|VOICES OF JAPAN
The Evolving Face of the Japanese
KÔNO MICHIKAZU Our theme today is the facial characteristics of the Japanese people. Im hoping to hear your thoughts on how our outward appearance and our standards of beauty have evolved from ancient times to the present and how they reflect the times in which we live. First, though, I think it would be helpful to go over the origins of the Japanese people. In your writings, you explain the latest anthropological findings, which indicate that our origins can be traced to two separate peoples. The first entered Japan from the seas to the south tens of thousands of years ago. Theyre referred to as the Jômon people because they were already present on the Japanese archipelago at the dawn of the prehistoric Jômon period. The Jômon people have a southern physiognomy, with pronounced features, a markedly convex face, relatively heavy facial hair, and a square jaw. The second strain arrived more recently, historically speaking. They came from the interior of northeastern Asia, a region that includes Siberia, and migrated to Japan by way of the Korean Peninsula some time between 2000 and 3000 bc. Theyre called the Yayoi people because they brought to Japan agricultural methods that laid the foundation for the more advanced culture of the Yayoi period. They had faces adapted to a colder climateflatter, with less prominent features, exposing a smaller surface area, and with relatively thick facial skin, which yields the monolid eyes. Their earlobes were also smaller to minimize the possibility of freezing, and they had relatively little body and facial hair.
HARASHIMA HIROSHI Yes, thats right. In terms of the general image, the Jômon physiognomy is boldly chiseled and sharply defined, while Yayoi features are flatter and more subtle. You might say the Jômon face has a more Western flavor and the Yayoi a more Eastern flavor. The Mongolian wrestlers who have become so dominant in professional sumô of late have typical Yayoi faces.
The Yayoi people arrived in Japan later and brought with them rice cultivation and various aspects of Chinas advanced culture. As a result they established themselves as the ruling class, dominating the aboriginal Jômon people. This is why the Yayoi physiognomy is the face that the Japanese traditionally associate with the aristocracy. The Yayoi aristocrats associated the Jômon face with the local people who would sometimes attack them when they traveled to the provinces. Thats one reason the typical face of a demon in Japanese art appears as an exaggerated version of a Jômon face. This ongoing relationship between the Yayoi and Jômon strains shaped the basic Japanese perception and standard of beauty with regard to the human face. But from the Meiji era  on, the Western physiognomy became increasingly familiar, and a growing admiration for things Western helped restore the prestige of the Jômon type. This exotic Jômon-type face became even more popular after World War II, with the influx of American culture. In Japan today, theres really no dominant preference for one or the other. I think the general feeling is that each type has an appeal all its own.
THE FACE OF MODERNIZATION
KÔNO The Japanese people have become more mobile since the Meiji era, and especially since World War II, and as a result, cultural and lifestyle differences from one region to the next have faded. In the same way, I would suppose that the Jômon and Yayoi types have gradually blended into one another. Are there any other generalizations that we can make regarding the Japanese physiognomy today?
HARASHIMA They say that peoples faces mirror the times in which they live, and its true; you can tell all kinds of things about an era by reading peoples physiognomy. From the Meiji era on, the Japanese were focused on catching up as quickly as possible with the West, where the Industrial Revolution was already well advanced, and after World War II, that effort accelerated even further. Naturally, the effects of that process have shown up in peoples faces.
One aspect of daily life that has changed dramatically is diet. Since the end of World War II, the Japanese diet has become heavily slanted toward soft foods. In earlier times, people would take about an hour to finish an average meal in order to chew their food well, as everyone was told to do. These days you need no more than five or ten minutes. The amount of chewing that we do has decreased drastically. Things like hamburgers hardly require any chewing, so our masticatory strength has declined, and our jaws dont grow as large as they used to. I was wondering what peoples faces would look like a hundred years from now if current trends continued, so I collaborated with the anthropologist Baba Hisao to generate a computer simulation. The result is a bit different for men and women, but one thing both have in common is smaller jaws. Mens faces become triangular. Womens faces, which are rounder than mens to begin with, end up rounder still because of the smaller jaw.
