How do you define beauty? If you live in Japan, the yardstick for doing so may look a little bit different…

A little while back, we discussed four beauty trends popular in Japan that are kind of baffling when viewed from the perspective of non-Asian westerners. The original list incuded stick-on “snaggletooth”, skin whitening creams, eyelid tape to give the impression of larger eyes, and faking prominent eyebags.

But there are actually quite a few widely-held concepts of beauty in Japan that have less to do with fads and are more like yardsticks by which beauty is generally measured. If you visit Japan, you’ll probably hear some of these being discussed as if they’re writ-in-stone rules, but it’s important to remember that beauty is subjective and unique to different cultures.

That said, let’s dive in!

1. Small face/Kogao

In Japan, being told that your face is small is high, high praise, at least among women. In fact, don’t be surprised if you hear this one being thrown about all the time. Magazines dedicate endless pages to makeup tips in order to achieve the appearance of having a small via contouring, and there are literally whole shelves of beauty products which purport to help tone up, slenderise and “minimise” one’s face.

Face-toning rubber lips—Japanese ladies will stop at nothing in the pursuit of a toned face.

But surely your face is only as big as your head? What do they mean by “small”, anyway? I ran a few Internet searches in Japanese, asking Google-sensei “what is small face?” and found a whole bunch of websites listing the “ideal” ranges in centimetres from forehead to chin. Basically, a small face implies a small, narrow jaw, not overly high forehead, and the shortest possible distance between the two makes for the perfect “kogao”, however this varies depending on the person’s height, which brings us to our next point..

2. The 1:8 head/body ratio/Hattoshin

The perfect “Hattoshin” is said to be someone whose face is exactly one-eighth of their total height. One example that is commonly cited is singer Namie Amuro. In fact, if you’re a 1:8 girl, you’ve hit the jackpot in terms of being “perfectly” proportioned.

But what if you’ve got a giant lollypop head with something like a 2:8 ratio?! Many women in Japan in fact worry a lot about having a “big head” or a “big face” in proportion to the rest of their body, and some work hard to make their hair as flat as possible to minimise the effect. Bangs are also hugely popular in Japan as they help to minimise the forehead and make one’s face seem smaller. At least in Japan, non-Asian people are considered to have smaller heads in comparison to their bodies, which is why many Western visitors to Japan will often get the “small face” comment.

Funny how Blythe dolls are so popular in Japan. Their heads are mahoosive!
That’s gotta be a 1:3 ratio!

3. Soy Face/Sauce Face/Shoyu Gao/Soosu Gao

This one’s getting a little outdated now, but a while back it was popular to categorize (mostly) men into these two groups based on their facial features. Soy Face is used to describe a man with soft, delicate features and Sauce Face describes a man whose features are more “koi” or “strong”, for example a man with a prominent brow ridge and nose, thick eyebrows and a strong jawline. It’s interesting that there’s not really a consensus between which features are “better”, however features which are considered more “Soy” (or Japanese) tend to be more popular with the majority of young Japanese women. Most boybands in Japan consist solely of Soy Face members. Foreign males in Japan, however, will often be told they fall into the “Sauce” category. In general, the condiment terms have fallen out of favour in recent years in favour of simply “koi” (strong) or “usui” (weak) faces (both strong and weak here being used in a sense more accurate to describe the concentration of a cup of tea than to discuss physical strength). Which, frankly, is something of a relief, since for a while there people were getting kind of crazy coming up with different categories of face including “Miso Face”, “Sugar Face”, “Salt Face”, “Vinegar Face” and so on and so forth…

Sauce Face vs Soy Face.

4. Three Sizes/Surii Saizu

In the west, we may sometimes talk about hip/waist ratio as being an measurement of female attractiveness, but in Japan it’s all about your “three sizes” — your bust, waist, and hip measurements. Many female celebrities, especially the ones who tend to do more, shall we say, risqué work such as gravure modelling, will list their “three sizes” on their websites for fans’ consideration. Many anime characters will also have their “three sizes” listed so fans can, er, imagine how they’d look in 3D. Technically the point of the three sizes is to figure out how clothing will fit, but it’s been co-opted as a way for women to compare themselves, and as fap fodder for otaku, we guess?

At least one of the sizes can be easily increased through the magic of products like Miracle Boober!

5. “Tall” Nose/Hana ga Takai

When I first arrived in Japan, almost everyone commented on the fact that my nose is “tall”. I had no idea what they were talking about and even wondered if they were making fun of me since having a big nose isn’t considered attractive in the west. In Japan, however, lots of people have a complex about their nose bridge being quite “low”, and believe a high nose bridge is a sign of beauty and sophistication.

Lots of half-Japanese models in Japan have quite prominent hooters compared to the average Japanese girl, and while they might not be considered super-beautiful in the west, they’re the absolute epitome of beauty in Japanese eyes. Women here can even buy special nose rollers (see below) as well as little sticks you stick up your nose in order to achieve the illusion of a higher nose bridge. Another popular trick is to draw a line down the middle of the nose with highlighter and contour yourself a bigger sniffer.

Foreign visitors to Japan often find that strangers comment openly on their appearance, since it’s not considered rude here to do so, and very often people are only trying to make polite conversation by paying you what they’ve been raised to believe is a compliment. But having people point out things about your body which you’ve never known to be remarked over before can be very discomfiting — imagine if someone came up to you and pointed out your shapely knees, or the dangliness of your earlobes, or something! Hopefully this list will help you to avoid any culture clash on your Japan travels when compliments come your way.

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