, L. S., Kabashima, I., & Taniguchi, M. (Eds.) (2008). Changing media, changing politics. Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press.
  8. Webb, L. S. (n.d.). How colorism affects light skinned girls and women. Retrieved on December 21, 2013 from http://www.npr.org/2012/09/13/161082306/william-julius-wilson-ending-poverty-is-possible
Enhanced by Zemanta

The Role of Skin Tone in Konkatsu (Looking for a Marriage Partner)

by Mitsumi Yamamoto

In 2007 sociologist Masahiro Yamada proposed a new term “konkatsu” to describe the act of looking for a marriage partner (Yamada & Shirakawa, 2008). Konkatsu is an abbreviation of “kekkon katsudo”, which means marriage hunting. Since the first use of this term in a weekly journal AERA, there has been a big boom in konkatsu with mass media actively broadcasting about this phenomenon in Japan.

Today there are around 3,700 websites aimed to support people in konkatsu and Yahoo! has sponsored two websites that encourages konkatsu and arranges parties for unmarried people (Yahoo! JAPAN). The number of single men and single women in konkatsu who have struggled, and currently are struggling, with selecting their marriage partner is not small.

By studying konkatsu we can see what kind of qualifications people are looking for in their prospective marriage partners. This blog post will highlight how skin tone plays a role in the process of choosing a future wife or husband in Japan and how there is a correlation between race and gender regarding skin color.

Firstly what kind of qualifications and requirements do people set for choosing their partner? According to a survey released by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, both men and women tend to consider a good personality (honest, kind, considerate etc.) as the most important factor. Personal values come in second (Co. dentsu, 2004).

Although both men and women consider personality and values as major points when choosing their partner, there are differences in how they evaluate the possible candidates. The same study indicates that the third most common qualification men tend to consider is their partner’s appearance while women rather ask for financial stability. Possibly due to the importance men place on their partner’s appearance, women themselves seem to take good care of their appearance for konkatsu.

For example, the ladies’ magazine FRaU featured an article about konkatsu-hada (skin for marriage hunting), explaining how women can make konkatsu-hada with skin care products such as liquid foundations, body oils and cheek blushes in order to succeed in konkatsu (X BRAND, 2013). The article suggested that they help to make your skin whiter and clearer, showing your purity and honesty like Cinderella appearing in a fairly-tale.

It seems that the article implies that light and clear skin is regarded as favorable for finding a marriage partner. How about men’s skin tone? According to an investigation carried out by Panasonic, 70% of women answered they prefer men with tanned skin rather than men with white skin (Co. Panasonic, 2007). The electronic commerce and Internet giant Rakuten Inc. also researched about the connection between the use of sunscreen and maintaining white skin. When comparing results between men and women in their twenties, it seems that only 13% of men use sunscreen in order to maintain a lighter skin tone, while 60% of women answered that this is their main goal. In fact, as many as 50% of men answered that they do not even care about sunscreen, whereas 90% of women were keen on using it (Rakuten, Inc., 2013). The results of this survey that show men are often not concerned about the lightness of their skin.

It can be said that men and women consider different attributes in konkatsu and that skin color is gender-specific, with skin color playing an especially important role for women. Having lighter skin is considered an important factor for women who are looking for future husbands. This shows us that there seems to be correlation between skin color, race, and gender, since favorable skin color varies greatly between different races and between genders. For example, recently it seems that tanned skin is favorable among Caucasian men and women, however in Japan and India women with lighter skin are preferred. On the other hand in Japan it seems that men who have tanned skin are preferred over men with light skin tone, showing that there are great variations between ideal skin tones.


