2018 NO.23

Style in Japan


Japanese Cosmetics through the Centuries

1 2


5. Following the new trends of the “Age of Civilization and Enlightenment,” members of the upper class dance in Western attire in a social setting.

Early 1900s

Early 1900s

6. Takehisa Yumeji is still known for his Nihonga (Japanese style paintings) of beauties, like this one applying makeup.

In 1868, the curtain rose on the Meiji period, and with it began the “Civilization and Enlightenment” movement that encouraged modernization through rapid Westernization. The world of cosmetics also went through tremendous changes, and the traditional practices of shaving one’s eyebrows and blackening one’s teeth were actually banned. New trends stressed eyebrow fashions that enhanced a woman’s facial features, and favored the beauty of naturally white teeth.

As the economy picked up in the 20th century, a growing number of women began working outside the home environment. To make moving about in the workplace easier, Western clothing and short hair styles became the norm. Soon after came the moga (“modern girl”) look, leading the way in the women’s fashion of the day. And manufacturers came out with stick lipstick—this was just one of the changes facilitating and popularizing makeup products.

This brings us up to the post-war modern period. In the economic boom times of the late 1980s and early 1990s, vibrant pinks with purplish tints were in style for lipstick, but then, after the disastrous earthquake and tsunami struck eastern Japan in 2011, popularity shifted to softer hues that would help bring back feelings of serenity, and to makeup that would create a gentle, warm-hearted mood.

All this goes to show that fashions and makeup have adapted to the changing times. In today’s “I’m happy to be myself” age, emphasis has turned to expressing one’s own choice of fashion.

After 1945

7. Skirts to below the knees were the fashion when women became active in the workforce outside the home.

8. Office apparel for women, by the illustrator Nakahara Junichi in 1955. He was a leading force in the fashion design world.


When it comes to fashion and cosmetics in Japan, preferences are certainly not uniform—diversity and a variety of trends abound.

9. Striking makeup was a feature of the dazzling days of Japan’s bubble economy in the late 1980s.

10. Actress Ishihara Satomi was included in the global ranking called "The 100 Most Beautiful Faces."

11. Comedienne Watanabe Naomi is known around the world for her unique attire and makeup.

Murata Takako

Born in Tokyo in 1950. Senior researcher at the Pola Research Institute of Beauty and Culture. Specializes in the history of Japanese and Western cosmetic and hairstyle culture.

1 Azuma Nishiki Bijin Awase (“A Collection of Eastern Brocade Beauties"). Drawn by Torii Kiyomine. (Courtesy of the Adachi Foundation) 2 Ume Makie Te-bako (“Lacquered Cosmetic Box with Plum Design”). National Treasure. Property of Mishima Taisha Shrine. 3 Genji Monogatari E-maki Azumaya Ichi (“Tale of Genji Picture Scroll”). National Treasure. Property of The Tokugawa Art Museum. © Tokugawa Art Museum Image Archive / DNP Art Communications 4 Moriyoshi Shinno Shutsujin Zu (“Prince Moriyoshi Shinno Rushing Off to War”). Part of a private collection. 5 Kiken Buto no Ryaku-zu (“A Glimpse of Dignitaries Dancing”). Drawn by Yoshu Chikanobu. Property of the Kobe City Museum. Photo: Kobe City Museum / DNP Art Communications 6 Shimoba Chiru (“Fallen Leaves in November”). Drawn by Takehisa Yumeji. Property of the Takehisa Yumeji Museum 7 From a 1952 newspaper article entitled “Fashion Design: Long Skirts Are In.” (Photo courtesy of The Asahi Shimbun Company / Jiji Press Photo) 8 Nakahara Junichi’s Blouse Collection. Drawn by Nakahara Junichi. Property of Himawariya Inc. © Junichi Nakahara / Himawariya Inc. 9 Women out in the city, sporting the “big silhouette” fashion popular at the time. (1989, Photo courtesy of Kyodo News and amanaimages) 10 Ishihara Satomi (Photo courtesy of HoriPro Inc.) 11 Watanabe Naomi (Photo courtesy of Yoshimoto Kogyo Co., Ltd.)