Have you ever wondered about the development of Japanese beauty ideals that we see today? Although the trends have vastly changed, the modern look of Japanese fashionistas has its root buried deep into Japanese history. The chronicles called kojiki "Records of Ancient Matters" and nihon shoki the second oldest book of classical Japanese history reveal that even in ancient times, specific beauty customs such as of painting the face with red pigments did already exist. Diverse forms of makeup - such as cheek colors and facial powders - were imported into Japan, along with other cultural aspects from China and Korea. It is said that the first Japanese face powder was produced by a Buddhist priest. Apparently, he delighted the Japanese Empress with his newest invention so much that he set the trend for what should soon become one of the biggest cosmetic markets in the world.
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A Deep History
Black, White, and Red: The Classic Palette
In Japan, the beautiful and enigmatic Geisha represents one of the most iconic cultural images in the country. They have been around since as early as A. Trained in fine arts such as dance, singing, playing the shamisen, dining manners, and friendly conversation, the Geisha has become an icon of Japanese culture. Extremely popular among foreign visitors who hope to catch a glimpse of them on their travels, Geishas can still be seen on the winding streets of Kyoto and in other parts of Japan, and do seem to continue many of the traditions of Geisha training and performance which have continued for hundreds of years in this fascinating country. Read on to find out why they wear this makeup, and what it means in Japanese culture. A Geisha is a female entertainer and performer with origins dating back thousands of years in Japan.
But where did all of this come from? Some western media outlets like to report that this desire to have clear, white skin is a reflection on East Asians wanting to look more European. However, these hypotheses barely scratch the surface when discussing the origin of the pale skin beauty standards. In China, Japan and Korea — long before exposure to European beauty standards — tan skin was associated with lower-class field work while having pale skin signified social prestige. For these same reasons, European women during the Renaissance period also frequently turned to dangerous methods to achieve pale and unblemished skin. Some women even painted mercury on their faces or applied leeches to their skin to achieve their desired complexion. Each of these three countries have their own variations of practices and histories associated with this beauty standard. So exactly how and when did this multi-billion-dollar industry kick off? White skin has been considered to be desirable by Chinese women as far back as the Han Dynasty B.
Looking back over Japanese history, we know from passages in the chronicles Kojiki and Nihon shoki and from traces of color on the clay haniwa figurines made during the Kofun period that in ancient times there was a custom of painting the face with red pigments. This primitive use of cosmetics evolved into a more aesthetic approach in the latter half of the sixth century, when rouge, powder, and other forms of makeup were imported into Japan along with other aspects of culture from the China and Korean peninsula. In , a Buddhist priest Kanjo is said to have been the first to make lead-based face powder in Japan, and delighted Empress Jito by presenting this new invention to her. With the advent of the Muromachi period , the culture and institutions of the warrior houses were perfected, and cosmetics are mentioned in a number of writings from this era. Illustrated texts such as Shichiju-ichi-ban shokunin uta-awase Poetry Contest Among People of Various Occupations in Seventy-One Rounds show us that by this time craftsmen of rouge and face powder were well known to urban people. By the early Edo period there were elaborate treatises on etiquette and deportment for women that also gave detailed instructions on the proper use of cosmetics. During this period cosmetics centered on a palette of three basic colors: red lip rouge, fingernail polish , white face powder , and black tooth-blackener, eyebrow pencil. During the Edo period women were especially concerned with the application of face powder, for a white skin was regarded as the essence of a beautiful woman, as an old saying had it, "a light skin conceals seven other defects. Face powder was a white, lead-based pigment dissolved in water and applied with the hands or a broad, flat brush. In the late Edo period, one brand of face powder called Bien Senjoko attained lasting fame by doing advertising tie-ins with a publisher of ukiyo-e prints.