What are Japanese ideal types of girls

Japanese Consulate General Düsseldorf
在 デ ュ ッ セ ル ド ル フ 日本国 総 領事館

Culture and exchange

Ideals of beauty and beauty care in Japan:

(Japan Forum Vol. 95, February 2003, pp. 1-2)

who on old scrolls (emakimono) to the Genji monogatari ("Story of Prince Genji", early 11th century) Prince Genji, the "shining prince" and all-outshining hero of the novel, is often easily disappointed. Because the depicted person with their tiny mouth, their narrow eyes, the almost doughy-looking, chubby face and the sparse goatee, whose figure is difficult to make out under the numerous clothing covers, hardly corresponds to our present-day idea of ​​a man whose beauty and grace were once his Surroundings enchants and is said to have brought the women who were carried away by him close to swooning. A look at Fujiwara no Korechika (975-1010), the dream man of the time, who, according to the assumption of many researchers Murasaki Shikibu, served as a historical model for the figure of Genji, shows that his round moon face obviously corresponded to the ideal of the time.

In the Heian period (794-1192) a plump figure was considered attractive, especially since it embodied a certain wealth. Therefore, in the literature of the time, particularly beautiful women were fond of formulations such as tsubutsubu to fuetaru ("well-rounded and plump") or fukuraka naru hito ("a plump person") described; skinny, bony people, on the other hand, were found ugly. The ideal did not change until the end of the 12th century, and slender, elongated figures gradually gained popularity, such as those we encounter, for example, in wood sculptures from the Kamakura period (1192-1333) and in woodcuts from the 18th and 19th centuries.

Although the above emakimono not created in the Heian period, but rather later, one can assume that the artists actually met the ideal of beauty of the upper class of the Heian period, which was influenced by the Chinese culture of the Tang period (618-907 ) - applied equally to the female as well as the male sex. However, this courtly elite was a numerically very limited group who devoted themselves to the fine arts and trained and further developed their aesthetic awareness of questions such as the appropriate color combination of individual robes or the conception and elegant writing of a poem. The vast majority of the population, on the other hand, lived in another world and had to work hard at sowing or harvest time to ensure their survival. In this respect, the ideal of beauty described here cannot be generalized.

Originally was the make-up - in Japanese with the term keshô ("transform" + "decorate") - closely related to magical-religious practices: By applying ocher and red, one tried to prepare physically for the ritual act and to support the spiritual change associated with it. When Buddhism reached Japan via Korea in the 6th century and many other components of Chinese culture were taken over with it, other aesthetic ideas prevailed at the imperial court: A skin that was as light as possible was now considered beautiful, and - similar to Europe - as Signs of prosperity and noble origins were valid and to which the dark hair and the red mouth stylized to a rose blossom with the blackened teeth formed a contrast that must have been very impressive in the semi-darkness of the palaces. This color combination, reminiscent of Snow White, was to remain relevant for many centuries.

But By nature, only a few had the fair complexion that was perceived as ideal. For this reason, ladies and gentlemen at court used plenty of white powder early on in order to achieve the desired paleness - a custom that was also practiced at European courts in later centuries. Originally, a mixture of kaolin and rice flour was used as a powder, from the 7th century this mixture was replaced by copper chloride imported from China (keifun) and white lead (empaku) replaced. However, this white make-up was (oshiroi) quite expensive as imported goods and therefore only affordable for the court nobility for a long time. Only with the growing prosperity of the urban bourgeoisie did a new class of buyers appear who could also afford such cosmetics. However, in Edo, today's Tokyo, at the beginning of the 17th century, the bare face was considered particularly beautiful for a short time - provided it looked elegantly pale, which was not given to everyone. So you quickly accessed it again oshiroi - especially the lead powder - and soon no woman dared to go public without make-up. The powder was mixed with water to form a paste and then applied to the skin. In addition to the face and neck, great attention was paid to the neck, as this was considered to have a special erotic effect in Japan; the larger the neck area visible on the kimono collar, the more open-minded the lady was in love affairs. Even if this interpretation no longer applies today, the carefully made-up neck can still be seen today with geishas and maiko (young women who are trained as geisha) admire. When it was discovered in the 1870s how toxic the leaded make-up was, the search for a safe substitute was made, which, however, did not come onto the market in Japan until 1905. Nowadays the primer has long since taken the place of this traditional make-up.

red, the second color in the canon of beauty, was of course particularly effective on skin with white make-up. Already on the clay grave figures (haniwa) of the 3rd to 6th centuries there are traces of reddish color, which, however, were identified as a kind of ritual make-up and are therefore not considered to be a forerunner of the later rouge. In the early 7th century, the dyer (benibana) from Egypt via India, Central Asia, China and Korea also Japan; from her could crimson (beni), which was seen as a symbol of joy and happiness due to its bright colors. In the 10th century it was possible to establish the plant in Japan; however, the cultivation was laborious and the yield low, so that beni a precious luxury remained and was accordingly used sparingly. It was mainly used to highlight the mouth, on which it was applied with a small brush, sometimes complemented by a touch of blush on the cheeks or a little red in the corner of the eye or eyelid. At the end of the 18th century, the rouge variant appeared sasabeni with her own golden green shimmer, which enjoyed great popularity; Incidentally, in keeping with the fashion of the time, it was applied more intensely to the lower lip than to the upper lip. Towards the end of the Meiji period (1868-1912), however, western blush was adopted and the traditional dye fell into disuse.