Yamada, M., & Sirakawa, M. (2008). Konkatsu Jidai [KONKATSU Period]. Tokyo: Discover 21

Yahoo! JAPAN. Retrieved from http://omiai.yahoo.co.jp/

Co. dentsu. (2004). Syoushika ni kansuru ishiki chousa [survey about decreasing birth rate]. Retrieved from http://www.mhlw.go.jp/topics/bukyoku/seisaku/syousika/040908/

X BRAND. (2013). Kirei no takurami [trick for beauty]. Retrieved from http://xbrand.yahoo.co.jp/category/beauty/10947/1.html

Co. Panasonic. (2007). Otokomae Chousa [survey about man’s good looking]. Retrieved from http://panasonic.jp/beauty/men/chosahoukou/chosa/

Rakuten, Inc.. (2013). Shigaisen taisaku ni kansuru chousa [survey about UV protection]. Retrieved from http://research.rakuten.co.jp/report/20130802/

Enhanced by Zemanta

Names in a globalized world

by Fei Long Yu

During the latest weeks, we spoke about globalization in class and about how some people taking on a new name during their life. This is a really interesting topic for me and I would want to give you readers my view point on this topic.

A given name is something that your parents usually give you and call you by; it’s rarely changed during the life time. Instead, many people can take on other names, such as nicknames or pseudonyms in their daily life when they communicate with other people or friends. The question that rises is; why is that? Why do some people (e.g. Asians) take on nicknames and not use their given names? I have noticed that many people with Asian parents often take on two names; one from their own language (e.g. Chinese name) and one English sounding name. In some cases, if the child doesn’t “receive” a second name (English one) they may very much either choose one later on during their life or receive one from friends or teacher. Why does this happen? Why do some children receive an English sounding name when they enter school or mingling with new people?

The reason behind this can be many; one reason can that the child doesn’t want to be bullied in school because of their not-English-sounding name. Another reason can be that the name is too hard to pronounce and therefore receive an English-sounding name. Another reason, which can be considered as a big main reason to why many Asian people take on English sounding name, is because English is the most spoken language around the world.  Asian people may want to be more integrated in the world of business and therefore take an English-sounding name. E.g. can the name decide if you’re called to an interview or not, and the chances is better if you have an English name (see for example what names is most frequent at the higher positions within the companies).

But, one thing I have noticed is that Asian children outside Asia are more likely to be given two names: one Asian name and one English name (or names that are common the host country, like in my family). The Asian name is often reserved to the family and relatives, which means it’s only used by the family when they speak to the children, while the English name is used by friends and colleagues. This may, as argued earlier, be because it’s usually much easier to pronounce English sounding names than Asian name. Or that the parents feels like the child should inherit two names, one from their home country and one from the country they’re living in.

The name can also be used to describe the identity, which also means that if one person has English name can be considered as more international person than a person with Asian name. For example, it’s easier to introduce yourself with an English name, since the listener may have it much more easily to pronounce the name than an Asian sounding name.

Another interesting thought is that this mainly applies to Asian people. While most foreigners use their given name, Asian people do the opposite when they enter a new country. This is also very visible in school or among new friends that doesn’t speak an Asian language.

The question is if this is a sign that the world is getting more international? Well, the world language is English, it’s the most widespread and spoken language around the world. And therefore many people have it easier to pronounce an English sounding name. But what would happen (or when it happens) if another language would surpass English? For example, Chinese, would the names in Europe and America be changed to the Chinese language when they’re studying or working abroad?

“Gaijin” to Japanese: What Japanese Often Expect from Foreigners

by Satona Kato

comediansTerry Kawashima argues that people have a consciousness about race, and this consciousness depends on their background. We can see this by comparing various ways of thinking about shojo manga characters by Western people and Japanese people.

In Japan, many people put the people who are not Asian (Japanese, Korean, Chinese, South East Asian) into one category called “gaijin”. Many Japanese people do not think about the country where the “gaijin” were born. Furthermore, they tend to stereotype that sort of people have specific skills. In Japan, some of the people who are unilaterally labeled as “gaijin” have experiences that they are wounded or feel alienated, especially the people who are multiracial or who were born and grown up in Japan.

As you know, in Japan, multiracial models on TV have been popular. Recently, multiracial comedians become popular as well. They do not act like fashion models. They make people laugh by talking the story about the incident happened around them only because they are multiracial. First, Japanese are surprised that they can speak fluent Japanese and cannot speak English or another foreign language. Japanese also laugh at the characteristics the multiracial comedians share with other Japanese.

