Culture Shock #99: Japanese Beauty Standards

I am going to be doing some posts about my experience as a Kenyan in Japan. I’ll count down from 100 but in no particular order. Of course I expected Japan to be different, so when people asked me if I experienced culture shock, I’d say no, but on further reflection there are so many things that have me asking, Japan, what the hell? That would never happen in Kenya! (and vice versa!). If that isn’t culture shock, then I don’t know what is. As an English-speaking nation and a former British colony, we are heavily influenced by the West (Europe and the USA), there is little in our media/entertainment from Far East Asia .. not many Kenyans know much about The Far East and many confuse Japan for China or vice versa. Here is the previous post, #100 and the hashtag for all the posts so far.

  • Small Head, Small Face

I was in the bus with my Ethiopian friend who’s married to a Japanese guy and she has been living here in Japan for over 15 years. I was of course, actively avoiding eye contact with a few curious people who stole glances at me. I couldn’t however, avoid eye contact with my Ethiopian friend whom I was chatting with, even if she was looking at me a tad too intensely before remarking:

“You’re very pretty. And you’ve got a small head, and a small face..”

I was puzzled.

Here is a picture of me wearing an Ethiopian dress. Is my head small? What about my face?

Here is a picture of me wearing an Ethiopian dress. Is my head small? What about my face?

She then explained to me that Japanese people usually have big heads (her words, not mine) and that they desire small heads and small faces. Up until that point, and really even up to now, I had and have never given a thought to the ratio of the size of Japanese heads to their bodies. It’s simply ridiculous but perhaps that’s the Kenyan in me talking. No one gives a thought about the size of your head, and width of your face as a standard of beauty in Kenya.

I thought maybe it is just something foreigners observe. Until another time I was in the car with a Japanese friend who was dropping me off in campus. He spent a year in the US and is obsessed with basketball, rap and basketballers. He remarked wistfully, “They are so tall and they have such small heads.” So I turned to look at him and earnestly told him, “Hey, your head is small too.” He was like, “really? thanks!”
Now you know what compliment to give next time you’re talking to a Japanese guy. “You’ve got such a small head, and your face is small too!”. Say that to a Kenyan at the risk of being thought insane.

Oh look at the size of LeBron's head.. so small!

Oh look at the size of LeBron’s head.. so small!

In my opinion if you ask me, I think having a big head would imply a big brain and that’s a good thing, no?

Perhaps nothing can be done about the size of the head but fear not if you’re a broad-faced Kenyan woman wanting to look beautiful in Japan, there is an invention called the facial corset that promises a tiny face. You might think I am joking but this product is available on Amazon from as low as $10 and has a 3.6/5 star rating..

The Absolute Tiny Face Corset from Amazon

The Absolute Tiny Face Corset from Amazon. Image from Amazon

  • Small, Straight Nose

As an African, my nose is probably on the broader, flatter side.. Here I would terribly fail the Japanese beauty test for the desired small, straight nose. Being in a land of technological innovation, there is a list of gadgets available to help shape my face, including The Hana Tsun Nose Straightener (see image below), The Eye Slack Haruka, The Eyelid Trainer, The Rhythm Slim Chin Exerciser, The Face Slimmer Mouthpiece etc..

The Hana Tsun Nose Straightener

The Hana Tsun Nose Straightener. See link above for source

  • Double Eyelids

Let’s not even get started on this one. I had no idea what “double eyelids” were until I got to Japan. 100% of the Kenyans I know have double eyelids so it’s not something you’re “aware” of until you meet people who want it. You can read an article about it on gaijinpot.com.” Blepharoplasty, also known as the double eyelid surgery is one of the most popular cosmetic surgeries in Japan. The surgery is performed to transform the Asian “monolid” into a Western-style [edit African-style too!] “double lid” thereby making the patient’s eyes look bigger.”

Source: gaijinpot.com

Source: gaijinpot.com

  • Crooked Teeth

There are reports of Japanese women getting surgery to make their straight teeth crooked because it is seen as more attractive. But it’s not crooked teeth per se but slightly longer, vampire-like canines.. I don’t think it is a very popular trend among the general population. However, I have made one interesting observation: all the women I’ve met so far with (naturally) crooked teeth are beautiful. I don’t know if there’s a correlation there.

Japanese twins

I met the Japanese twins above at the Tokyo Sevens, they were supporting the Kenyan team. They’re beautiful and coincidentally they also have slightly crooked canines. I hope they’re okay with me using their photos, I don’t remember their names/contact!

Physique
Ah.. let’s not go there today! But a definition of “slim” by Kenya standards is “average” here.

  • “You have a small head and face.” I have heard this again and again…but is my head/ face really that small? Didn’t know it is a form of admiration though 🙂

    • savvykenya

      haha now you know.. people envy your “small head and face”. Jesus! haha!

      • Funny yeah! Japan is really teaching me a lot…got much to share when I get back 🙂

        • savvykenya

          Yes definitely, Japanese people too would be very surprised by some of our customs, wish there was an opposite blog somewhere..

          • I think you are right! Let us send some Japanese to 254, because he or she cant do it (write about it) better than us (Kenyans)

          • savvykenya

            I actually now know a few Japanese people working in Kenya, I wish they had blogs (in English) that we can follow.. let me Google.

            Edit: I didn’t get anything about Japan but I may have stumbled on other expat blogs of people living in Kenya http://www.expatsblog.com/blogs/kenya

            Let me try the search in Japanese even if I am semi-literate in the language.

          • Great! Thanks for the share. Will probably let you know when I get one too 🙂

  • If someone told me I had a small head, I’d probably be offended. But not anymore! That caption of Lebron. Savvy, hahahaha!

    • savvykenya

      Take it as a compliment from now on.. knowing you and your nicely small face, you’d be a hit in Japan!

      • I would, wouldn’t I? 🙂

        • savvykenya

          you really would. Do come visit, you have a place to stay you know.. as for me, I think my cheeks make my face look wide, I had better place an order for the facial corset just to be sure!

          • You do not need a corset. If I ever wake up feeling like I need to travel to the far East, I know I can count on you for a place to stay. Just don’t feed me the octopus.

          • savvykenya

            how would you know something is yuck/yummy if you have never tried it? FYI the octopus is yummy 🙂

  • Mackel9

    This is interesting! Wow, small head is a compliment, wow! Wow!

    • savvykenya

      yes, so congratulations! You pass the test for beauty in Japan!

      You may think it is a joke but just on 24th this year, I was at a Christmas party and we were discussing my current short hair style with the Japanese ladies when they again, complimented me on the size of my head. Such a small head, they said. I said, thank you!

      • Mackel9

        In that case I will never wonder why only bucket hats seem to be the only type of head wear to fit my head well haha. Such a small head looool. Happy new year Savvy!

        • savvykenya

          You could wear baby-sized hats LOL. Happy New Year Mackel9.

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