As all of you know, I was in Tokyo last weekend (it was a fun trip; thanks for asking!). There was an advertising campaign that I saw on the train whose tagline was “Japanese Beauty.”
The first time I saw this ad, it was in the form of a commercial being played on the screens in the train. It featured a clearly white woman — the same one as in the above image — in Japan doing traditionally Japanese things and wearing traditionally Japanese clothes. My feeling of WTFerry grew and grew until it culminated with a picture of the white woman with the words “Japanese Beauty” printed clearly in the corner. I sort of made an indignant noise, but none of my friends had been paying attention. Nor, if they had been, do I think they would have cared.
It brings to mind a line from Tanizaki’s essay, “In Praise of Shadows,” which focuses on the Westernization of Japan. In it, he has a sort of love/hate relationship with Westerners and Westernization in which he both argues for the merit in traditional Japanese culture while putting Westerners above the Japanese in terms of ideology, inherent qualities, and as for women, whites are more “pure” and more “white”:
The Japanese complexion, no matter how white, is tinged by a slight cloudiness… But the skin of Westerners, even those of a darker complexion, had a limpid glow. Nowhere were they tainted by this grey shadow… Thus it is that when one of us goes among a group of Westerners it is like a grimy stain on a sheet of white paper. The sight offends even our own eyes and leaves none too pleasant a feeling.
And, really, that’s the feeling I get from this ad: that it’s buying wholeheartedly into the fallacies that excuse cultural imperialism. To me, Japanese beauty is about Japan, not some white woman “being Japanese.”