Differences in awareness of personal appearance between Japan and Switzerland

I usually get up two hours before the schedule. Do I get up early to eat breakfast? No, I do not. I stand in front of the closet and stare at a lot of clothes. After I decide on clothes, makeup, and hair set are waiting. This goes without saying in Japan. But why? I have never thought about the reason because it was too much of a habit. When I came to Switzerland, I began to think about whether this “common practice” was commonplace.

 For me, since having arrived in Switzerland, the food, people’s personalities, and all other things seem different from Japan, and every day brings many new and fresh impressions. One of the most surprising things was the difference between Japan and Switzerland in  matters of personal appearance. People who live in Switzerland dress in many different ways. Some people wear jerseys, and others wear suits, etc. Most importantly, Swiss people wear what they want to wear. The same is true of makeup and hair. In Switzerland, I can see many people without makeup. In addition, I can see many unique hairstyles and hair colors. I think people who wear makeup also wear makeup simply because they enjoy it. Appearance such as clothes and makeup is “expressing individuality”. In other words, appearance is for “fun”. And no matter what fashion they wear, people around them seem to accept it.

In contrast, Japan’s culture of personal appearance is totally different from that of Switzerland. In Japan, people are expected to wear clothes and makeup appropriate for the occasion, and it is considered a good idea to wear clothes that are as inconspicuous as possible. The word TPO is often used in Japan. This means, “Please be aware of the Time, Place, and Occasion”. Those who wear “trendy” clothes are considered the most fashionable group. It is considered in bad taste to wear jerseys or excessive fashion when someone goes out. Wearing makeup is thought to be a “minimum of good manners”, and if people don’t wear makeup, it is considered to be neglectful. Yet excessive makeup that is considered too flashy is criticized as “bad manners”. For Japanese people, especially the younger generation like me, wearing clothes and makeup seems to be more a matter of “good manners” than “having fun”. When the fashion someone wears is very different from what is expected in our society, people feel that he/she is being watched by those around them. Furthermore, no matter what people wear, they may feel as if they are always being watched by people. 

 It was not until I left Japan, and lived in Switzerland, a completely different culture, that I realized how biased and ridiculous it was. I noticed that I was more obsessed with dressing the way society wanted me to wear, rather than wearing clothes, makeup, and hairstyle I liked. People living in Switzerland wear what they want. In addition, they think of clothes, makeup, and hairstyle as a way of “self-assertion”.

 “I wear what I want to wear and do the makeup and hairstyle that I want to do”. This may be too common for those who live in Europe, but I did not realize it until I came to Switzerland. In Japan, I had unconsciously narrowed myself too much in pursuit of the ideal image required by society. As a result, I suffered from a gap between myself and the ideal image. I was too far away from what society wanted, and I had lowered my value. However, is that true? Does my value lie in getting closer to what society needs? Is my value to be determined entirely by my surroundings? Isn’t it better to be the way I am and what I want to be? Aren’t appearances such as clothes, makeup, and hairstyle meant to be enjoyed? Living in Switzerland, a place so distant from Japan, allowed me to objectively look at my deep-seated “Japanese way of thinking” for once.

Riko Ishikawa

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