They had had many troubles and unique experiences which happened just because they are “hafu.” If we listen to their stories, we can know how hafu people are treated by Japanese. For example, Anthony, he is one of the ‘hafu comedians’. He is American and Japanese. People laugh at the fact that his hometown is Tokyo and his father managed a Sushi shop. He has knowledge about sushi because his home is sushi shop, but when he goes to a sushi shop, the master of sushi shop offered him ‘California roll’ and he was surprised. He has had other interesting experiences. He is bad at English, and when he was an elementary school student, he decided to go to English conversation school. On his first day of English conversation school, when he entered the classroom, other students misinterpreted him as an English teacher and they said “Hello, how are you?” to him.

I want to tell you about one more ‘half comedian’, Ueno Yukio. He was laughed at because of his obvious Japanese name. He is Brazilian and Japanese. When he plays soccer, the opposing team judged Yukio was a good soccer player by his appearance and many defenseman surrounded him. The opportunities to watch TV programs in which many ‘half comedians’ gather and talk about the things often happen around them are increasing. According to them, following things often happen: 

  • are judged to be foreign people
  • are often stopped by the police 
  • are asked by Japanese to sing foreign songs 
  • are laughed at by Japanese when they sing Japanese songs
  • are often expected to have high athletic ability
  • have difficulty getting a part time job
  • are invited to BBQ parties or Halloween parties
  • are called ‘Bob’ or ‘Michel’ 
  • are treated as tourists everywhere

Of course their nationality is Japanese and most of their hometown is Japan. Why they are laughed? Why do Japanese people stereotype their abilities? When Japanese look at people who look like “gaijin’’, Japanese often expect some specific skills because they have some assumptions. They think that people who have white, black, or other foreign appearance have foreign names and can speak foreign languages, and cannot speak Japanese at all.

It is true that hafu people are not a majority in Japan and many Japanese have little familiarity with thinking about race. That’s why people have expectations about the skills hafu people have. If hafu do not have these skills, Japanese laugh at them and hafu are unilaterally discouraged. 

Mimicking the non-existent

Anonymous student post

Body alterations are a strange thing. Just the words themselves—“body alterations”—make them seem so foreign to our lives, like they’re not something natural. Yet looking at people throughout my life has made me realize that body alteration has become the norm for many people, and desired by, perhaps, many more. If we were to look at how many people use make-up, have surgery, aim for a different body weight/composition, or even just get a piercing, we would see just how widespread this notion of changing our bodies is.

Yet, after reading Terry Kawashima’s (2002) article on racial indicators, I find body alterations strange in another sense. Kawashima discusses this idea of mimicry, in particular the mimicry of “white” traits by Japanese people, arguing throughout her paper that this is not the case for most of Japanese society. But it raised an interesting question about mimicry in relation to body alterations for me: When someone aims to alter their body, is it because they are trying to mimic something or someone else?

This can be a tricky question to navigate, as some will find it too broad a question while others will point out that there are as many reasons for changing one’s body as there are people. Despite this, I can’t help but feel that, at least from what I’ve seen and read, the answer just might be yes, but not in the way that the question is worded. The cautious reader will be skeptical, and thus, I suppose, explanations are in order.

Part of my answer is reinforced by some particular experiences of mine. Growing up with sisters can be difficult, especially when they are constantly attempting to put make-up on and dress fashionably, even when it makes you late for school. Anxiety, I learned, fueled my sister’s actions; she wanted to look “normal”, and thus she would groom herself constantly. For her, body modification was a way of becoming invisible. This resonates with my own experience growing up with raised bumps on my back. My mother, in all honesty, was more worried about them than I; she blamed them for the way I dressed and the activities I gave up when I was older, as well as for my shy and withdrawn personality. She went so far as to offer me a chance to have plastic surgery. Unable to explain to her (or myself) why my scars were not a problem to me, I consented.

After having plastic surgery on only two bumps, and after having grown up with more time to mull over that experience, I’ve realized that my mother believed I couldn’t think of myself as “normal” while I had something “subnormal”, especially when she saw the anxieties my sister held. Body modification, in this context, meant to her an attempt to elevate myself back to “the standard”.

