2012 New History
P. O. Box 1-44, Nankang, Taipei 11529, Taiwan, R. O. C.
02-2782-9555 # 226


Beauties in the Mirror: Changes in Beauty Consciousness as Seen in Make-up Guidebooks in Edo Japan

Suzuki Noriko

         Shijitsu Junior College

This paper aims to discuss the emergence of a new consciousness of body and beauty at the beginning of the nineteenth century in Japan, which I call “body fashioning”. Up to the latter part of the eighteenth century, people thought that they could not change the figures they were born with, even with much effort. In contrast, women were taught that they could improve their moral character under the ethical doctrine that human nature is fundamentally good. Women’s guidebooks strongly chastised the tendency of wealthy men to choose their wives on good looks, and emphasized that greater weight should be placed on faithfulness.


A new turn in this idea was appearing in the later part of the eighteenth century. In 1769, Jokyo tsuyabunko, a practice book for women, considered  virtue and figure equally important for women, and they could become attractive by their efforts. It urged that the women who fashioned their looks were wise, because they gained opportunities to marry into rich families by their efforts. There was a clear line between it and the former books because of its suggestion that physical appearance can and should be changed.


A book called Miyako fuzoku kewai-den took a positive attitude towards body fashioning. It began with the phrase “like jewels, women cannot shine without polishing,” and assured that every woman could become beautiful if she mastered the techniques of make-up and dressing prescribed in the book. Furthermore, it declared that polishing up one’s appearance promoted virtue. Beautiful women, it held, have beautiful minds, and by this logic it justified marriage on the basis of physical attractiveness. The book taught how to compensate the shortcomings of each part of the face by managing make-up and hairstyle.

     Miyako fuzoku kewai-den was also involved in the great amount of information on how to create a fair complexion by applying ointment, facial packs and massage. This type of care promoted circulation and refreshed the blood and qí, because a good circulation was key to a fair complexion. Health, in short, was the foundation of beauty. This idea connected body fashioning as extending from the outside to the inside of the body. It prescribed massage not only for the face but also for the whole body, because good circulation of blood and qí also created slender and graceful fingers, arms and legs like ukiyoe beauties. At the same time, the linkage of health and beauty leads to the recognition that women could not become beautiful without changing their bodies.


The idea of body fashioning and the union of health and beauty also accounted for the popularity of medicated cosmetics from the end of the eighteenth century. Drug stores sold medicated cosmetics for women and other drugs such as tonics and voice medicine for improving one’s voice. People liked to take these medicines, even if they were not suffering from any illness. From the end of the eighteenth century, everyone pursued the dream of body fashioning; a new consciousness concerning beauty and body thus came into existence.


Key Words: ukiyoe, mirror, women’s guidebooks, Miyako fuzoku kewai-den, Yogan bien-ko, body fashioning, and blood, medicated cosmetics