Friday, October 20, 2006


THE LAND OF THE SHRINKING FACES


Japan is a small country, it's true. So you'd think it wouldn't want to get smaller in any personal way. Nevertheless, more and more I hear the word kogao (small face) and overhear questions and declarations like "Is my face too big?" and "Your face is so small!" being bandied about among the on-train and on-tv young Japanese. Echo often hears from her yoga students the compliment: "You've got a really small face!"

As someone with a large face (as I conclude, since in 30+ years of living in Japan I've never been complimented on the size of my face) who has given the matter some thought, I presume this is all unrelated to the shrunken heads of savage jungle lore, but you never know. I'm not sure what actually comprises a small face, having little genuine experience in sizing faces. Are there facial dimensional standards somewhere? To find out for myself I'd have to go into a big Japanese city and wander around measuring faces with calipers, which would likely get me in trouble, so I'll just go on conjecturing in tranquility (to give Wordsworth a tweak; bet in all his imaginings he never imagined he'd be tweaked in a blogpost about small faces in 21st century Japan).

As I understand it from my chair out here on the deck in the autumn sunshine of the multifaceted countryside, the small face craze started some years ago, as all crazes do, when something made of crazy passed through the UIM (Ubiquitous Invisible Membrane) into what is generally construed as the sane world. This usually happens in big cities, where the unimaginable simmers cheek-by-jowl with the highs and lows of culture and ambition.

As a result, it seems that the kogao has become the facial ideal here in the land of netsuke, to which end there are cosmetics and clothing and hairstyles and face-shrinking gels, with I'll bet lasers, high-pressure face cookers and skull reshapers soon to be offered for sale and service, many more nanofacial appliances yet to come.

Of course I myself countenance none of this physiognomical dimensionalism; I have grown well past any possible need to strive for a kisser the size of a walnut. (Of course I am being facetious, how can you not be when you're a practicing male of whatever age among hundreds of facially minimizing young women (and young men), as I am whenever I take the train to the big city and walk around there among visibly shrinking faces, even without calipers.)

What is a small face, you too, by now, are driven to ask. And how can one transform a watermelon of embarrassment into a plum of beauty? Is it a matter of subjection to ultrahigh pressures, as in a pressure cooker? Is it a kind of Modigliani plastic surgery? I remember faces made out of dried apples... but no. Netsuke makeup? Nothing so explicable as that. And perhaps most importantly of all: WHY? Why a small face?

Perhaps all the confusedly young who construe their countenances as damnably large or even embarrassingly normal in size want small faces because it's just something to do, or maybe they want to disappear - or at least minimize - for existential reasons and who can blame them, with small faces faces looming everywhere they turn...

Of course, other explanations have been offered...

2 comments:

Winston said...

Thanks for the informative article, but I am waiting for the coming craze that will deify those with large noses and protruding ear lobes...

Robert Brady said...

I, too, am readying my robes...