Broadened to a larger scope, we can see in other’s experiences through things like blogs and academic literature that body modification extends across the board. It affects how people relate their body to race, gender, age, culture, health, and all these other touchy subjects that people seem afraid to address sometimes. And—again, from what I’ve seen and read—I think that all these changes that we make to our bodies has something to do with trying to obtain an ideal. In the end, it’s difficult to say that there’s some definitive “real” thing that people try to mimic, because most of the things I’ve listed are just social constructs. Race doesn’t biologically exist, health is relative, and age is reliant on different perceptions of time. In the end, perhaps all people are really trying to do is aim for something that’s not really obtainable because it does not exist in any measurable way. So in a way, we are trying to mimic something; it’s just not something that we can point to and say “there it is”.

Accepting a Cheap Imitation of “White Features” as Beauty in Japan

Anime Drawing / Download & Color it yourself!

(Photo credit: Serena.)

by Yuta Kobayashi

Shoujo Manga has existed in Japan since the early 1900s. Consisting of sensitive artwork and a storyline aimed for young girls, these visual novels have been a part of the lives of many Japanese women since childhood. Although the original target audience of these Shoujo Manga was the young female population in Japan, the release of animations and live action dramas of these mangas in recent years have broadened the target audience towards a much larger population. For this reason, Shoujo Manga can be currently considered to be a widely accepted genre within the Japanese society.

Shoujo Manga is generally known for their sensitive artwork and their dramatic storyline. In most cases, the audience understands that the stories and characters involved are purely constructed from the imaginations of the authors and realize that these visual novels do not necessarily portray reality. However, at the same time, it can be considered true that these visual novels have the potential to influence the lives and the behaviors of the audience in reality.

In “Seeing Faces, Making Races: Challenging Visual Tropes of Racial Difference,” Terry Kawashima (2002) suggests how in Japan, the modern ideal image of beauty consists of a mix of both traditional Japanese and White values. She introduces the fact that some of the features of the modern Japanese concept of beauty, for instance, large eyes, small hook like noses, small mouths, and a round face, are represented on the characters illustrated in Shoujo Manga. In Japanese society, women tend to value beauty very highly. As suggested by Kawashima (2002), what is considered as ideal and beautiful within the Japanese society will be performed and “imitated.” In essence, young women who read these Shoujo Manga will unconsciously attempt to imitate the beautiful looking role models in the novels.

Kawashima (2002) introduces the idea that the modern concept of beauty in Japan can be considered a cheap imitation of Western beauty. To an extent, this can be considered true. In Japan, hair coloring and the usage of Bihaku, or skin lightening, products as a means to enhance looks, especially among women, are common. This artificial form of beauty, in essence, can be obtained through the consumption and usage of cosmetic products. In this manner, it can be assumed and accepted that the modern concept of Japanese beauty is heavily influenced by various aspects of Western beauty.

Kawashima (2002) suggests that Japanese beauty is “oppressed” by Western values. For some people, it may seem odd that Japanese people prefer beauty that is considered not their own. To deny one’s own sense of “traditional” beauty for something artificial or foreign may be interpreted negatively by others. However, I believe that it is not always bad for one to accept an oppressed concept of beauty, especially if the society is willing to accept the idea. The concept of beauty is forever changing. The spontaneous behavior of people in society to act in such way is natural. To add, in a society like Japan, to be beautiful means many things. This cheap imitation of beauty may be interpreted negatively by some people, but for many Japanese people living in the Japanese context, this cheap imitation of beauty is an essential part of life in society.

Some Questions:

Who decides what Japanese people should look like?

Should Japanese people be free to define for themselves what Japanese beauty is?


Kawashima, T. (2002). “Seeing Faces, Making Races: Challenging Visual Tropes of Racial Difference.” Meridians, Vol. 3 – 1 (pp. 161-190).

