International Research Trip to Japan: Booked for 16th – 23rd January 2017

This is working towards objective 1, 2, 3 and 5.

I have recently confirmed and booked an International Research Trip as part of my MA Creative Practice studies, in order to understand on a cross-cultural level how the Beauty and Fashion Industries affect our sense of body image and self-perception. I feel in contrast to the UK, where many women fake tan to achieved ‘a desired look’ for instance, in Japan, women are known to use ‘skin-lightening’ products to acquire a more Western skin tone. Furthermore, as noted in my Professional Context Presentation 1 research it is clear that Vogue Japan takes its design influences from its Japanese heritage and culture, but content wise projects a Western ideal, and ways to achieve this, be it though diet, exercise, clothing, skincare or makeup. In addition, as also noted within the same blog posts and context, many Japanese women use apps such as BeautyPlus to alter their appearance digitally prior to posting on social media, whether this be changing their skin tone, or widening their eyes for that, ‘ideal’ look. Examples of the above can be found below:

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vogue-japan-2Above Images: Scans from Personal Collection

Above shows scans taken from a recent June 2016 edition of Japan Vogue, which focuses on beauty products with specifically-created formulations to lighten skin and help naturally ‘widen eyes’, and leg exercises in order to elongate them to achieve the ideal ‘long leg’ as boasted by Western people in relation to the average sized Japanese woman for example, whilst also coincidently being the ‘ideal’ showcased through their cover models, photoshoots and content alike.

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‘Cultural Icons’ as talked about by Mary F. Rodgers in “Barbie Culture” states that these are commodities which are shaped to consumer needs, trends and changing ideals. Is this why Japan Vogue features little Eastern models for their covers and editorial photoshoots? This is shown above with cover model, and ‘Cultural Icon’ Kendall Jenner. The content also is usually very Western promoting Western ideals and beauty trends as noted above. I would like to see whilst in Japan whether National magazines use more Eastern models in relation to International Magazines which have ‘spin-off’ editions. I also want to look at this as noted below in more detail, in regards to Fashion houses and brands, and whether Western models are used mainly to generate sales and brand engagement to being ‘cultural icons’ who still remain known to all but change as needed to, and whether in relation to this identities and native cultures are affected, whilst also affecting the self-perception of the population? As noted in previous research Editors are usually responsible for selecting what is included in a magazine content wise, and therefore am interested in looking into the associative Instagram account, website and social media pages, to see if this use of Western models, ideals and trends follows suit with a platform which reaches a larger, and International target audience. Would this affect content selection, whereby Japan Vogue magazines themselves are extremely hard to come by in the UK and therefore, most likely other Western countries also?

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Above shows an Advertising campaign for Uniqlo, a Japanese brand using Western models to promote their garments. I am interested to see whilst in Japan the ratio of Japanese to Western models used across Beauty and Fashion brands, especially for those whom are based in the US or UK for example. I am particularly interested in looking at Japanese brands such as Uniqlo whilst over in Japan also to see what their in-store promotional materials are like in comparison to those in their London store (trip booked for 7th & 8th Jan 2017 prior to visiting Japan), i.e. models, makeup used, etc. I also would like to find out why Western models are sometimes used with Japanese brands, and again with Japanese magazines? Is it due to the demand for Western culture? Is it escapism of the religiousness and pre-set cultures of Japan? These are questions I am wanting to explore and research further.

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I found the above interesting as discussed in my presentation, as Emma Watson is being portrayed as the ‘English Rose’ promoting the idea of porcelain skin of the West, to those in the East. In response to this campaign, I came across this quote whilst researching which raised Feminist issues which I had not previously considered. 

The author of the piece ‘Perfect Whiteness: The Code Switching of European Cosmetic Companies’ wrote: “Emma Watson, forever paraded in the media as a white feminist icon, is the face of Lancôme’s “Blanc Expert” (Expert White) which contains disruptive ingredients intended to whiten the skin. Non-white women already have complexes about dark skin rooted in colonialism, racism and/or classism. They are exacerbated by these multimillion $ £ € campaigns designed to make us feel like our skin is a problem that we can pay for them to solve.” This made me think about issues in Japan which I should research into further prior to embarking on my visit. These are issues such as Identity, Classism, Economy and Religion for example, which may expose further the need for the East to feel as though they should conform with the West, whilst also thinking about this from a Feminist point of view, whilst sparking further thoughts on a Japanese campaign using a Western model as the face of the product and how this effects self-perception across the Japanese nation itself.

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I have always found this fascinating, and have always collected International editions over the past 15 years or so, building up a multi-cultural archive of my own and can’t wait to explore Japan and see culturally how it differs to ours at time where social media and magazines are generating new cultural icons on a regular basis, projecting new ideals also on to us in regards as how to look, and how to achieve this.

Furthermore, working with clients on an international basis over the past few years has highlighted the importance of understanding cross-cultural contexts in order to create relevant pieces of design work which communicate with the right audience, in the right way.

Whilst in Japan I hope to conduct various forms of field research, and to look into topics such as:

  • Are Western or Japanese models being used to advertise Japanese brands such as Uniqlo?
  • Are Western or Japanese celebritiess/icons being used for brand endorsements?
  • Skin-lightening fads
  • Product Innovations, Technologies and Trends
  • Who is on the cover of their fashion, beauty, hair magazines for example?
  • Photo booths which apply the BeautyPlus style filters to printed photos
  • How is Western body image and beauty reflected in Japanese magazines, i.e. Vogue Japan, Nylon Japan.

I plan on speaking to various forms of people and plan on using some of the following research methods:

  • Questionnaires/Surveys
  • Asking Questions
  • Focus Groups
  • Interviewing Bloggers/Vloggers
  • Talking to Magazines/Designers/Media/Industry Experts/Professionals

Over the next few weeks I plan on speaking to my contact in Japan, Charlotte Stacey, a Character Artist whom works for Disney Tokyo, in order to start speaking with translators, should the need arise, and to also start researching bloggers, for example to contact, whilst also putting out initial emails to magazines and organisations such as Vogue Japan and Uniqlo. Regarding this I will update my blog accordingly, and plan a schedule for my time there, to ensure that I use the opportunity to its full potential.

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