Abrupt changes in lifestyle impose all kinds of strains on people, which inevitably distort the physiognomy. One example is the alignment of our teeth. Peoples teeth stay pretty much the same size regardless of diet, so when the jaw shrinks, theres not enough room for all the teeth, and they grow in crooked. This isnt just a cosmetic issue; it also causes problems with chewing, which can affect the stomach and other digestive organs. So its likely that the demand for orthodontists will continue to rise in Japan.
SIGNS OF INFANTILIZATION
KÔNO In addition to the shape of the face, theres also the matter of size. For example, the kogao, or small face, seems to be very much in vogue among women.
HARASHIMA Yes, womens magazines these days are full of makeup and hair tips for making ones face look smaller or thinner. You never see tips for making the face look bigger and more impressive. You would think there might be a place for such advice, but its simply nonexistent. Why is that? I can think of a number of explanations. One has to do with fashion in clothing, and the fact that the Japanese now wear Western-style clothes instead of traditional Japanese attire. With Japanese-style clothing, a larger face is more becoming. But a smaller face looks better with Western clothes, because theyre designed for Westerners, who have smaller faces. In addition, today a growing number of female entertainers are women who began their careers as models. For a model, whose job is to display clothing to its best advantage, a smaller face is naturally desirable. As idols admired by the public, these women have helped set the trend for smaller faces.
Another key point about the term kogao is that it suggests not only a physically small face but a childlike face. The craze for kogao is in part a craze for cute faces, reflecting our societys bias toward the cute and childish as opposed to the mature. At some level, I think its closely intertwined with the infantilization that we see throughout our society.
KÔNO And this preference for kogao extends to mens faces as well, doesnt it?
HARASHIMA Thats right. In a way its an unnatural preference. In the animal kingdom, making the face look larger is a common strategy for augmenting the males presence to intimidate rivals or enemies. The most obvious example is the male lion, whose mane makes it look much bigger than it actually is. But in Japan nowadays the male entertainers most popular with girls and young women are all men with small faces.
Theres also a tendency among younger teenage girls to go for more feminine or androgynous men. While girls of that age are interested in the opposite sex, theyre also a bit frightened. They dislike facial hair, one of the obvious signs of maleness. And if the man has lots of body hair, forget it. They go for the clean, smooth look. For this age group, the ideal idol is either a feminine man or a masculine woman. In the past, girls of that age often became enamored of some older, tomboyish girl at school. These days they idolize the otokoyaku [male role players] in the all-female Takarazuka Review or women pro wrestlers.
To some degree, we can identify the distinguishing features of our own era by the kinds of faces that are preferred. And nowadays, women seem to be calling the shots in that regard. In the past, our society was male-centered, and women accommodated mens attitudes and tastes, but now it seems that women are altering men to suit their own preferences. The ideal of manliness has undergone a complete transformation, for example. Of course, the underlying expectation is the samethat a man will steadfastly protect a woman. This is true in the animal world as well. The basis on which a female judges a males attractiveness is his apparent ability to protect her, so that she can raise her children without fear. When competition for survival is fierce or there are serious enemies to contend with, women are attracted by the kind of rugged virility that can protect against such threats. But while a man endowed with sheer physical strength seems desirable during times of conflict or trouble, in peacetime he might actually create problems by getting into fights and exposing himself and others to needless danger. Or even worse, he might use that physical strength on the woman in the form of domestic violence. This helps explain why the ideal of manliness has been shifting from rugged strength and toughness to kindness and gentleness. I dont think its a bad thing at all; its proof that we live in a peaceful society. Historically speaking, its very similar to Japanese society during the Edo period .
THOUGHTS ON FEMININE BEAUTY
KÔNO Recently I read a very thought-provoking essay that touched on some of the subtleties of marital relationships. It was an online piece by the novelist Sagawa Mitsuharu, and it quoted from an essay of his that had appeared in a newspaper six years earlier.* Id like to read from that quotation.
