Masako Osako is a “bimajo” (beautiful witch), which, despite the odd ring of the phrase in English, is a compliment.
According to the monthly magazine "Bisuto" (beast), it means a woman “over 35 with a radiance that gives no suggestion of their age."
In a contest in autumn 2011, Osako was one of only 21 finalists chosen from over 2,000 entrants in a “bimajo contest” run by the magazine.
Her new witch status has got Osako invitations to launches of new cosmetic products, appearances in magazines, and helped her get back into her job in the cosmetics industry after taking time out to rear her children. She represents an ideal many middle-aged and older women are determined to emulate.
Around three years ago, Osako fell ill and put on around 10 kilograms in weight, partly because of medicine she was taking. Glancing at her reflection in a shop window, she was shocked: "I looked frumpy, the epitome of a middle-aged woman. ..."
Osako began eating more vegetables, turned down offers to eat out and quietly began attending a gym up to five times a week without telling her husband. She learned of the bimajo contest and vowed to enter the next year. When asked to write an essay for her gym, she stated: "It's all so I can become a future bimajo."
Over the course of the following year and a half, she lost 13 kilograms and shrunk from a size 13 to a seven. She hesitated to enter the contest after taking a photo as a memento of her achievement, but eventually made her submission online only 10 minutes before the deadline.
"My outer appearance has changed, and so has my inner self. My outlook has broadened too, and I feel as if I've grown stronger," she says.
The bimajo phenomenon is part of a wider trend among an aging Japanese population that is spending more than ever before on warding off the ravages of time.
The market for anti-aging skincare cosmetics such as wrinkle treatments was 313.2 billion yen ($4 billion) in 2010. That represents 150 percent growth in 10 years, according to market research company Fuji Keizai Group.
Newcomers from other industries have been entering the market, with Fujifilm's launch of its Astalift anti-aging cosmetic range in 2007 a particularly prominent example of the trend.
Supplements and other health foods with anti-aging properties are also experiencing sales growth. The market for functional foodstuffs that help improve the skin, weight loss, and strengthen bones was 648.8 billion yen in 2010, a 2 percent increase on the previous year, according to Fuji Keizai Skin-beautifying products, with key components such as collagen and hyaluronic acid enjoying 3.3 percent growth, and bone and joint-supporting products primarily featuring glucosamine and other ingredients, which became popular with middle-aged and elderly people suffering from joint pain, boosting their sales by a whopping 16.9 percent.
The book "Goju-sai o Koete mo Sanju-dai ni Mieru Ikikata" (a lifestyle that makes you look like you're in your thirties when you're in your fifties), written by Yoshinori Nagumo, 56, and published by Kodansha, was the fourth biggest seller in the first half of 2012, according to figures collated by distributor Tohan. Several similar books from rival publishing companies are understood to be on the way to the market.
National Institute of Health and Nutrition Information Center chief Keizo Umegaki points out that the actual benefits of some of the products is unproven, with purported effectiveness is not adequately backed up by scientific proof.
"Care needs to be taken to avoid excessive ingestion. It's important to have a balanced diet, moderate exercise and rest," he says.
But, for some Japanese women, the quest for eternal youth involves much more than that. More than 22,000 Japanese people received cosmetic medical treatment in South Korea in 2011, double the previous year's figure. Almost 80 percent were women.
Seoul's Gangnam district is known as a hub for cosmetic surgery. At the Arumdaun nara Dermatology & Plastic Surgery near the Gangnam subway station, one of its walls is covered in autographed photos of South Korean stars. The popularity of South Korean television dramas in Japan and government promotion of medical tourism has driven up demand, and the clinic's Japanese clientele has doubled in the last two years, with around 2,000 visiting in 2011.
It offers everything from invasive cosmetic surgery to laser treatment for liver spots and wrinkles.
"Many Japanese are still afraid of undergoing even commonplace cosmetic surgery procedures in South Korea," admits Lee Sang-jun, president of the Arumdaunnara clinic network, but that is likely to change. "I used to detect a resistance to laser surgery, but now they've come to accept it. Attitudes are changing little by little."
- « Prev
- Next »