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Makeup Researcher Ryuen Hiramatsu Discusses the Past & Future of Makeup

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What does it mean to wear makeup? Recently, not only women but also men have become more conscious of beauty, with magazines even featuring special sections on men's cosmetics. However, a generation ago, the idea of men wearing makeup was not widely accepted. Yet, if we delve further into history, it turns out that men used to wear makeup just as women did.
It's difficult to define makeup in a single sentence. Therefore, we interviewed Ryuen Hiramatsu, a makeup researcher with a Ph.D. in makeup studies, on the theme of 'Past and Future of Makeup.' After reading this article, you may reconsider the significance of wearing makeup.
Ryuen Hiramatsu
Ryuen Hiramatsu

Cosmetic Psychologist / Professional Institute of International Fashion lecturer

Born in 1980 in Shiga Prefecture. In 2008, he earned a PhD (in Educational Sciences) with his unique research in makeup. He has served as a researcher at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies, a core research fellow at Kyoto University, a full-time lecturer at Thailand's National Chulalongkorn University and its graduate school, and an assistant professor at Toyo University and its graduate school. He has also served as a part-time lecturer at Kyoto University of Education and consulted for major electronics and cosmetics manufacturers. His specialties include cosmetic psychology and the cultural theory of makeup. His media appearances include "所さんの目がテン!" (NTV), "ホンマでっか!?TV" (Fuji TV), and "Japanology Plus" (NHK WORLD). Major works include "化粧にみる日本文化 だれのためによそおうのか" (Suiyosha) and "黒髪と美の歴史" (KADOKAWA).

Encounter with Makeup Research

How did you come to start researching makeup?
Growing up in the fashion-forward Kansai region, I had an interest in clothing from a young age. When I entered junior high, I began reading "MEN'S NON-NO," and by high school, I was attending fashion shows like Hiroko Koshino's 'Osaka Collection'.
I studied in the Faculty of Education at university, but I also took fashion-related courses at other art universities through a credit exchange system. I began serious research in graduate school. Around that time, 'Gal-O' (male 'Gal') started appearing in Shibuya, sparking my interest. Wondering why they wore makeup led me to discover that no one was researching it.
While there were studies (chemistry) on makeup as a product, few were exploring its societal meanings or the psychology behind it. Since no one else was doing it, I decided to take it upon myself to research makeup.
Lecture scene of makeup and attraction
Lecture scene of makeup and attraction
Why was research on makeup not popular?
There are several reasons, but one is that makeup involves the 'face'. It could make researchers susceptible to social criticism, as they may be perceived as studying 'beauty and ugliness'.
It has generally been thought that makeup is something only adult women do. Studying something only adult women do would yield limited results, which was seen as meaningless. Additionally, makeup is associated with transient fashion trends and considered unnecessary by some.
However, the reality is different. Cosmetic manufacturers understand the significance of this research and appreciate my conference presentations.
Your specialty is in cosmetic psychology and cosmetic cultural studies. Could you explain your research?
Makeup is not an abstract concept but a specific social and cultural phenomenon. It is also a habit based on behavioral forms and value criteria related to society, culture, and psychology.
An individual's personality and social life are related to their expression and charm. Makeup, which emphasizes and intentionally manipulates these aspects, is a result and projection created by society and culture.
Therefore, my research is structured around two main axes: a 'structural' study of human psychology (personality) and a 'dynamic' study of society and culture (politics, economics, international relations, social infrastructure). While psychology and social and cultural studies may seem like distinct disciplines, they converge in clarifying the nature of society.
In my research on 'Gal-O', I have demonstrated the 'similarity-liking effect,' a psychological principle where people tend to like others who are similar to themselves. Additionally, I've found that the psychological impact of skincare differs between morning and evening, and that doing nails (manicures) is effective in reducing stress for both men and women.
A study conducted with a graduate student from Kyoto University on pregnant women found that manicures can also relieve pregnancy-related stress. This finding was reported not only in national news but also by Xinhua News Agency for audiences in China, generating significant response.

Makeup: Accessible to All

What kind of behaviors or actions does 'makeup' refer to?
Makeup involves the use of cosmetics. When asked, "What are cosmetics?" we’d typically name foundation, mascara, lipstick, and more. But it goes beyond that.
In Japan, there’s a law known as "The Act on Securing Quality, Efficacy and Safety of Products Including Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices." According to this law, cosmetics are used to clean, beautify, enhance attractiveness, alter the appearance, or maintain the health of the skin and hair. Legally speaking, makeup isn't just about altering appearances or adorning oneself; it includes cleanliness as well. Thus, washing your face in the morning, straightening bed hair, and brushing your teeth all qualify as makeup. From this perspective, makeup isn’t just for adult women, but for everyone of all ages in grooming and adorning their appearances.
The kanji for applying makeup (化けて粧う) derives from the old term 'kewai' (けわい), which means aura or presence. Makeup subtly expresses the essential qualities of a person that may not be immediately visible. Other terms such as 'otsukuri' (おつくり) and 'mijimai' (みじまい) have also been used historically.
In English, 'makeup' originally meant to replenish or complement. Someone may have a gentle nature, but it might not be apparent from their looks. Sometimes, a stern face can lead to misunderstandings about a person being rough. Hence, makeup serves to complement and convey a kinder appearance, aligning one's external looks with their inner nature.
When applying makeup, we are expressing an image of ourselves as we want to be seen by others or as we aspire to be.
How have attitudes towards makeup evolved over time?
When attempting to categorize the history of makeup by its meaning and purpose, it can be divided into three periods: the foundational makeup era, traditional makeup era, and modern makeup era.
During the foundational makeup era, makeup was performed for magical reasons such as warding off evil, religious symbolism, and as a symbol of affiliation to distinguish between friend and foe. Teeth blackening was performed magically for dental decay prevention, and tattoos served both as a symbol of affiliation and as protection against evil, regardless of the region or society. This universality is a notable feature across the globe.
The traditional makeup era was characterized by a heightened awareness of whom the makeup was for. Makeup was a practice carried out within the dynamics of the ruling and the ruled classes. For men, regulations such as shaving the beard to not intimidate the emperor were in place. On the other hand, women's makeup was performed in relation to men, particularly within the context of submission to the household head or husband. The interplay with the climate, economy, society, and culture and the aesthetic preferences reflected in makeup is also a distinctive aspect of this era.
During the Heian period, noble makeup mirrored the peaceful, plump, and leisurely tastes of the aristocracy. However, towards the end of the Heian period, as the new ruling class of warriors emerged, men's makeup became combative, bold, and majestic, directed towards their martial livelihood. Traditional makeup is characterized by the existence of common makeup behaviors and consciousness within specific societies and cultures.
The modern makeup era, while influenced by society and culture, has seen advances in makeup products and techniques. Makeup is now used as a means of 'self-expression', performed for oneself rather than for someone else, continuing up to the present day. Modern makeup can be seen as the same as the makeup we use today.
Cosmetics market research at a seminar camp in Thailand
Cosmetics market research at a seminar camp in Thailand
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