To many, the quintessential image of Japanese feminine beauty remains the pristine white visage of geisha and maiko, traditional entertainers who embody all that seems exotic and mysterious about Japan as inhabitants of the little-understood realm called the karyukai, the “flower and willow world.” In centuries past, geisha would apply a thick coat of snow-white oshiroi (once made from lead oxide, later rice powder) to ensure their features stood out in the dimly candle-lit chambers in which they entertained their male patrons.
It was in the Edo period (1603–1868), as Japan enjoyed two centuries of peace and prosperity under the Tokugawa shogunate, that cosmetic products became more affordable to the wider populace. The growing availability of bijin-ga––painted scrolls and woodblock prints depicting beauties––further helped to spread popular notions of attractiveness, and cemented the ideal of irojiro-hada (“light-complexioned skin”), which our expert guest Kaori Ishida describes as not simply “light skin tone,” but “smooth skin without blemishes, freckles, pimples, or moles. Flawless skin…a perfect skin condition.”
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