Why I Love Japanese Magazines

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.

japanesemag120160822

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.

lipsticks

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.

concealer

Or finding an ideal pair of winter boots.

boots

Or knowing how to create the perfect cat’s eye.

cat eyeliner

Or matching the right kind of makeup to a glass of white wine.

makeup situations

Or thinking about your eyebrows.

eyebrows1

Continue thinking eyebrows.

eyebrows2

I confess that the eyebrows in these before and after results look nearly identical to me.

eyebrows3

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.

biteki anecan

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.

makeup

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.

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74 Comments

  • Noemi: I am also in love with Japanese magazines for similar reasons as you. The way of use and combine colors and the techniques are not to be found in any European magazine. August 22, 2016 at 7:59am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s the best part, because they do teach you how to put together colors, textures, shapes and how to layer and combine. August 22, 2016 at 12:16pm Reply

  • Edith: Very funny. I discovered that there are people even more obsessed with their eyebrows than I am. 🙂 I need to get into Japanese magazines. August 22, 2016 at 8:53am Reply

    • Victoria: Oh, yes, you will find much there to like. 🙂 August 22, 2016 at 12:16pm Reply

  • rainboweyes: How I wish we had similar magazines in Europe! No, the western beauty writing style definitely does not overburden the reader with information, it’s very often limited to the manufacturers’ marketing speak. Even longer contributions sound like large advertisement texts. And there are no negative or critical opinions about products, of course… August 22, 2016 at 9:04am Reply

    • rainboweyes: Btw – are Japanese beauty magazines available in Europe? August 22, 2016 at 9:08am Reply

      • Victoria: You mean the English versions of Biteki? No, unfortunately not. August 22, 2016 at 12:19pm Reply

    • Victoria: In Japanese magazines when they compare products, they do show if a foundation stains or streaks or if lipstick fades unevenly. There is lots of information for a customer to make up their mind. For instance, if one wants a moisturizing lipstick, one might have to put up with the shorter lasting power, etc.

      And the photos are very clear. Skin is totally photoshopped, but according to my friend Mina, whom I cited above, the magazines do their best to reproduce colors and textures of products. August 22, 2016 at 12:18pm Reply

  • limegreen: Too busy with work but your escapist fun here was greatly appreciated for some stress relief, with my second cup of coffee. Thanks for the good laugh, Victoria! ! August 22, 2016 at 9:43am Reply

    • Victoria: Anytime! 🙂 Take care of yourself. August 22, 2016 at 12:19pm Reply

  • Sandra: I don’t wear makeup everyday, but I am obsessed. Sometimes I look at all the products I have and wonder why do I need all of these makeup products!!
    I would love to know a few of their eyebrow, blush and lipstick tips-do share Victoria!
    I had to google white lurex shorts… August 22, 2016 at 9:48am Reply

    • Sandra: since you don’t were foundation everyday, what is your make up routine? Or do you go barefaced? August 22, 2016 at 11:31am Reply

      • Victoria: I do my layering skincare routine, then sunscreen and that’s it. No base, just eyes, cheeks and lips. Or just one of those. Or nothing at all. Sometimes I use face powder. August 22, 2016 at 12:29pm Reply

        • Sandra: I envy you..
          I have some redness on my cheek and near my nose that I cover up as well as my the space between my eye corner and my nose that is a bit dark
          i don’t always use foundation all over my face but concealer is helpful
          which face powder do you use? August 22, 2016 at 12:34pm Reply

          • Victoria: I definitely have spots where concealer would be helpful. The way you wear foundation is what the Japanese magazines usually recommend. Instead of applying the base in a single, unvarying layer, they usually suggest using it in certain spots where you feel need coverage. It makes it more effective and more subtle.

            Right now I have Chanel loose powder in Transparent. I like it because it take off the shine, but at the same time it’s not drying. August 23, 2016 at 5:49am Reply

            • Sandra: I use Chanel’s pressed power.
              The last loose powder I used was Caron, but they closed the boutique here in NYC 🙁
              All good things come to an end..

              This morning I only used concealer to cover my areas-so thanks for the advice.

              My in laws are visiting so I am drinking homemade chai. We are celebrating Raksha Bandhan-Sending you a Raksha wish for a good week ahead-take good care and look forward to your Japanese make up magic 🙂 August 23, 2016 at 9:36am Reply

              • Victoria: I stopped using Caron once I could get the powder easily enough, and since it contains natural rose oil, I was worried that it might go rancid. So, no stocking up.

