Long before Korea dominated as Asia’s beauty powerhouse, Japan was at the forefront of cutting-edge cosmetics and skin care. The country boasts iconic brands such as Shiseido and SK-II, and has inspired countless others like Tatcha.
None of that, however, had anything to do with why I moved there right out of college before kick-starting my career as an editor. Though I’m proudly Chinese-American, I was inexplicably drawn to Japan at the time, fascinated by how such a technologically advanced country could also remain steeped in centuries of tradition. When the opportunity to teach English there presented itself, I couldn’t refuse.
Most people are shocked to learn I didn’t live in a bustling city like Tokyo, but in Kumenan, a small town of less than 6,000 people in rural Okayama prefecture. But despite my distance from any major city — or quite likely because of it — I felt promptly and thoroughly immersed in Japanese customs and norms. This cultural crash course allowed me to absorb some significant lessons about Japan, including its unique approach to beauty.
Looking back, that year abroad undoubtedly helped shape my thoughts on beauty and appearance. Of course, these ideas might be gleaned from broad generalizations — Japan’s attitude toward beauty, like everything else, continues to evolve as they redefine old rituals or adopt new trends — but I believe all of them are noteworthy, and in some cases, even empowering.
Ahead, six beauty lessons I’ll never forget from the exquisite country I once called home.