"Perhaps theres no need for me to say it publicly," he writes, "but my wife is no beauty. Still, while shes not what people would call beautiful, even now, after fifteen years of marriage, I personally find her face very interesting and compelling.
"My wife is an elementary school teacher, and her open and honest character, along with her enthusiastic teaching, has won her the absolute trust of her students and their parents, as well as her colleagues. That gives her a confidence that radiates from her bodya body that, at 167 centimeters, would have to be considered tall for a womanand creates her distinctive appeal. In a word, I am quite happy with my wifes looks.
"The reason I bring this up is that Ive noticed that writers and editors and other acquaintances who meet my wife seem at a loss to articulate their impression of her.
"To be sure, my wife is a far cry from the conventional standards of feminine beauty. This is the general perception even among her students, who are utterly devoted to her. My wife wears large glasses that add an attractive accent to her rather flat face, and if she removes them at school, her students are apt to warn her in all seriousness, Teacher, dont ever take off your glasses in front of your husband!
"When my ninety-year-old grandfather met my wife for the first time, he was silent for a moment. Then he took her hand, saying, In Japan nowadays a person needs to be tall. I knew he was searching for some way of complimenting his grandsons new wife, and I was gratified and moved by the gesture.
"Readers, let us work to find more ways of complimenting women."
Apparently there was a tremendous response to this essay, but interestingly, the reaction was sharply divided. On the one hand were people who responded positively to what Sagawa was trying to get acrossthat while his wife is no beauty, he is happy with her looks, and all of us should look for more opportunities to compliment women. On the other hand were readers who were more than anything shocked that Sagawa would write about his wifes face in that way, irrespective of his message. Among the latter group was a woman editor who reacted with horror, saying she would never tolerate being written about in such a manner. Apparently shes a married woman in her mid-forties, and according to Sagawa, she has no reason to feel defensive about her own looks, but she was adamant, saying, "I wouldnt let anyonenot even my parents or my husbandgo on about my face like that."
HARASHIMA I think its a great passage. Its a refreshing reminder that the qualities of a human face are not something objective; theyre determined by the relationship between the beheld and the beholder. We see the same face very differently depending on our feelings at the time and our relationship with that person.
My own theory is that feminine beauty can be classified according to a time scale, ranging from three seconds to thirty years. A three-second beauty is someone who makes you turn your head involuntarily when you see her on the street and think, "Wow, what a beautiful woman!" This is almost completely superficial. In fact, it may have more to do with her figure and how shes dressed than her face. Next is the three-minute beauty. A typical example would be a receptionist, someone with whom you communicate for about three minutes. She presents you with a professionally arranged countenance and deals with you across a counter that creates an impassable barrier. Next comes the thirty-minute beauty. When you talk with someone for thirty minutes, her true countenance comes through, and you find beauty not in her superficial features but in the natural charm of her facial expressions. With a three-day beauty, the beauty you perceive is a product not just of her countenance but of her values and her outlook on life. Finally, theres the thirty-year beauty. This is the woman who has been with you over the years, through thick and thin, and even though you may have cheated once or twice, in the end you know shes the one for you. I dont know how long Sagawa has been married, but it seems to me he has discovered the thirty-year beauty in his wife.
KÔNO By the way, Dr. Harashima, do you compliment your own wife on her looks?
HARASHIMA I do quite a bit, actually. My wife generally answers, "Oh, youre just saying that," or "Flattery will get you nowhere." [Laughs] I think the important thing is to compliment a woman on a regular basis, because if you start flattering her out of the blue, its apt to make her suspicious. The thing is to get in the habit of praising her looks naturally and casually, not in high-flown terms. When we finish a meal, we customarily express our appreciation to the cook by saying gochisôsama [literally, "It was a feast"] even when the meal was nothing very special. In much the same spirit, I suggest that we get in the habit of saying things like, "Youre looking very pretty today." If youre always disparaging your wifes looks, on the other hand, her face will start to look unpleasant.