The The crowning glory of the color trio was the black hair on the head (see article "Hairstyles in Japan", in: Japan Forum Vol. 80, Nov. 2001), which could represent one of the most important beauty features of a woman and as such by the lady-in-waiting Sei Shônagon in hers "Pillow Book" (Makura no sôshi, Beg. 11th century) is explicitly mentioned several times. Ideally, the hair is full, straight and body length and falls backwards over the shoulders decoratively. In the literature we repeatedly find episodes in which it is reported how a man falls in love with a woman at the sight of a woman's long, luscious hair.

As a high forehead was also considered beautiful. In order to reinforce the impression of having one, for example the hair on the forehead was shaved and the eyebrows were raised. For this purpose, the natural brows were plucked or shaved away (okimayu) - a custom that already existed in China in the early Han period (206 BC-8 AD). Then the old areas were covered with make-up and instead new brows were painted a few centimeters above them with the brush (mayuzumi), the artistic form of which in classical poetry was often compared metaphorically with a crescent moon or a butterfly's wing. Initially, the color was black mixed with ash, then lamp soot mixed with the remains of burnt ears of rice, before a special paste was used in the Heian period (konezumi) from blush, lamp soot, gold leaf, extract of the Asian blue three-master flower (Commelina communis) and sesame oil. In the Edo period (1603-1867) many beauty techniques were used - including mayuzumi - refined; they spread throughout the entire population, and the greater demand favored the industrial production of cosmetic utensils, which soon adorned almost every dressing table and could be of high handicraft value.

In the Heian period mayuzumi in the upper class also used to mark the age of majority or sexual maturity of young girls, who usually reached this age between 12-13 years and sometimes performed as a kind of initiation rite, often in connection with the first shaving of the forehead hair and the blackening of the teeth (ohaguro or. kane). In contrast to many other beauty customs in Japan, the latter obviously does not come from China and Korea, but from Southeast Asia or Polynesia. To dye the teeth, a mixture of iron filings or iron nails were used, which were placed in tea, rice wine or the like and oxidized there; the resulting black dip was then applied to the teeth with a soft brush and with the help of adhesive powder. Back then, black teeth were considered erotic - an idea that western viewers often find difficult to understand these days -; In addition, it was believed that blackening the teeth kept them healthy, and the iron-containing substance also counteracted a possible iron deficiency during pregnancy. From the 12th century, men of the court and sword nobility began to dye their teeth, later the bourgeoisie adopted this custom. Blackened teeth now indicated that the woman was either already engaged or married; the utensils required for dyeing black were therefore part of the trousseau. A widow who continued to blacken her teeth made it clear that she did not intend to be remarried. In the 18th century men were banned from blackening their teeth, and in 1871 the Meiji government finally extended this ban to women by a cabinet decision, as this custom was now classified as barbaric under Western influence.

The In the Heian period, ideally fair skin and a full, round face were equally valid for women and men - at least to the taste of refined court ladies like Murasaki Shikibu. It is characterized several times in the Genji monogatari a man as handsome by highlighting his resemblance to a woman. Even the idea that a noble gentleman - overwhelmed by feelings - gives expression to them through tears was by no means a sign of weakness and effeminacy, but testified to the high sensitivity of the person concerned. Apart from that, relatively few words were lost about the external appearance; The ability to capture a mood in verse, to select the right paper for writing down the poem or to create a particularly appealing incense with which one could perfume one's clothes and thus signal one's coming and going in the most pleasant way seemed more meaningful. Prince Genji is said to have achieved true mastery in this, and the names of two other people in Murasaki Shikibu's novel - "Prince Fragrance" (Niou no miya) and "Prince Fragrance" (Kaoru Dainagon) - prove the importance attached to the art of fragrance at that time has been. It served a very practical purpose; Because in view of the fact that at that time bathing was relatively rare and the precious fabrics were difficult to clean, the physical presence of other people was sometimes easier to bear when other smells were superimposed by the scent of the robes.

It there were many other cosmetics, of which only a few can be listed here. For example, the Portuguese, Dutch and Spanish took over the production of skin lotions and scented waters in the 16th and 17th centuries. A rice bran bag was used to cleanse the body while bathing (nukabukuro), for facial care people often used vegetable juices such as pumpkin lotion (hechima-sui) and cucumber water back. And nightingale droppings were considered a real miracle cure for light and delicate skin (uguisu no fun). As studies have shown in the meantime, it contains, among other things, important anabolic enzymes - yet it remains hidden to the layman how one might once have come across this helpful substance.

In In many ways, tastes have changed in the meantime, and the old make-up techniques are now largely only used in the traditional arts, especially among the former trendsetters: the kabuki actors, geishas and maiko. Blackened teeth and shaved, upwardly offset eyebrows have long been "out", and instead of a rounded figure, a slim, graceful figure is now favored. However, a notion of beauty from bygone times has been preserved: Even today, most Japanese women want light skin - very different from Central Europe, where the tanned complexion is considered healthy and sporty. Therefore, Japanese women usually carry light powder with them and prefer the shade in summer, while many Germans cannot get enough of the sun - despite all the prophecies of doom of dermatologists.

How it once had an effect on contemporaries when someone was not ready to submit to the prevailing ideal of beauty, becomes in the story Mushi mezuru himegimi ("The lady who loved insects", late 12th century) described: When the eccentric protagonist refuses to comply with the fashion dictates of her time, removing her eyebrows and blackening her teeth, this causes disgust among her servants ; they disgustedly compare the naturally grown eyebrows with hairy caterpillars, and a potential marriage candidate, when he sees the white gleaming teeth of his potential bride, distances himself from his intention. It is very reassuring that nowadays what the individual likes is allowed, and those who do not follow the current fashion trend hardly have to fear such drastic reactions.