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Beauty standards and trends differ from culture to culture, so something that’s fashionable and pretty to one woman can be completely can be bizarre, sometimes even ugly, to another half the world away. This is especially true in the case of Japanese beauty fads, which often leave Westerners thinking, “Why on earth are you doing that to yourself?!’ while Japanese fashion magazines insist that it’s the path to ultimate kawaii-ness.

These Japanese beauty fads are all the rage among Japanese girls, but are hard to understand from a Western perspective.

Narrow eyes, small noses, straight black hair – so many of the aesthetics common to Japanese women are considered gorgeous by many Western girls (and boys!). But what many Japanese girls obsess over as being beautiful is often quite different. Humans have a tendency to want what they don’t have, and in the same way that many Westerners find Japanese girls beautiful and ‘exotic’, many Japanese women idolize Western looks and are prepared to use a variety of beauty tricks to attain their ideal. There are also plenty of trends that are Japan-specific and developed internally rather than from looking outwards, and these two kinds of aesthetics mingle to create the general Japanese beauty zeitgeist, which is supported by a beauty industry worth JPY 1.4 trillion (US$17.5 billion) in 2011.

The following are four fads that are currently making cosmetics companies in Japan extremely happy.

1. Skin whitening

Take a look at the beauty products on sale in any Japanese drug store, and you’ll find many potions and lotions that claim to whiten the skin.

While in times past in the US and Europe a suntan was seen as undesirable as it was a sign of having been outside working in the fields while the upper classes remained pale by keeping indoors, nowadays the opposite is true for many people. A year-round tan is a sign that someone can afford to spend their time at the beach or jetting off to sunny holiday destinations, and most people are eager to gain the healthy glow that most celebrities sport, regardless of the warnings doctors and skincare experts give about overexposure to UV rays.

On the other hand, white skin has remained a mainstream aesthetic ideal in Japan, despite the trend for dark skin started in the 90s by ganguro girls, and that is still popular among the ‘gal’ fashion subculture today.

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2. Snaggleteeth

Especially in the US, straight, uniform (and sometimes frighteningly white) teeth are a must. People spend a lot of money on straightening their teeth out, and the idea that someone would pay to have previously straight teeth misaligned seems completely bizarre. However, a considerable number of women in Japan are doing just that.

The ‘yaeba‘ or snaggle tooth look is thought to be cute, and cosmetic dentistry practices are offering temporary and permanent solutions to achieve that crooked smile. While in the West you might be teased for looking like a vampire, in Japan your fangs would gain you instant kawaii credibility.

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3. Double eyelids

Many Westerners find Asian almond-shaped eyes beautiful. However, some Japanese women will go out of their way to try and create a double eyelid, using tape and prongs to force their skin into the desired shape in a process that looks quite painful, but that I’ve been assured isn’t.

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4. Eye bag makeup

Many Japanese women are concerned about having a ‘flat face’, and I’ve been complimented by Japanese people for the fact that my face is very ‘three-dimensional’. (I thought we were all 3D, but perhaps some people think they are actually anime characters in real life?)

While eye bags are something that many of us work hard to eliminate or disguise as they are thought to make us look tired and old, some Japanese girls use contouring and highlighting makeup to emphasize the area under their eyes and make it look ‘puffy’. As someone who slaps on the concealer every morning to avoid looking like a panda, this is the trend that I can understand the least.

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