Thursday, May 13, 2010

Jeepney Press May-June 2010 issue page 5

TRAFFIC by Alma R. H. Reyes

Beauty and the Beast

“Young girl, get out of my mind
My love for you is way out of line
Better run, girl, you're much too young, girl
With all the charms of a woman
You've kept the secret of your youth
You led me to believe you're old enough
…'Cause I'm afraid we'll go too far, Oh,
Young girl”

With the start of the fiscal year in April, many Japanese move to new beginnings: new schools, new jobs, new homes, new husbands and wives (Ha!), and new looks—new fashion, new make-up or new hairstyle. Having lived in five different countries, I can say that the attention given to beauty is never as evident and age widespread as in Japan. I don’t just refer to beauty of the gardens, temples, food presentation, kimono or the four seasons, but physical beauty, which, by the way, does not necessarily relate to whether Japanese are beautiful or not. (I think we, gaijins, know what this means….)

During the 70s and the 80s, even if Japan had already boasted of prime fashion leaders, like Issey Miyake or Hanae Mori, fashion as seen in everyday life, was not as visible to the public eye as it is today. During those times, it was even rare to see a Japanese woman wearing jeans. At the height of the bubble economy, when more Japanese started to learn the joys of traveling, they brought back with them their Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Lancômbe omiyage. Magazines about fashion and beauty (“este” as they call it) escalated in the last five to ten years, and even Japanese television shows more cosmetics commercials than any other product.

Takeshita Dori in Harajuku has become the icon of youthful Japanese fashion, and I bet no Japanese girl above twelve years old has never strolled around this area. My hairdresser once told me that fashion does not begin in Paris, but in Harajuku. Honto? A survey also said that the average Japanese female spends most on cosmetics than any other foreign female. It used to be the common thought that the world of fashion, facials and cosmetics only belonged to women in their 20’s to 50’s. But in today’s modern Japan, teenage girls starting from junior high school level and above make cosme-tics and nail shops their next stops after fashion boutiques. In fact, I’m a bit lost why teenage girls today, as young as thirteen years old, have become so conscious of their body and physical appearance more than they were twenty years ago. Adding to my confusion is why Japanese men pay so much attention to them as though they have become modern targets of their sexual fantasies.

In recent years, did you not notice the rise of crimes involving young schoolgirls? No one forgets the gruesome incident of an elementary schoolgirl who was kidnapped, killed, then dumped in a creek, and a picture of her broken teeth sent to the parents by mobile phone (and, there were more than one such incident); schoolgirls kidnapped and assaulted while walking on their way home from school; schoolgirls abused in karaoke boxes or clubs where some go to work illegally; schoolgirls harassed inside trains or while standing on escalators (with the men secretly taking mobile phone pictures of the girls’ underskirts); and schoolgirls harassed by teachers. News reports of hidden cameras found inside toilets of girls’ schools and set up by teachers themselves were totally appalling! Kadiri! And, all these incidents may have one thing in common: the girls wear school uniforms. In case you haven’t noticed, the schoolgirl uniform (blazer, white blouse with ribbon, and plain or checkered skirt) has become a piece of provocation for many Japanese men, which goes beyond the “kawaii” look. Maybe if these Japanese girls stop pulling up their skirts, revealing hence, their innocent thighs and legs, men would not feel as teased as they are willing to admit. You can also see these perverted tendencies in Japanese TV dramas, commercials, magazines, and Japanese manga.

You must know of AKB48. It’s a VERY popular group of about 47 or so teenage girl singers from 14 years old and up, known for their “kawaii” look as they sing and dance wearing schoolgirls’ uniforms. They published their own photography book that shows them wearing skin-tight, high V-cut, low-necklined Playboy bunny-looking outfits in sexy poses, and individual close-up shots of their lips in a kissing mode. Yes, 13-, 14-year olds. That may sound offensive to all women, but just watch how they are so loved by the Japanese showbiz crowd, thousands of fans, and many Japanese men who cannot stop being amused by their “cuteness”—probably, among them, the same men who harass schoolgirls in trains and escalators.

One can only make a psychoanalysis of what drives many Japanese men to have such fetish for young schoolgirls, especially when they are wearing those “kawaii” girls’ uniforms. Is it Daddy complex? Or, just the lure for the young and innocent? And, please don’t assume that “Women Only” coaches in trains prevent chikans from groping girls. Believe me, it still happens. Well, go to bookshops and stop by the magazine section. There, you can see a whole array of young girls magazines featuring young teenagers in grotesque make-up, hairstyle, and mini-mini skirt fashion. Their poses are not just telling you to buy their clothes or dress up and look like them; they are really calling you to come to them. It’s a kind of marketing strategy that uses minors to entice sales. Naturally, interested men fall for it. But, worse, the teenage girls love it, too. The line that should draw a limit to physical exposure is now invisible.

Indeed, we do pay a lot to be beautiful, and feeling beautiful often makes us happy, not realizing that somewhere out there, there will always be a beast admiring our beauty in ways more degrading than we can imagine. And, if that attraction happens between a 14-year old schoolgirl and a 40-year old man, who can say who teased whom?

I don’t know about you, but Japanese men smiling at schoolgirls in their uniforms just gives me the creeps. Ewww…or maybe that’s because I also own a similar checkered skirt…

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