Tanned skin: the new look?

by Kyungyeon Chung

clarinsToday, open up any international beauty magazine – you will find models that are dominating the colorful pages are not all so pale boasting ‘porcelain’ complexion. Instead, beauty sites and entertainment pages have been filled with new trend – tanning. Just take a look at some gossipy newspaper articles based on curious speculation how Mitt Romney, who must have been so busy at the time, maintained the glowing tanned skin throughout his presidential campaign. Kate Middleton and her sister Pipa Middleton also captured the gossip followers with their bronzed skin complexion. Whether it happens on the stunning Greek beach, or while backpacking in Vietnam, or in a sunbed salon in New York, the result, tanned skin has become the new trendsetting skin complexion.

Among those who can afford and dream of tanned skin, the darker complexion comes with numerous labels: sun-kissed, glowing, bronze, naturally tanned… If you examine, all these words used to describe tan, entail a deep implication that tanned skin is healthy; that it is a product of healthy practice, perhaps swimming in the open ocean, hiking under the sun, or out playing by the beach. No long ago were these associated with toiling in farms under the sun, a mark of laboring, lower class. Yet in 21st century when most of people in industrialized countries, people are usually spending most of their days in their offices, then on cars or public transports, then in shops and their homes, all under the fluorescent lights and hardly under the natural sun rays. And that is exactly why “sun-kissed’ skin is glorified and sought after.

clarins2Popular legend holds that Coco Chanel first initiated this world-wide boom of tanned skin, which she got while vacationing in the Mediterranean in the 1920s. It was a look that signified health and vitality. From then on, tanned skin became associated affluence and luxury of, in short, having enough money to go on holidays and lay under the sun. This was also in such direct contrast with ‘others’ who were unfortunate and had neither time nor money to enjoy such holiday.

However, as mounting medical and scientific studies find the clear link between sun exposure and skin cancer, the trend did not end – instead, it simply turned from ‘natural’ to fake. Today at cosmetics shops, one can find an array of products that promise you evenly tanned skin and beautiful glow. So many different types of products are used to serve different purposed, from tanning lotion to bronzer powder, and fake sprays to imitate tans. You can walk into aesthetic shops and salons in your natural skin color then walk out a few shades darker in a matter of few hours and days of efforts.

The important thing about the logic behind the popularity of tanning, is that, it has fundamentally the same idea as skin brightening. It is the idea that skin complexion is a mark of certain class or socio-economic status, and that can be bought and fixed with money. The idea that beauty queue exists based on skin complexion, and consuming certain products will make you move up along the ladder. So at the end, who ‘wins’ at this game? Think about it – the same company that produces tanning creams and bronzers have different lines for skin brightening and whitening. Whether light skin or tanned skin is the trend of the year, they will never have a problem marketing either product.

Bigakuseizukan – Who Are the Beautiful Students?

by Lilia Yamakawa

A friend asked me to go with her to a party sponsored by a website called Bigakuseizukan, Picture Book of Beautiful Students. Both the photographers and the “beautiful” students they photograph are students from Japanese universities. Since have been talking about people’s concepts of “beauty” in our Race & Ethnicity class, I thought this would be a good opportunity to do fieldwork and see what this group considers attractive, what the trends are, why students agree to be posted on the website, and why this website is popular.

In class, we discussed what beauty is and found that a majority considers one type of appearance as beauty. Like the contestants in the Miss Korea contest that we saw in class, I expected most of the students at the party to be similar: skinny chins, double eyelids, small noses. I thought there would be many people with the Japanese kawaii style, with the same brown hair, same length bangs, and wearing the fluffy white and pink cutie skirts.

It turned out not to be what I expected! Most of the people there had different styles: many different hair colors and styles, different facial characteristics, many different body types, with totally different styles of clothes. Kawaii wasn’t especially big. I was both disappointed and relieved by what I actually saw. I was in a way disappointed that I couldn’t see an expected trend with my own eyes, and also relieved to find that there were many kinds of beautiful students there.

I think this has something to do with the popularity of the Picture Book of Beautiful Students website. The models are students who might actually go to your school, and they all look different. When you look at their snapshots, you might feel that they are close to you and possible to reach. This sense of closeness would be hard to have if you are looking at a model of a magazine or on TV. Bigakuseizukan’s uniqueness is that it doesn’t show only one type of beauty considered as perfect. It really shows lots of different types of students.

