Japanese youth want to be like Chinese stars

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WHITE GLIR shimmers around Chang Chia-jung’s eyes. Her lips are bright red; her skin is glowing. Ms Chang, who was born in Taiwan and now lives in Japan, likes what she says. chuuka meiku (Chinese makeup). She learned from her influencers RED, a Chinese social media site. Now she posts her own tutorials for a Japanese audience. Her skills have earned her thousands of followers on Instagram and Twitter.

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Beauty gurus across Japan are going crazy for makeup styles created by famous Chinese stars. The growth started four years ago with the initial success of a look called Cyborg. That mixes the words for China and cyborg; it aims to make young faces look preternaturally chiseled. It is more fashionable now chunyu (real desire), which means trying to look attractive and innocent all at the same time. Chinese celebrities have beauty “on another level”, says Nanako (pictured), a 24-year-old Japanese woman who also has many online fans.

Enthusiasm for these styles is boosting sales in Japan of Chinese cosmetics brands, such as Florasis and SHE. Older Japanese have long avoided Chinese products, which they consider inferior. But their children are less likely to accept this, with some justification. For years Japan had the world’s second most valuable market for cosmetics, after America; the Chinese market grew higher than in 2019. China’s make-up companies have become more capable, and more innovative, as their sales have increased.

Tensions over disputed islands and Taiwan have poisoned ties between Japan and China in recent years. But unlike the trade in goods such as semiconductors, which governments try to control, cosmetics are “rude”, says Goto Yasuhiro from the University of Asia in Tokyo. Behind the scenes, he says, youth cultures in Japan, China and South Korea are becoming more similar.

A 2021 survey suggested that more than 40% of Japanese aged 18-29 feel a “kinship” with China, compared to just 13% among those in their 60s and 70s. Sugai Fumihito, who works for a post at Beijing Language and Culture University in Tokyo, says that many young people studying Mandarin at his institution cite Chinese makeup as a reason for their interest. “I never imagined a day when Japanese people think Chinese is ‘cool’,” he says. “Many Japanese people have started to respect the Chinese people,” Ms. Chang said. “That’s due to Chinese makeup.”

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