                Sending you my best wishes to you! I’m going to make mango and rose lassi tonight. August 23, 2016 at 11:59am Reply

    • Victoria: I will put together something along these lines, since it would be too much to include it all into one post. I don’t follow everything I read about–for the sake of my sanity and time management, but I definitely picked up a few things. August 22, 2016 at 12:20pm Reply

      • Victoria: Shorts are an episode I prefer to forget. 🙂 August 22, 2016 at 12:21pm Reply

      • Sandra: Do share when you have something put together..I am very curious about the things you picked. Reading and seeing these magazine articles in like a tease! I want to know more more more… August 22, 2016 at 12:58pm Reply

        • Victoria: I will do. Will glance through my cuttings and see what stuck after all of these years. August 23, 2016 at 5:50am Reply

  • Bela: I thought all the beauty advice and products came from Korea these days (I use a propelling eyebrow pencil – with a slanted edge – from the famous Etude House, costing a tenth of the price of similar high-end versions developed later).

    I haven’t bought an English magazine for years (I find everything I need to know on the net), but these Japanese ones look fun. 🙂 August 22, 2016 at 10:01am Reply

    • Victoria: You’re right, Korea is a major market and center for beauty, and there are different trends from those in Japan, but the Japanese beauty magazines still have few rivals. Cats also feature heavily, sometimes, as my husband says, gratuitously. 🙂 August 22, 2016 at 12:25pm Reply

      • Bela: I definitely must get hold of one.

        As far as I’m concerned, cats can feature anywhere, in anything, at any time. August 22, 2016 at 4:53pm Reply

        • Victoria: Have you read Soseki’s I am A Cat? It’s a novel written at the turn of the 20th c Japan and comments on the society from a perspective of a cat. August 23, 2016 at 5:54am Reply

  • zephyr: I love this kind of detail, the kind shown in these Japanese magazines! The color comparisons, the application instructions, love it! I don’t look at Vogue or Elle anymore, unless I’m in a waiting room; I’m not in that age demographic and find the breezy approach boring. I couldn’t care less about which celebrities are wearing which clothes or makeup. I want hard data, lol!

    Thanks for the tip on Japanese magazines, Victoria! I had no idea. My usual m.o. for clothes, hair, and makeup is to find what works for me, put it on and take care of it, and forget about it. But when I want something new and different, I do look around online for examples and swatches. Looks like the Japanese approach is the print version of YouTube makeup “haul” reviews and tutorials on application techniques. I might check and see if I can find online versions of the Japanese magazines you’ve mentioned. August 22, 2016 at 10:14am Reply

    • Victoria: The swatches part is the reason why I started buying these magazines, but I loved that they features nearly all seasonal collections in clear, detailed photos. There are also plenty of tutorials, which are handy to have in print. I often end up tearing out my favorite looks or instructions and keeping them in a binder in the bathroom. Handier than leafing through a stack of magazines to find what I want. August 22, 2016 at 12:27pm Reply

      • zephyr: That’s a good idea – making a binder to keep where you put on your makeup.

        I just may have to find one or two Japanese magazines! August 23, 2016 at 1:03am Reply

        • Victoria: There are also many other magazines besides the ones I mentioned, so if you have a Japanese store nearby or can browse online, you’ll find plenty of choices. August 23, 2016 at 5:55am Reply

  • Connie: I love the Japanese style magazines! They are really obsessed with their beauty and their skincare. I am always in conflict with the Western way to describe things in ads and how I feel the need to explain things in a more detailed manner like these magazines do. I feel the reader needs more information about a product< and the Japanese magazines deliver. I fell in love with this style when I visited San Francisco and ventured over to Japan town. It was simply amazing and refreshing. August 22, 2016 at 10:38am Reply

    • Victoria: Beauty pages in most American and European beauty magazines often read like ads. Not to say that the editors put items there for ulterior reasons, since often they can be genuinely passionate about products they discover, but the text and explanations are rarely detailed enough. I understand that not all readers want to browse through the kind of information the Japanese magazines provide, but there should be a somewhat better alternative. Which is where the beauty blogs have taken over. August 23, 2016 at 5:34am Reply

  • Sandy: I haven’t bought many Japanese magazines, but the freebies have drawn me in a few times (tote bag, makeup bag, etc) with its surprise package mindset. Thanks for an entertaining post! August 22, 2016 at 10:46am Reply

    • Daisy: I must also confess to buying some Japanese magazines for the freebies. The ones with totebags and make-up bags are my favorites. August 22, 2016 at 6:33pm Reply

      • Victoria: I have accumulated quite a few of those make-up bags. They’re remarkably sturdy. August 23, 2016 at 5:54am Reply

    • Victoria: I completely forgot to mention the freebies! You’re right, they can be great. I also lots of skincare samples. August 23, 2016 at 5:35am Reply

