Japanese Beauty Standards – How Pretty Are You In Japan?

The concept of beauty is vastly different among any nation in the world, especially between Western and Asian countries. In such a country with such exotic culture like Japan, what it takes to be seen as beautiful is a mystery to ex-pats. Stay tuned, this article will reveal the Japanese beauty standards both throughout history and in the modern world. This general list will reflect a pretty fascinating cultural contrast to learn.

1. Japanese Beauty Standards In The Past

1.1 Plump face, light skin tone, and white face powder

For Japanese women, chubby rounded faces used to be beauty standards since it represented they were wealthy enough to eat more. Throughout Japanese history, light skin tone is the symbol of wealth and high status in society too. The reason is these nobles afforded to stay indoors enjoying their fortune while people from the lower class, like farmers, usually had to work outdoors, under the harsh sun.

Japanese beauty standards in the past

References to the Japanese beauty standards in the past can be seen in old books such as the Diary of Lady Murasaki or Tale of Genji.


Dating back to Hakuho Period (646 – 710), the white face powder or “oshiroi” (made from rice flour and white soil) was imported from China to cater to the needs of the upper class in Japan. Not until the Edo Period (1603–1868), did the commoners access the white powder and the painting face white became a public beauty standard. White skin was so important an element of beauty that there was an old Japanese quote that “white skin hides seven defects”.

1.2. Red lips, red eyelids, and no eyebrows

Since Nara period (710 – 793), people used safflowers to make red lipsticks, which quickly gained huge popularity. Women back then also wore red makeup on their eyelids. Fun fact, Osaka and Kyoto ladies favored heavier or “yabo” (rough) makeup compared to Tokyo women.

Japanese women used to wear red makeup on their lips and may shaved the eyebrows.

Also starting from Nara time, upper-class women removed their natural eyebrows and penciled new ones. This norm indicated that women were married or had bear a child and continued until the beginning of the 20th century.

1.3. Black hair and blackened teeth

Besides white and red, black used to be another element in the Japanese women’s makeup color panel. In fact, these are the only colors used at the time. For reference, this type of makeup is still in use by kabuki actors nowadays.

Japanese beauty standards in the past

Beautiful women had long black hair and blackened teeth.

Japanese women grided sanekazura root to juice and applied that substance to their hair to make it black and straight, which was the ideal hairstyle. Regarding the hair length, the longer the better. In Pillow Book, Sei Shōnagon, a famous court lady expressed her envy for “beautiful, very long hair”. One strange demeanor used to exist is that women had to color their teeth after getting married. This norm started in Heian period (793 – 1183) and then get forbidden among the nobles in Shōwa era (1926–1989).

2. Modern Japanese Beauty Standards

At the moment, Japanese beauty standards have shifted towards one word “natural”. But it’s the type of “natural” look that requires enormous efforts to achieve. Without further a due, let find out what makes a woman beautiful in Japan?

2.1.    Pale, clear skin

As mentioned above, beauty in Japan has long been related to the brightness of the skin. That’s why products such as sunscreen, whitening cream, UV protection umbrellas are popular in Japan.

Japanese beauty standards

Beautiful women are expected to own clear skin with no spots and pores.

But now fair skin is not enough. Beautiful women are expected to own clear skin with no spots and pores. Makeup may help but the true secrets are diet, skincare, and other good habits. Japanese girls drink a lot of water, resist oily food, and take hot baths to unfold blocked pores, … They go to length to get a natural light unblemished skin because the skin is truly a serious matter in Japan. A HUGE matter.

2.  Face

2.1 Small face

The first time coming to Japan, you may be confused by hearing people saying “kogao” a lot when talking about beautiful girls. To put it simply, 小顔 or “Kogao” means a small oval-shaped face with a sharp chin which somehow makes a girl kawaii (cute) in Japan. So if somebody tells you “kogao”, he or she basically compliments your beauty.

There are a lot of interesting products to make face smaller in Japan.

There are ways to make face “kogao” but the most effective is surgery. Another method is covering up some part of the face by cut your hair antenna, which includes a strand of hair on each side of the face. Or else, you may try facial exercises using a roller or a retainer-like mouth trainer. One simple tip when taking a photo is to pose a “toothache” by covering a side of the face with hands.

2.2 Big eyes with double eyelids

Japanese beauty standards

Double eyelids (“Futae” in Japanese) will make the eyes even bigger and more energetic.

Big eyes are considered an attractive feature in Japan. Double eyelids (“Futae” in Japanese) will make the eyes even bigger and more energetic. While most westerners were already born with double eyelids, many Japanese do cosmetic surgery or use double eyelid tape, glue, or string to get that. In fact, a pair of double eyelids is a common beauty standard in almost all Asian countries, and surgery for that is the most requested.

2.3 The high-bridged nose

beautiful in Japan

Some Japanese women may even feel inferior if the noses are too … small.

Most foreigners from western countries will find their appearance highly appreciated in Japan thanks to the size and the height of their noses. The theory is maybe since this feature is quite rare among Asians, it becomes desirable. The high nose is understandable to ex-pats, but a big nose? Yes, slightly big nose. Some Japanese women may even feel inferior if the noses are too … small.

3. Slim and petite body

In general, smaller body frames are more preferable here, for men or women. A hot guy in the Japanese girl dictionary is not muscular, he may be tall but skinny at the same time. When it comes to girls, while an hourglass figure is an ideal body in many places around the world, it can’t compete with a slim and petite physique in Japan. So, most Japanese girls are obsessed with losing weight, using diet supplements, and maintain shape.

Long legs and slim body are beauty standards in Japan.

Long legs are a beauty plus in Japan, too. That’s why many girls wearing mini skirts to show off their legs irrespective of the season. To get long thin legs, people often seek training procedures and drink a lot of milk.

