This week’s Shukan Bunshun (8.2.07 edition) has a story by writer Ochi Yoshiko (越智良子) called “What is good about her? The current aesthetics of beautiful women”「どこがいいの？」今どきの美女論 examining the mysterious popularity of models Ebihara Yuri (“Ebi-chan”) and Oshikiri Moe, singers Koda Kumi and Hamasaki Ayumi, and Miss Universe Mori Riyo. The first article reiterates the fact that no one in Japan has anything but total antagonism towards Mori Riyo, so we can leave her out of this discussion. (Damn you, America and Donald Trump).
With the other women, however, the older generation and a great deal of Japanese men cannot comprehend why these particular stars are popular. Out of the remaining four, Ebi-chan is the only one with any real appeal to men, but at the end of the day, even her fame is primarily the product of female admiration. Ochi names these women 「下積り美人」— something to the effect of “bottom of the barrel beauties.”
Ochi comes to the conclusion that contemporary girls like “imperfect” celebrities who have reached physical beauty only through hard work and determination. Even the Koda Kumi fan interviewed for the piece acknowledges that Koda is not an “orthodox beauty” but has worked her ass off to become “pretty.” Same goes for the CanCam girls Ebihara and Oshikiri who have shown that apparel expertise, make-up techniques, and hair curling voodoo complete the woman more than her raw material. These stars suggest that contemporary Japanese women want idols who look similar to themselves, thus creating a comfortable myth that anyone can overcome natural flaws to reach the top. Sympathy now trumps simple adoration.
Guys, on the other hand, still like the natural girl who doesn’t look like she’s trying so hard. This was true with Hirosue Ryoko and now explains the popularity of Nagasawa Masami. Girls may admit that Matsushima Nanako is as elegant as they come, but they are totally disinterested. She can’t teach them anything about struggle. For the exact same reason, third-world despots looked to Stalin and not Kaiser Wilhelm the Second.
I find it hard not to draw some general socio-psychological conclusions from this trend. The emphasis on the gambaru concept — doing one’s best — opposed to natural talent echoes the Japanese post-war national mythology. But in opposition to the static Confucian view of the world, Japanese women now seem to be hesitant to blindly accept their social-betters in a pre-determined hierarchy. They want style and beauty leaders who can be imagined to represent them and thus prove the possibilities of upward-beauty-mobility. If I can become Ebi-chan through effort, there is no reason why I too cannot become #1 like Ebi-chan. This seems to reflect a much more American democratic-capitalist “can-do” spirit of self-betterment through determined effort, rather than a Confucian-statist belief that low social position should be embraced and higher-ups worshiped unconditionally. Is this further proof that the onset of socioeconomic disparity has shaken faith in a static universe? Everyone is aiming for the top, and these girls are dragging down the quality of their idols to make sure they can get there themselves.