  • Austenfan: I never read beauty magazines so I wouldn’t be able to compare, but your post had me in stitches. Especially the part about the eyebrows, the lurex shorts and the attempt at a scientific cleansing routine! 🙂 August 22, 2016 at 11:43am Reply

    • Victoria: That eyebrow feature might even have been on the basic side. 🙂

      I mostly gave up reading about makeup in the French or American magazines, since they pale next to this kind of coverage. August 23, 2016 at 5:36am Reply

  • Jane: I laughed when you confessed that the before & afters were impossible to detect in the eyebrow tutorial. I confess the same! 😀

    I love Biteki especially. I only wish I could read Japanese to indulge so really fully enjoy all the makeup geekery! August 22, 2016 at 11:50am Reply

    • Victoria: The lifestyle magazines also the most bizarre features on weight loss, in which they share the great victory of someone and the loss of…drumroll, 1.3kgs. The before and after pictures differ only in that the “after” picture features a happy smile. August 23, 2016 at 5:39am Reply

  • Qwendy: Gosh I miss Japanese magazines now that you mention it, thanks for posting this! I always used to have a few on hand when I lived in LA …. There is a wonderful style one called Fruits if I recall correctly. Nothing like that here! Must look in the Japanese neighborhood in Paris, and when back in California. Oxo August 22, 2016 at 12:18pm Reply

    • Victoria: Junku on Rue des Pyramides carries Japanese magazines, but they don’t often have Biteki or Maquia. August 23, 2016 at 5:43am Reply

  • SHMW: I am not much for make up but I empathise as I love their fashion shop sites which are often deeply inspirational but in an oddly very different and beautiful way…..like here https://uk.pinterest.com/pin/338332990738821352/ August 22, 2016 at 12:19pm Reply

    • Victoria: I can’t see the picture for some reason. August 23, 2016 at 5:44am Reply

      • SHMW: I’ll try another….. http://item.rakuten.co.jp/shopsolid/kyog-08l/ August 23, 2016 at 5:51am Reply

        • Victoria: Thank you! I liked it very much purely as an art object. August 23, 2016 at 5:59am Reply

          • SHMW: yes, its not so much this specific item that was significant as much as the styling. Also the same sort of thorough approach as in the the beauty magazines . They definitely provide a full depiction of every facet of the garment. Some of the other clothes on this site are perhaps more accessible. This item is an italian label selling Japanese style back to the Japanese…. August 23, 2016 at 8:34am Reply

            • Victoria: I see what you mean, and I also like this kind of style. It reminds me of the Belgian Antwerp designers, but it’s different still. August 23, 2016 at 11:57am Reply

  • SHMW: oh and I forgot to mention, isn’t it annoying when UK newspaper supplements say do a feature on lipsticks or blushers and all you actually get to see is an ‘artistic’ spread showing
    sliced and diced lipsticks as if this was the first stage in preparing a salad…. August 22, 2016 at 12:23pm Reply

    • Victoria: LOL! Yes, I find those features pretty but pointless, especially since they’re lit to emphasize the contrast on the jugged, cut up surface and not the true colors. August 23, 2016 at 5:45am Reply

  • Nancy A.: The Japanese are chic and elegant period. Still a fondness for Issey Miyake fashion — my vintage”cocoon” coat will stand the test of time.
    At the close of the Olympic ceremonies we were greatly entertained by the preview of Tokyo’s creativity for the 2020 games. August 22, 2016 at 12:42pm Reply

    • Sandra: I enjoyed the Olympics closing ceremony just for that! So creative and fun! August 22, 2016 at 12:59pm Reply

    • Victoria: Those cocoon coats are the stuff of fashion legend! August 23, 2016 at 5:49am Reply

  • Rita: Wow that is intense! It looks good though. August 22, 2016 at 2:10pm Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, intense for sure. August 23, 2016 at 5:50am Reply

      • Rita: Hahahahah August 23, 2016 at 6:10am Reply

  • Isabelle: Used to read these magazines when I lived in NY. Now I’d have to get them online. Thanks for helping me catch up. Will have to get Biteki. Any recommendations on fashion and household/interior items? August 22, 2016 at 2:17pm Reply

    • Victoria: I don’t read interior decor magazines, so I don’t have any recommendations on that front, but when it comes to fashion, I like So-En, Fudge, Spur and AneCan. Occasionally, I buy its younger sister Girl, but it’s more out of lack of choices at my local store. Girl’s style is slightly different from what I like, but its lifestyle tips are usually good. August 23, 2016 at 5:52am Reply

  • ClareObscure: Love this feature on Japanese magazines. Nice to see such in depth articles about make-up that we serious glamour pusses need. More attention to detail & essential info about colours & textures helps us to make better choices in the often expensive quest for the look we want.
    I’m not surprised that bois de jasmine fans apply the same exacting standards to their make-up as they do to their fragrances. Big up to all of you fab ladies. August 22, 2016 at 10:29pm Reply

