Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Translating Beauty or Japanese Girls Must Stop Being Kawaii

1988 finalists

After Riyo Mori's win in the Miss Universe pagent, and our subsequent discussion on Japundit, I became curious about the "behind the scenes" efforts that contributed to Mori's win. It has been very clear over the past few years that the Japanese delegates have become less "kawaii" and more "fierce" in the manner in which a model and spokeswoman must be to appeal to an international or, ahem, western audience.

Ines and friends

So, how did it happen? Take a look at the Miss Universe Japan site, and you'll see that as an organization, it's only been around for the past 9 years. That's because someone finally decided that after 48 years of participating in the pagent, and only producing 1 winner and 3 finalists, drastic measures needed to be taken if Japan was ever going to place. So, the old Miss Japan machine was scrapped, and the new Miss Universe Japan organization was born. And who was placed at the head? One Ines Ligron, a Frenchwoman by birth who has single-handedly refashioned what it means to be beautiful in Japan.

In her own words:

My involvement in the Miss Universe started when I was in Hong Kong representing celebrity models for IMG Models at the end of '97. Donald Trump had just bought the Miss Universe trademarks. We have a friend in common in New York, and my name popped out during a conversation. Next, I was asked to implement an even tin Japan within the next 2-months period and to bring a "Miss Japan" to Miss Universe in Hawaii.

And there you go. A French, fashion savvy woman is the reason why the Miss Japan's of the recent past look so . . . competitive.


The first groundbreaking Miss Japan was Miyako Miyazaki. (Itallics below are mind)

Miss Miyazaki is remembered as a benchmark for which all other Miss Japans are compared to. Expound on this.

People know me as a rule breaker which is true, but I must admit that all the noise is not all mine. My delegates represent Japan, a country full of trends. They all have one point in common: fashion. If you walk in the streets of Tokyo, you will be immersed into individual creativity . . . It is not something new, and Miyako projected just that . . . when she competed in Panama. Kurara has lived in France, Spain and New York. She reads Le Monde and USA Today. She buys international women magazines. She projects a complete new image for the Japanese delegates this year, maybe more westernized."


And that, folks, is where the ninja suit came from. Self-aware marketing. Ines is no dummy. She knows all about the "kick-ass-ninja-fantasy" thing that the west has for the east, and she dressed up her girl, Kurara, accordingly.

She is not, however, trying to make the girls look western. For example, she considers the fact that Miyako Miyazaki did not place higher than she did her own fault, specifically because she did not fully allow Miyazaki to play up her own unique beauty in the gown competition of that year.

I asked her (Miyako) to change her dress to a more conservative Celine gown if she would reach the top 5. She did. Have I done a mistake by telling her to change? I believe I did. Because she looked like everyon else up there in the end, plus she got betrayed gy her "lost-in-translation" translator.

However, on one thing Ligron is clear. Japanese girls must stop being kawaii. (I told you so! You knew this was coming!)

Ligron says Japanese girls are long-legged and slim with beautiful skin and can be very much like a chameleon — their look can change dramatically depending on the make-up and color of their hair. "The quality they need to acquire most of all is self-confidence concerning both their physical beauty and their mind. Articulating their own thoughts, opinions and beliefs is difficult for young women anywhere. But Japanese girls have to stop trying to be kawaii, and be more sensual," she suggests.

"I ask the girls to sit naked in front of the mirror at home so they can be comfortable with their own sensuality, to feel every part of their body is beautiful. Foreign women have a mirror in their bedroom and bathroom and look at their bodies. In Japan, they don't look at themselves. There's no privacy. They dress and undress in confined spaces with no mirror. I tell them: 'Put some music on and seduce yourself in the mirror.'"

So, how far do you think this will go? Will Japan buy this new aesthetic sense? How do you feel about it? Curious to hear your thoughts.

Japanese girls must stop being kawaii? Why? So they can appeal to Western beauty pageant audiences more? I don't see any rationale behind this...go to Japan and you'll see girls with their own style who don't feel like they need to dress up like a ninja in order to seem more aggressive or whatever.

I'd like to see some Japanese girls reverse this by travelling to France and start instructing French fashion models on how to be more kawaii...
It's interesting, Justin, because I just watched (I think on Youtube) this French documentary on the Lolita fashion craze that is in France. Some of it started from the movie "Kamikaze Girls" which really captured the imagination of young French women, who proceeded to dress up in a fashion similar to the main character.

So actually, the kawaii aesthetic is spreading out internationally. I also just started reading the July issue of the Japanese fashion magazine Soen, which talks about the spread of global "kawaii." And there is Gwen Stefani, who has definitely tried to capture the kawaii aesthetic with her Harajuku girls.

So even though Ms. Ines Ligron wants Japanese girls to stop being kawaii, I think that sense of style is alive and well, and spreading internationally as you suggest.
I adore the Lolita fashion and have often been called kawaii for wearing certain combinations of color at business meetings. I am lucky to work at a rather stiff construction company in central Texas that happily doesn't frown upon my choice of clothes.

While Japan's influence in fashion has always been demonstrated in the U.S., in perhaps more subtle ways, lately I've noticed it peeking out from little girls and young ladies to include women in their late thirties and beyond - women who don't have the luxury of jobs that embrace non-conventional wardrobes.

I do wish that our individual styles were more accepted in the U.S. My nephew, who is 3-years old, currently has a bicolored mohawk. When out and about we get a combination of "cool" and "oh, that poor boy!" looks. However, if he were in his thirties and looking for a job, his opportunites would become very limited with that hair style.

I find "cuteness" as well as kickass quite sexy!
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