Beauty Standards: Japan vs Korea

At first glance, both Japan and South Korea seem to bear many similarities.

Both countries are steeped in rich histories and traditions, of which China had a huge role to play. The two cultures are similar in language structure, education system, societal structure, and perhaps, concern for public image. Like they say in Mandarin, “家丑不可外扬”, which translates to never airing your family’s dirty laundry in public. That was the Chinese mentality, that the Japanese and Korean share.

Similarities between Korean and Japanese Beauty Standards

Both nations favor fair-skinned women. Small V-shaped face, big eyes, double eyelids, and long hair. That possibly sums up the magic formula for what is considered pretty in both countries. Both the Japanese and Korean seem to favor slim body types for females.

A Korean friend once told me she struggled to find a suitable colored foundation for her skin tone, and mind you, she was pretty fair, but apparently a notch darker than the typical Korean woman.

Pop stars go to great lengths to achieve that too. Korean singer IU famously ate only one apple for breakfast, a sweet potato for lunch, and protein shakes for dinner to lose all her baby fat. When it comes to men, height is a big factor too, with both countries leaning towards a clear preference for tall, lean men with broad shoulders.
Judging solely by both countries’ mainstream pop groups, they seem to favor androgynous, almost visually feminized men. This is not to suggest the men there have lost their macho-ness, not at all. Just that the popular singers these days all tend to possess features we’d typically find a little feminine, such as sharp V-shaped jawlines, flawless skin, and dyed blonde hair. That is perhaps by today’s teen’s definition – Handsome.

Are their beauty standards different though?

That said, Japan and Korea have done well in carving out distinguishing differences. Akin to how two art students can be given the same brush, paint materials, and a blank canvas, and yet produce two different artworks, the Japanese and Korean ended up creating two very extraordinarily beautiful societies.

While Japan went on to dominate the adult entertainment industry and has proven herself as a leader in innovation, South Korea went international with its K-drama wave, and its plastic surgeons are widely regarded as true artists.

Korea Beauty Standards

When you walk the streets of Seoul, there was a standardization that was mind-blowing.

Glancing at three ladies strolling my way, and all three looked the same – The same facial color tone (probably from using the same foundation), the same lip color, same features. Nothing set them apart, it was crazy!

Skincare is highly valued in South Korean culture, with many individuals following a rigorous skincare routine and seeking treatments to achieve clear and radiant skin. A defined face shape with a V-line jaw is also considered desirable and can be achieved through makeup techniques or plastic surgery.

Colorful and funky outfits are popular in Seoul, and you might just earn some quizzical stares.

Japan Beauty Standards

In Tokyo on the other hand, I faced no such dilemma. You’re more likely to stroll past cosplayers than ever to bear witness to such uniformity. Skin care and grooming are highly valued in Japanese culture, and there is a focus on maintaining a smooth and even skin tone, often achieved through the use of lightening products and sun protection.

A distinct difference is that the Japanese tend to favor the cute kawaii look with huge puppy eyes, and their culture is perhaps more accepting of loud, out-there outfits and makeup that screams personality.

That said, I was the only person who stood out in a red coat, strolling the streets of Shinjuku, freezing every time the cold winds blew by. That was how I learned that Japanese officer workers tended towards loving neutral colors. Yet, such is the beauty of Japan – the sheer contrast in its society.

Where men are concerned, Korean men seemed to possess a fairer skin tone as compared to their Japanese counterparts for some reason, based on my observation.

Of course, not all who captured the nation’s attention are as such. For one, look at Taiwanese top model, Lin Chi-ling’s husband AKIRA. Macho, indeed.

Tokyo was the only city in my life though that I’ve ever seen boys (not even men, schoolboys) who plucked their eyebrows so thin, it had me taking a second look because it was the most bizarre and unfamiliar thing.

While the two countries have undeniable similarities, some say Japanese beauty leans more towards perfection, while Korean leans more towards youthfulness.

Which do you prefer?

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