    • Victoria: They’re also beautifully presented, which is another plus, in addition to everything else. August 23, 2016 at 5:56am Reply

  • Aurora: So interesting to see the differences between cultures. When I was a student I used to browse French magazines, at the time they had extensive reviews of books and films by well respected writers. I remember articles like what perfumes Eleonore d’Aquitaine would have used with a biography of this amazing woman. I have given up as nowadays as you note everything seems advertorial or trivial with minimum text. I recall also that when I lived in New York Allure when it was first published was refreshing in its approach with lots of long articles, with tutorials and comparisons, not afraid of criticizing, but it soon changed for the worse. August 23, 2016 at 5:51am Reply

    • Victoria: You’re right. It has changed, and my pessimistic prediction is that it will only get worse, because there is so much competition with the social media and the pressure to develop the online presence, among many other factors. This, of course, affects also the newspapers, with probably even more disturbing results.

      I would have loved to read an article about perfumes Eleonore d’Aquitaine would have used! August 23, 2016 at 6:08am Reply

      • Aurora: And I meant to say, Victoria, sorry about the gruelling report, I hope it will soon be over and done with. At work, it’s the silly season in publications, so I’m bored and found your post so uplifting. August 23, 2016 at 10:09am Reply

        • Victoria: Deadlines are never fun. Thank you very much. It’s done, and I’m glad. August 23, 2016 at 12:00pm Reply

  • spe: Love this!!!

    And yes, Allure was a great magazine long ago. Not now.

    I frequently purchase Spanish Vogue because the models coloring is closer to mine and I can get more ideas that way. No more American “beauty” publications for me. They’re all about advertising and I’m sick of it. August 23, 2016 at 12:03pm Reply

    • Victoria: I also love Indian bridal magazines. Now, talk about something markedly different from the Japaneae aesthetic. But I also picked up lots of ideas of layering colors, and above all, learned not to be afraid of color. August 23, 2016 at 12:06pm Reply

  • Helen M: I don’t buy beauty magazines anymore, because they read like an extended ad. I read beauty blogs and follow makeup artists on youtube like Lisa Eldridge. August 24, 2016 at 4:47am Reply

    • Victoria: I also like Lisa’s channel very much. August 24, 2016 at 7:46am Reply

      • spe: Yes, Eldridge is talented.

        In most of the magazine images, however, there is unfortunately a strong Caucasian look to the models (sigh….). I can only imagine that is pervasive throughout the beauty industry there. Nevertheless, I love the didactic approach and would very much like to know what the boot article suggests! August 24, 2016 at 9:42am Reply

        • Victoria: More so in fashion than beauty. After all, the tutorials feature the most common eye shapes and complexions among Japanese women to make the advice relevant and applicable. You won’t find any Caucasian models in them. August 24, 2016 at 10:17am Reply

  • Elisa: These look amazing!!!

    I agree with others here that some of the beauty magazines in print I used to love have really fallen off. They really can’t compete with blogs, YouTube etc which provide so much more information, are so much more personal, and (generally) don’t feel so beholden to big advertisers. Allure is pretty much just a list of products now, that’s it! August 24, 2016 at 10:28am Reply

    • Victoria: They’re also trying too much to mimic the social media layout, hence the shorter and shorter articles, more photos and more resources devoted to their online platforms. August 24, 2016 at 11:55am Reply

      • Elisa: Yes, it is actually painful to see print mags try to reinvent themselves and just fail and get worse in the process. The demise of Lucky was staggering. August 24, 2016 at 11:58am Reply

        • Victoria: What happened to Lucky still puzzles me. How such a terrific magazine can go so wrong so fast is a lesson to many others. Sadly, it didn’t seem to register. August 24, 2016 at 12:11pm Reply

  • Nora Szekely: Dear Victoria and perfume lovers,

    My brother’s girlfriend happened to travel to Japan 1 month after I read your article. I asked her to bring me an issue of Biteki. She was kind enough to carry back the mag. It is heavy as a brick and packed with so many samples that cover my facial needs for the next 2 years (plus free figure-shaping panties that I need to try next time I wear my black velvet evening gown).
    It is indeed a wonderful resource of makeup tips with many pictures.
    When it comes to makeup, I’m lady of misrule, some days I wear full, other days just a striking bright lipstick and most of the time I go bare faced. However I love to watch beauty blogs and read articles about shapes and skin undertones. It’s nice to posess the knowlegde to use the full potential of a good makeup for any occasion. January 12, 2017 at 4:08pm Reply

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