When we think of the Japanese, we think of beauty. Though the standards are different, the meaning of beauty had always been etched deep into its culture for a very long time.
As I thought of this, I had the chance to answer a question on Quora that may find value in some of my observations and research. This all came from back when I was living there in 2015.
The question was:
Do Japanese people, in general, find their own kind more attractive than Western people?
Here’s my answer.
Let’s explore history a little bit.
After the end of WWII, Japan’s masculine qualities were seen as one of the contributions of Japan’s downfall from the people’s eyes. These were the qualities that were sent to the front lines to protect the country from its enemies, namely, the Allies.
As they had lost the war, it was seen that these values were to be blamed according to the public. The people had felt disdain and disappointment for these values as they were the ones who fought the war for the sake of the nation, and after multiple other factors such as the Denouncement of Godhood by the Emperor (meaning, he announced that he wasn’t exactly a godlike being), the country was in turmoil and confusion.
This had led to a split in opinions when it comes to Japanese attractiveness towards certain qualities:
Rejection of Japanese masculine qualities, and the rise of feminine ones
The country underwent a hyper recovery period, and this was attributed to the birth of feminine qualities within men.
They needed to recover, so everyone was focusing their efforts on helping one another in order to reach a better quality of life, especially after 2 nuclear bombs, a lost war, and the Emperor’s statement.
Feminine qualities here are defined as elements of harmony, willingness to help others and values akin to maintaining familial love and peace.
Japan, already a collective society, fundamentally became more collected when the men of this generation in said hyper recovery period focused on these harmonious qualities for the sake of Japan’s recovery.
These men, who were seen as great contributors to society, are now also seen as very attractive and better-understood for the women of Japan during this period.
Not all women think like this, but a growing percentage do. For this percentage of the population, hyper-masculine men are seen as overwhelming as well as a sign of the defeat that they witnessed in their past. Men with feminine qualities end up becoming more relatable, and attractive as a whole.
The language then gave birth to the term 草食男子 (そうしょくだんし、Soushoku Danshi), translated as Herbivore Men, who do possess little-to-no qualities that we commonly see in men.
Some of these men can be seen as more beautiful than women at times. They are adored by the nation.
The US: Shifts in the definition of masculinity and success
After the US occupation in Japan post World War II, it became apparent that Japanese masculine qualities were seen as inferior (even if it wasn’t) when compared to US masculine qualities. The soldiers of the American Army, on average larger in stature and individualistic in nature, are seen as victors of the war and figures of success.
This had lead to a growing curiosity about the culture of the USA, giving ground to a newfound respect for the country after the war. In modern times now, it is common to see the usage of English in between Japanese conversation as an homage to this language used globally, as well as other languages as a tribute to the different cultures around the world. With this came a growing curiosity in other countries too (Germany, Australia, UK, Italy, Spain, etc.).
We now have a variety of values and cultural nuances that the Japanese have begun to understand, and with that came attraction. On the assumption that the term ‘Western’ people comprise of these countries I have outlined above, you can find that there are Japanese people who have a large amount of attraction to Western cultural nuances and understandings of the world.
Averse to Change, Attraction to their fellow People.
On the other side of the coin, the Japanese are very risk-averse, very very risk averse. They are also not susceptible to change that often.
As an example, the last time they implemented a full-on English education system was after the Meiji restoration. Note, that this period of time was between 1868-1912, which dates back a century. Very minimal changes were done to education on the English side since then.
Back in 2015, a Japanese teacher won a renowned prize for implementing a fundamental aspect of education, when he started teaching critical thinking to students in a Japanese high school. This is interesting to highlight because we already have critical thinking in many parts of the world, even if it isn’t exactly a core subject in public education. This was an achievement because of the context it was in: introducing critical thinking to a highly risk-averse culture like Japan, with a streamline education system is well-regarded.
As a side note, there are pockets of people trying out different learning methods that have only evolved over the past century: Democratic learning, Socratic learning, Ultra-flexible projects to achieve a degree, things like that. Differences in education are one of my interests as well, but I will dive into that some other day.
Back to the question of attractiveness. The reason why this was mentioned is that, to be attracted to western people as a whole, as opposed to their own, requires the acceptance of change. For a safer bet, and this is a very common mindset amongst Japanese people, it is safer and therefore more attractive to be in one’s comfort zone, in the same environment as others who are well-versed in said environment, cultural nuances, and so on.
That attraction to comfort and safety aligns well with high-risk adversity and can be seen in a larger percentage of the population becoming attracted to their fellow countrymen/women as opposed to westerners.
The Mindset of the Young Generation
Some Japanese may not like the various Japanese societal rules that are ingrained into the country: Living in Japan can be extremely different if you are Japanese or non-Japanese.
For the Japanese who disagree with their cultural values in some aspects, they may move out: quite a lot of Japanese couples tend to go to a different country like Singapore, Germany, US or Australia, as they can relate better.
Many factors can influence this as well: it could be an overseas education that takes into account global perspectives, or that they find greater comfort in lower-context cultures like Australia, as opposed to a pressuring, high-context culture like Japan.
This way, they don’t have to live under the guise of many different Japanese societal expectations. There is no pressure on them when they are overseas. For people in this category, they may find those who have lived in a context outside of Japan, ie. Western people, to be more attractive in the long run.
Generally, this is how it goes. Well, at the very least, from my eyes back when I was living in Japan as well as having met Japanese people living all over the world. In terms of attraction to Westerners, this tends to occur more often in younger generations.
In the frontier of globalization, access to the wonders of other cultures had always sparked a little curiosity in the young, so they may find the Western World, more attractive overall.
But, change can be scary for some, so there are plenty of Japanese people who are attracted to Japanese people as well.
You could undergo a long discussion about this in greater detail but you’d have to look at how attractiveness can be defined as well: It could be goal alignment, an attraction towards a specific culture outside of Japan, or the comfort of family and harmony surrounding you.
It all boils down to the individual, and as someone curious about the culture it is best to ask them in their comfort zone. Better yet, ask them outside of their comfort zone too: you might find two different answers.
Onto the next one!