KÔNO In Japan, men typically speak disparagingly of their own wives, although part of that is modesty. The most obvious example is the word gusai [stupid wife], traditionally used by males in reference to their own wives. You hear stories about the shock caused by Japanese men who translate this word literally into English and talk about "my stupid wife" when talking to their American acquaintances.
HARASHIMA Id like to see more people with good faces around us, so Ive compiled "Thirteen Precepts for a Better Face," and number three on the list is, "Faces grow beautiful when they are complimented." So Im in complete agreement with Sagawa that we should find more opportunities to compliment women. It seems to me that its wholly to a husbands advantage to compliment his wife if its going to give her a nicer face.
KÔNO Words like "pretty" and "cute" are easy to use, but given the whole spectrum of feminine beauty, from the three-second to the thirty-year variety, I wonder if our vocabulary isnt a bit inadequate.
CREATING YOUR OWN FACE
HARASHIMA The word bijin ["beauty"] used to be something that appeared mainly in mens magazines, in the context of articles that analyzed or compared varieties of feminine beauty from a male perspective. Nowadays you most often come upon it in womens magazines, which are always running features with titles like "How to Be a [something or other] Beauty." Nowadays women are establishing their own goals for beauty, based on their own standards. This is a big change. Formerly the standards were set by men and society as a whole. Moreover, in the past the conventional wisdom was that women reached their peak in terms of physical beauty at twenty or so, and after that their main concern was to slow their decline as much as possible. Nowadays, women whove reached a certain age are starting to set their own goals for the kind of beauty they want to become.
In Japan, weve long said that beauty is only skin deep, and its whats inside that counts. The underlying assumption here is that one neither can nor should change the face one got from ones parents. I agree that its discriminatory to judge people on the basis of facial attributes that they cant do anything about. But to some extent its possible to alter ones face through ones own efforts, and to that extent, I think its a wonderful thing to say, "Im going to make my face the way I want," and set ones own goals for the kind of face one would like to have at age fifty, say. Its possible to find beauty in every age group. In many Western societies, the appreciation of mature beauty is firmly established as part of the culture.
KÔNO I recall a Western actress saying not too long ago that she valued her wrinkles as a record of the life shes led. In countries like France, you see plenty of female celebrities who are admired for their mature beauty or the distinctive character of their faces, rather than for their ability to compete with younger women by desperately concealing their age.
HARASHIMA It so happens that number ten of my thirteen precepts is "Look on your beautiful wrinkles as the pride of your life." But I have to say that this one isnt very popular among women. When my wife read it, she got her back up and scolded me for not appreciating how seriously women take their wrinkles. "If you must include it," she said, "then you should also include, Look on your beautiful bald head as the pride of your life." So I did. But men dont mind womens wrinkles that much, do they? By the same token, some men are terribly self-conscious about balding, but when you ask women, it turns out that they dont give it much thought. In any case, I think its important to develop a type of beauty appropriate to each age; its awful for women to think of themselves as faded flowers just because theyre past their twenties. Id like women in their fifties to find a beauty unique to that age group and pursue that ideal. We may be right in the midst of a major transition in this regard.
THE FACELESS SOCIETY
KÔNO Its been about fifteen years since you founded the Japanese Academy of Facial Studies [J-face] back in 1995. An academic society devoted to the study of the human face is a rarity, not only in Japan but throughout the world, and the media took quite an interest in it. Its also attracted attention as an interdisciplinary undertaking that brings together a wide range of specialists, from engineers, such as you, to anthropologists, psychologists, artists, physicians, dentists, and beauticians. Have you thought about why people have suddenly become interested in studying the human face?
HARASHIMA I think its been aptly expressed by philosopher Washida Kiyokazu, a member of J-face. He says, "The only time the stomach comes under close scrutiny and we start worrying about our own stomach is when it isnt working properly. When the stomach is working as it should, no one gives it any thought. No doubt the same is true of the face. If people are especially concerned about the face nowadays, I imagine its because the faces of the Japanese have become so lacking in character." He also said this: "There has never been a time when the media was so awash in faces. Turn on the television, and you see faces everywhere. And these faces are presented merely as objects for us to ogle. Real faces arent something you can just stare at in that way. As soon as your eyes meet, you naturally avert your gaze. Thats how it is with real human faces. But with the faces on TV, its different. Nowadays, when were deluged by faces as objects, it seems that real faces are losing their character."
