JAPANESE IKEMEN

THE MASCULINITY "BEAUTIFICATION” PHENOMENON IN JAPAN: A PATH TO DISCOVER HOW A MAN CAN ACQUIRE FEMALE ATTITUDES. THE EXPLORATION OF A NEW MARKET, NEW BUSINESS, NEW CULTURE DEVELOPED IN COUNTRY AS IT IS STILL HARD TO RECOGNIZE THE EQUALITY OF THE SEXES.

Nowadays in Japan the importance of physical appearance has become an obsession for the male market, cosmetics and beauty products for men are no longer an exception.

The young Japanese men, aged between 25 and 29, constantly try to reach a standard of beauty perfection: expression of such research is the growing number salons dedicated to the care of the male body and the development of ad hoc products.

This trend is related to the term ikemen – “handsome man”, which is both a demonstration of how the need to achieve an attractive appearance, at times, is nothing but a way to compensate for the lack of confidence in themselves.

But what are the social forces that caused this estrangement from the traditional concept of “manhood”? Is this the result of cleverly designed marketing campaigns by the cosmetic industry? Or is a demonstration of the spreading of an international phenomenon that sees altered the gender roles?

Brands such as Estée Lauder, Clarins and Jean-Paul Gaultier, have undoubtedly played a role in the male skincare products promotion; but to fully understand this Japanese cultural tendency require an analysis of its past history.

Japan was mainly a feudal and agricultural society, strongly influenced by Confucian and Buddhist thoughts. Women were considered lesser than men, and their roles were mainly limited to housework. These traditional social values continued until the Meiji era, in 1868, and the abolition of feudalism and the samurai laws, industrial modernization became a priority for the country. At the end of the Second World War it reached a leveling of the social structure, and, after the burst of the “bubble economy”, men were no longer perceived as the only supporters of family and social apparatuses.

Despite significant gender inequalities persist even today, women are constantly looking to emancipate themselves.

During this cultural change, the standards required by the feminine society changed significantly: factors such as “financial stability”, “courage” and “chivalry” were lessened of their own importance, while values such as “kindness”, “sensitivity” and “appearance” are considered more and more attractive and desirable. In this sense, the search for “soft qualities” in a man can be seen as the women’s adjustment to new environmental and social factors.

Masculinity has nothing to do with the “effeminate” appearance, it’s rather tied a demonstration of “courage”, perceived as a man’s determination to demonstrate his sensitivity.

It’s safe to say that man can spend more than ¥ 6000 (€ 50) per month in beauty salons, or more than ¥ 12,000 (100 €) in beauty products, moving and increasing the interest of cosmetics companies.

In a society that today celebrates the concept of gender fluidity, this new attitude can be perceived as a source of inspiration.

It’s like being in a endless circle: men mimic women, women mimic men – in order to adapt to a society still in search of itself.

Testo di Nola Granulo