Style & Experiences

In Japan and abroad, beauty standards are finding new patrimonial value.

Cristina D’Agostino

By Cristina D’Agostino06 novembre 2020

In Japan, just like in other countries, beauty standards are evolving. Aesthetic norms follow the way generations reclaim their identity and cultural heritage. And cosmetic brands just like Shiseido are building on this trend.

Japan, for a long time stuck in a traditional beauty, has undergone changes linked to its own opening towards the West (Shutterstock).

Diversity and inclusion are at the center of the business of cosmetics today, yet the way a culture values beauty according to its territory as well its identity legacy is still strong. American Beauty, Japanese Beauty, Korean Beauty have become strong marketing concepts along the decades, trends on which cosmetic brands continue to build, while merging them. Beauty standards evolve according to the way a generation will reclaim its identity and its cultural heritage. Japan, which was for a long time frozen in a traditional type of beauty, has known evolutions linked to its own opening towards the West. Japanese cosmetic brands such as the Shiseido group have boomed on an international level. Miyabi Kumagai, Brand Heritage and Culture Manager at Shiseido Group EMEA explains how the concept of Japanese beauty is valued today.

Miyabi Kumagai, Brand Heritage and Culture Manager at Shiseido Group EMEA (DR)

How would you describe the « Japanese beauty » concept?

Considering beauty, Japan has not evolved for a thousand years. The first stories written in its cultural heritage go back to the 6th Century. They all describe the same criteria: a white complexion, black eyes, eyebrows and hair, and red on the lips or at the corner of the eyes. These three main colors have lasted for a thousand years, up until Western influences with the Meiji reform during the 19th Century.

What were the consequences of this opening towards the West?

Born in 1872, the Shiseido brand follows the same evolution as Japan, at the same pace. It is interesting to follow the history of beauty and its scientific evolution related to the opening towards the West. Founded by Arinobu Fukuhara, a pharmacist enrolled in the royal Japanese navy, Shiseido first developed as a pharmacy, thanks to imported medicine from England and France. His son, Shinzo Fukuhara, a pharmacist, artist and renown photographer, whose artistic style immensely improved thanks to French impressionists during his travels to France at the beginning of the Century, founded the cosmetic branch of Shiseido in 1916. Its French roots have since greatly shaped the Japanese identity of Shiseido. At the time, the brand created beauty products with the efficiency of pharmacology, based on Western health standards.

A Shiseido brand advertisement from 1963. The beauty codes clearly illustrate Japanese and Western (DR) influences.

Today, are you observing a return to basics?

Indeed, there is a return to basics of what we call Japanese beauty, and which trends call J-Beauty, a concept born in the West. J-Beauty follows K-Beauty, a Korean beauty concept that went viral. Japan realized the patrimonial value of this Japanese beauty. 

What is its status today?

Authenticity, sustainability and the notion of perfection are central values, just like the art of balance between two extremes, typically Japanese, to dare subtly, to know how to relax while remaining in tension, accent the look while diming the lips. Shiseido cosmetics encompass this balance while including one fundamental: skin care.

Beauty is also a strong luxury criterion. What are your thoughts?

Beauty is not the prime objective. It’s first about the ritual linked to the spiritual tradition of purification. Japanese women traditionally use more products in cleansing and hydrating, as this calls to the spiritual heritage of cleansing. We prepare ourselves to be presentable to god, facing the world. Since Shiseido created modern skin care, the brand has contributed to the steps of beauty rituals. The Japanese ritual has been deeply rooted since Buddhism arrived in Japan during the 6th Century. The ultimate goal is to offer each and every one the gift of time for themselves. Working on one’s beauty for a long time is the new luxury.

Has J-Beauty conquered all of Asia?

Just like Taiwan, Korea always observes closely what goes on in Japan, due to constant exchanges between both countries. China however is expanding. It is still looking for its own identity today and has not yet developed what we could call C-Beauty.


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    Under the reign of Mutsuhito, the Meiji Emperor (1852-1912), Japan went through political, economic and societal restructuring resulting in a very quick modernization of the country.

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