OHITE GLITTER sparkles around Chang Chia-jung’s eyes. Her lips are bright red; her skin glows. Ms. Chang, who was born in Taiwan and now lives in Japan, is a fan of what she calls chuuka-meiku (Chinese makeup). She learned from influencers about RED, a Chinese social media site. Now she publishes her own tutorials for Japanese audiences. His skills have earned him thousands of followers on Instagram and Twitter.
Beauty gurus across Japan are getting down to business for the makeup styles made famous by Chinese starlets. The boom started four years ago with the resounding success of a look known as Chiborg. This combines the words for China and cyborg; it aims to make young faces look supernaturally chiseled. more trendy now Chunyu (pure desire), which is trying to look attractive and innocent at the same time. Chinese celebrities have beauty “on another level”, says Nanako (pictured), a 24-year-old Japanese woman who also has a large following online.
The popularity of these styles is driving up sales in Japan of Chinese cosmetics brands, such as Florasis and ZEESEA. Older Japanese have long shunned Chinese products, which they consider inferior. But their children are less likely to assume so, with some justification. For years, Japan has been the world’s second most valuable market for cosmetics, after America; the Chinese market overtook it in 2019. Chinese makeup companies have become more competent and inventive, as their sales have exploded.
Tensions around the disputed islands and Taiwan have poisoned relations between Japan and China in recent years. But unlike trade in products such as semiconductors, which governments seek to control, cosmetics are “apolitical”, says Goto Yasuhiro of the University of Asia in Tokyo. Behind the rows, he says, the cultures of young people in Japan, China and South Korea are increasingly similar.
A 2021 survey suggested that more than 40% of Japanese people aged 18-29 feel an “affinity” with China, compared to just 13% among those in their 60s and 70s. Sugai Fumihito, who works for an outpost of Beijing Language and Culture University in Tokyo, says many young people studying Mandarin at his institution cite Chinese makeup as a reason for their interest. “I never imagined a day when the Japanese would see Chinese as ‘cool’,” he says. “A lot of Japanese have started to look up to the Chinese,” echoes Ms Chang. “It’s thanks to Chinese makeup.”■