4. Hair

If hairstyling in the past was only straight long back hair, the preference now is really various. Whether the hair is straight or wavy, short or long, bang or smaller strands, the woman can still be considered beautiful. But it doesn’t mean Japanese women take hairstyling lightly. Hair products ranging from setting gels or spray, curler are Japanese women must-have items. Some even only trust professional salons for everyday hair treatment and styling. However, dying your hair is still commonly not accepted in the working environment.

5. Makeup

Even though the Japanese beauty standard is highly associated with a natural look, it’s still inappropriate for many girls to go out with their bare faces. Instead, they wake up early and strives for gentle, healthy, and energetic makeup which will usually help them look more professional at work and leave a good impression on dates.

Japanese beauty standards

Curly eyelashes are really vital in Japanese makeup.

Regarding typical Japanese style makeup, the highlight is the large eyes with eyeliner and long curly eyelashes. Indeed, curly eyelashes are really vital in Japanese makeup and can be easily achieved by simple mascara, eyelash curler, or eyelash glue. Other makeup elements comprise clean eyebrow, gloss contouring, blushed cheeks which again makes the girls more kawaii (cute).

6. Clothing

Regarding clothing, the standard is to dress tidy and present.

Yes, clothing dramatically affects your level of beauty and attractiveness in Japan. This is somehow the cultural norm that anyone needs to dress properly to be respectful. Children from an early age learn this in Japan. The minimum requirement is to dress tidy and present. Next, you need to wear suitable clothes for specific occasions. For work, men wear black suits and women wear dark conservative long dresses. Normally, the daily style of Japanese tends to be quite simple and follow the general clothing rules. Of course, if you go to a fashion area like Harajuku, the situation is the opposite. There will all kinds of trends and outfits.

Japanese Beauty Standards Dark Sides

All beauty standards have dark sides. The reason is of course not everyone can be born meeting all these criteria. Still impacted by the beauty standard, they feel the need to change themselves. For instance, it may be common for chubby girls to get bullied or made fun of, just as in the USA and Europe. They seek diets, products that are promoted to help them shrink the size. Many end up with serious eating disorders. Though the rate of reported eating disorders in Japan is lower than in many Western countries, healthcare specialists claim that this disorder may be underdiagnosed. People are afraid to seek medical help because they are afraid to be judged that they are not naturally slim or don’t know how to take care of themselves.

Aside from mainstream style, there are many distinct fashion subcultures ranging from Harajuku, Dekora to Lolita.

On the other hand, there are very brave people who desire to break through beauty standards. There are more and more girls who love being tanned or pursuing more plump curved figures. Regarding fashion, as we mentioned above, aside from mainstream style, there are many distinct fashion subcultures ranging from Harajuku, Dekora to Lolita. If you also feel frustrated with Japanese beauty standards, you can totally join these aesthetic communities in which members feel the same. There, everyone is allowed to freely express themselves without caring about the standard.


Are Japanese Beauty Standards High?

This is controversial l. In the USA and Korea, the beauty standards can also be really difficult so these countries’ cosmetic surgery rate is high. But in Japan, the natural look standard gives women hard time too. They have to spend hours putting on makeup to get that naturally beautiful skin and dress up from head to bottom even though they go shopping at nearby stores. There is no way a Japanese go out with pyjamas, flip-flops, messy hair, and no makeup. So, the Japanese beauty standards should be pretty high.

What is the difference between Korean and Japanese beauty standards?

There are indeed some similarities be between Korean and Japanese beauty standards. Both highly praise slim figure, double eyelids, clear white skin…etc. At the same time, there are huge differences too, as follows:

  • Korean Beauty also mostly focuses on natural beauty and flawless look but leads more towards youthfulness. For instance, Korean like “aegyo-sal” which refers to little fatty deposits under your eyes, or blepharoplasty because they make you look younger.
  • While Japanese beauty standards fall mostly on females, in Korea, both males and females are subjected to beauty expectations. You can’t find little Japanese men who do skincare or wear makeup. Korean straight men still do these to look good without being labeled as not masculine or effeminate.
  • Beauty standards in Korean culture are not just important, it is the priority that can influence the social standing. The Korean term “oemo jisang juui” indicates job applicants get hired based on looks. Therefore, people consider plastic surgery as an investment to get ahead in a career. In fact, 1/3 of young Korean women aged 19 to 29 have cosmetic surgery.

What is the difference between Japanese and American beauty standards?

The critical difference is that to Americans, cosmetics, and skincare are two separate matters while Japanese beauty standards include them all, even healthcare and skincare. Therefore, the Japanese submit to the serious daily routine of hygiene, for example, having a shower in the morning and at night. Moreover, the Japanese make use of natural methods to avoid blemishes rather than wait for them to appear then conceal them. In general, the Japanese manage to maintain good habits to keep skin healthy and beautiful to perfection. Another clear distinction is while the Japanese prefer lighter skin tone, Americans usually consider tanned skin as more attractive. This may connect with the belief that tanned skin means you afford to travel more.

Do some modern Japanese Beauty Standards Imports from Western?

Yes. Comparing the Japanese beauty standard in the past and now, we can see a lot of changes. Some of that follow western influence in the 50s when WWII ended and American occupied Japan. The timing also overlaps with when Hollywood icons like Audrey Hepburn gain international fame. At that time, women cut bobs with bangs, put on twiggy-like eyelashes. In the next decades, kept up with other beauty trends.

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About Yuu Sato

Yuu Sato has been working in hospitality industry since 2003. In the past, he used to work as a tour guide and now he is running his business of supplying comfortable accommodations in Japan. Thanks to this experience and his passion for writing blog, the articles by him provides awesome tips and things to do when you are traveling in the country of cherry blossoms.

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