Japan Make-up Culture: We All Know Your Secrets

Many women strive to master the natural makeup look, that flawless complexion that makes everyone absolutely jealous. “How can one person be blessed with such beauty?” This is what we hope others will say when they see the result of our toils. Let me just say that mastering tools, coordinating colors, and drawing perfect straight or contour lines is an artistic feat which takes ages to perfect. Yet we struggle to enhance our beauty by drawing attention to our features instead of masking them with layers of artificial color and cakey foundation.

Although I appreciate a good show of theatrical makeup for events or the stage, I prefer the essentials on a daily basis: a bit of liner, mascara, dabs of concealer to dark circles and spots, sheer nude shadow to brighten the lids, and a brush of rose blush to feel alive in the morning. This may seem like a long list of “essentials” but like I said, natural makeup is more work than one may think.

On the other end of the spectrum is makeup for the sake of makeup- and lots of it. Women who sport this style flaunt it- how else can one parade such a display of artistry? There is no denying its presence when bright colors are in play. But who’s denying it anyway?

Japan, like many other countries, is an exhibition of both. From magazines, websites, and shows, Japanese women learn from a young age how to apply a flawless facade that not only enhances but usually entirely reconstructs the face of its wearer. I’m only a bit jealous. Following these magazine instructions is a fruitless effort for three reasons: my patience is limited, my interest wavers, and my features are not like the Asian ones on which these tips focus. That said, the makeup and appearance education in this country is quite successful and wide-spread. Never show up in Tokyo without a fresh wardrobe and makeup kit. It is a fashion show, and you will feel like a misfit.

One thing that differs, however, is the location in which said makeup application takes place. At home in the States, rarely will women do more than apply a fresh coat of lipstick in public. Well, that is, unless they are hoping to make a statement or good at ignoring the rude stares and simultaneous commentary. (The only exception is Sephora, that fantastical paradise of color, fragrance, and experimentation to which I’m addicted.) In Japan, however, it seems the appropriate place to do makeup is… Anywhere.

Sure, train signs say tsk tsk, naughty you for being inconsiderate toward other commuters. Yet that doesn’t stop that girl over there from running through her morning routine, starting with cover up, shadow, liner, onto eyelash curlers, mascara, then blush, lipstick, lip gloss… I tend to become mesmerized- the student watching the teacher. Some may find my staring rude, but really, who does her makeup from start to finish on the train? Apparently, 30% of Japanese women do. (My exaggerated number is not based on reliable research data, just frequent observation.)

If anything, I commend these women for not giving a damn. On the other hand, it leaves nothing to the imagination. With these public displays, they break the illusion of natural perfection. It’s only a myth, and that is upsetting. I really hoped some people were just born with beauty not in need of refinement. Either way, hats off to you, women of Japan, for knowing how to look beautiful and being proud of it.

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