Another question I had in mind was why do people say yes to being photographed and having pictures posted of them online? And why do they attend such a gathering? I had a chance to ask around yesterday. I got a lot of answers, but basically they fall into three categories. In the first category, there were many students who were running for beauty contests, such as Miss Ritsumeikan, Mr. Japan and Miss Universe. These types of people answered they did it to get their name out and remembered through the Bigakuseizukan. The second group said they tried it for their personal record and their future career. It will look good when applying for a job, which might have a lot to do with your appearance, such as newscasters and announcers. The third group was more vague, and they said there was no reason not to try it or that they just enjoyed modeling for fun. One girl said, “Well, everybody posts their selfies on Twitter and other sites like that, so why not post a better picture of yourself taken by a photographer with a real camera?”

One more thing I expected to find was that everyone would be outgoing. Instead, there seemed to be all sorts of types of personalities at the gathering, and some people seemed very quiet and reserved. I think you could probably say that they all had some sense of confidence in the way they look, though.

This fieldwork only lasted three hours, but if you were interested in finding out why people in a certain group are judged to be attractive, I think studying a group such as the Bigakuseizukan would be a good method. It would be necessary to find more things that the models have in common and to question both the beauties and the photographers in more detail.

Color complex and constant degradation

Sign for "colored" waiting room at a...

Sign for “colored” waiting room at a Greyhound bus terminal in Rome, Georgia, 1943. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Miho Tanaka

In our class on racism and colorism, we have been talking about how light skin is considered as one of the crucial elements of beauty in and how the idea is fostered all over the world. Not only people with dark skin but also all people, especially women, try to lighten or whiten their skin color without any specific necessaries and reasons to be light. Overall the main issue is how the idea of colorism is getting fostered then racism has taken its place on this capitalism world. As everything can be bought by money, wealth is literally measured by how much economic power people have. “Power of consumption” (Rondilla 2009, p.78) is then directly connected to “economies of color” (Harris 2009, p.1).

Under this condition, people with dark skin would try to be lighter by consuming skin lighteners if they had money to consume these. Therefore impoverished people would stay in a lower status since they wouldn’t be able to buy skin lighteners, and it is the problem that people with dark skin are often needed to stay in poor communities where many problems such as crimes, drugs or robberies exist. According to Rondilla (ibid), “controlling images are designed to make racism, sexism, poverty and other forms of social injustice appear to be natural, normal, and inevitable parts of life” (p.65). Regarding African American communities in Detroit, I’ve heard from my friend the images are so natural that even inhabitants of the community cannot get rid of them. “People are so caught with personal aesthetic and social positions, than actually embracing their own features, cultures and talents” (Brandosoul 2013), and I would call it a “constant degradation of certain racial people.” As Atlanta blackstar (2013) shows, unfortunately it might be true that young African Americans are often targeted as people who resort to violence but the system in which they are stuck should be transformed.

As Angela Harris explains in the introduction to the book Shades of Difference, “[o]ne of the challenges for scholars and activists concerned with colorism is thus to disrupt―and if possible prevent―’Latin Americanization,’ in which color hierarchy is pervasive yet its relationship to racism denied” (Harris, 2009, p.5). Racism exists and the first step we could take is not to deny it and not to be ignorant.


Atlanta blackstar. (2013). 5 reasons young black men resort to violence. Retrieved on November 29, 2013, from http://atlantablackstar.com/2013/11/26/5-reasons-young-black-men-resort-violence/2/

Brandosoul. (2013). Colorism: the jaded mystery of race and skin color. Retrieved on December 9th 2013 from http://misedublack.wordpress.com/2013/12/11/colorism-the-jaded-mystery-of-race-and-skin-color/

Harris, A. P. (2009). Economies of color. In Glennn, N, E. (Ed.) (2009). Shades of difference: why skin color matters. Stanford University Press.

Rondilla, J. L. (2009). Filipinos and the color complex : ideal Asian beauty. In Glennn, N, E. (Ed.) (2009). Shades of difference : why skin color matters. Stanford University Press.