I had originally planned something completely different for today, but having spent the past several days working on a grueling technical report, I devoted this weekend to my neglected pile of Japanese magazines. And so I bring you this.
It wouldn’t surprise me if Japan produced more types of magazines than any other country. There are publications catering to all interests and lifestyles, no matter how obscure. A magazine about nothing but makeup? Sure! A digest that shows you how to turn yourself into a gothic Lolita? Why not!
I have shared my love for Japanese magazines in the past. I could say that I enjoy them because it’s good reading practice; after all, I spent several years at university studying this beautiful and complicated language. But no, this isn’t it. I have forgotten too many characters to be able to read with ease, and straining with a kanji dictionary over an article about mascara is not my idea of fun. Of course, it can be a great way to learn all sorts of new words, but “waterproof” and “lengthening” will be of little use if you’re lost in Kyoto and don’t know the way to the train station.
The main reason I like Japanese magazines is because they pack an enormous amount of information of the variety you never see in the European or American beauty press. Take for instance, a simple feature about lipstick. What in Vogue or Cosmo might be the subject of one photo accompanied by breezy text mentioning the celebrities who use it, in Biteki (a geek’s beauty bible) or Maquia (a slightly less geeky version) it takes up several spreads, with charts, graphs and comparisons on different lip shapes. The staining and moisturizing potential will be measured and explained.
The differences are cultural. While the ethos of Western beauty writing is not to overburden with information–“the readers want a digest, not a War and Peace equivalent”, Japanese publishers cater to their audience’s hunger for data. After all, selecting a concealer is serious business.
Or finding an ideal pair of winter boots.
Or knowing how to create the perfect cat’s eye.
Or matching the right kind of makeup to a glass of white wine.
Or thinking about your eyebrows.
Continue thinking eyebrows.
I confess that the eyebrows in these before and after results look nearly identical to me.
Occasionally, Japanese magazines have influenced me in nefarious ways. Like the time I bought a pair of white lurex shorts at Forever 21 and actually wore them in public. Twice. Or when I spent 10 minutes every evening foaming my face wash as per the excruciatingly detailed instructions that my husband took for a lab report. This lasted for a week until I went back to my usual lackadaisical ways.
But if you’re of a less susceptible disposition, you’ll avoid such follies and find that Japanese magazines are a terrific complement to the usual beauty reading, with their point-by-point guidance on makeup techniques, skincare or face massage. I especially like the uniquely Japanese color sensibility, and studying the pairings in makeup and clothes has definitely sharpened my eye to nuances and shades that I hadn’t picked up before.
My favorite magazine for makeup is the aforementioned Biteki. Besides including a mind boggling array of techniques–over the years I’ve counted 15 ways of applying blush–and comparisons of various products, it also features seasonal collections from the major Asian and European brands, a handy compilation. There are so many images that a knowledge of Japanese is not essential to get the gist. Maquia is similar, with perhaps a slightly less technical approach and heavy on escapist fun. Need to know what makeup to wear while searching for matcha eclairs in Paris? Then Maquia is your port of call.
The ridiculously precise instructions on applying lipstick, the 1000 and 1 ways to wear brown eye shadow and the rest hints at something else that is easy to overlook–the rigid social expectations for women in Japan. Makeup is not optional fun. It’s mandatory. As Mina, my friend from Tokyo and a beauty consultant says, “Wearing makeup and looking presentable and polished is seen as a sign of respect for yourself and others.” For this reason, the advice on wearing foundation can occasionally seem like an injunction against revealing your bare face to the world.
On the other hand, I don’t have such qualms and I don’t feel any pressure to wear makeup. I enjoy playing with eye shadows and lipsticks, but I spend a large portion of my week barefaced. I reserve the right to wear foundation only when I have a professional photo shoot (which happens only a couple of times a year.) So, I continue to indulge in my non-guilty pleasure of Japanese magazines. They’re a window to another world, culture, and the sublime way with an eyeliner.
Photographs by Bois de Jasmin from the issues of Maquia, Biteki, AneCan and Girl. The last two are fashion magazines, but since I have talked enough about the subject of Japanese press today, I will save clothes for another time.
Where to get Japanese magazines: Amazon.co.jp, Ebay, jpbooks.co.uk, yesasia.com, and Japanese grocery and book stores.