These days its quite common to see young women putting on their makeup on commuter trains. It doesnt bother them in the least that people are watching. They casually apply their makeup right there on the train in the midst of a crowd of faces, just as if they were doing it in front of their TV. I cant help but feel that people have grown so used to seeing faces as objects in the media that theyve come to think of faces as mere signs or symbols instead of as the faces of real human beings.
Another thing is that, with e-mail, its become the norm to communicate without ever showing ones face. Until now, face-to-face contact was basic to human communication. Even with the telephone, although we werent communicating face to face, we could at least infer something about a persons countenance from his or her tone of voice. But with e-mail, you have nothing but text. Not only that, on Internet forums, people can hide even their names. Thats why I call our era the age of faceless anonymity. In earlier times, when the role of the face in communication was taken for granted, no one felt the need to give any special thought to the human face. Today, when peoples faces are hidden as often as not, weve begun to feel the need to explore the role of the face in communication and what the face means to people today.
Historically speaking, this kind of anonymity began with the rise of modern urban society. When people abandoned their rural villages for the city, they were able to escape from the constraints of those close-knit, insular rural communities and find freedom in anonymity. This anonymity is part of what gave the cities their energy. On the other hand, it also made them hotbeds of crime. But despite this dark side, theres no question that cities powered the development of the modern age. Faceless communication also has the potential to open the door to a new era. People talk a lot about the evils of the Internet, but theres no denying that, for all its negatives, the Internet is generating a new kind of energy thats moving in a positive direction.
The computer was invented in 1946. Gutenbergs invention of movable type occurred just about five hundred years before that. The invention of mass printing technology paved the way for the development of the modern age, and as I understand it, the computer revolution has laid the foundation for a comparable turning point in history. Its easy to lose sight of the larger historical picture in the midst of all the changes going on around us from day to day. I sometimes try to imagine how historians will describe our era five hundred years from now. It seems to me that were bound to see things more clearly when we adopt that sort of perspective and observe the changes sweeping our society objectively, in a larger context. In any case, I believe that faceless communication is opening the door to a new era, and Im very eager to see what kind of world it will turn out to be.
KÔNO Be that as it may, Im very troubled by Dr. Washidas observation that the faces of the Japanese today are losing their character. To some degree the Japanese have always had a low profile in the international community. What a shame if the profile we do show to the world is a face with no character! One can only hope that interesting faces begin to make a comeback here in Japan and around the world. With that in mind, Id like to conclude this discussion with a list of Dr. Harashimas Thirteen Precepts for a Better Face:
1. Get to like your face.
2. Faces grow beautiful when they are observed.
3. Faces grow beautiful when they are complimented.
4. Think of any unusual facial feature you have as the key to your own special charm.
5. Stop being self-conscious about a feature, and people will stop noticing it.
6. Every time you knit your brows, you scrunch up your stomach as well.
7. Open up the space between your eyes, and your outlook on life will broaden as well.
8. Keep your mouth and teeth clean, and smile easily.
9. Make a point of keeping your countenance symmetrical.
10. Look on your beautiful wrinkles or your beautiful bald head as the pride of your life.
11. One-third of your life is spent sleeping. Put on a pleasant face before bed.
12. Put on a happy face, and youll feel happy inside, and your life will be happy too.
13. Pleasant faces and unpleasant faces are catching.
Translated from an original interview in Japanese. Interviewer Kôno Michikazu is former editor in chief of Chûô Kôron.
*Sagawa Mitsuharu, "Tsuma no yôbô" (My Wifes Looks), Japan Business Press website, http://jbpress.ismedia.jp/articles/-/683, April 2, 2009.
© 2010 Japan Echo Inc.