‘Land mine makeup’ creating buzz in Japan

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A female office worker is seen wearing “land mine makeup” in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.

Have you ever heard of jirai meiku (land mine makeup)? It is a makeup style that makes your eyes look red and swollen as if you had been crying, and your skin look white or almost translucent. The Yomiuri Shimbun looked into the makeup trend, which has been popular among young women since last year.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A close-up look at “land mine makeup” around the eyes

In early March, a young woman was seen looking at her smartphone in front of Shibuya Station in Tokyo. Her dark eyes appeared larger because of her colored contact lenses, and red eyeshadow was applied around her eyes. Her eyeliner was drawn to make her eyes appear to droop, and horizontal lines were drawn to emphasize the bags under her eyes. She looked like a character from a shojo manga, or a girls’ manga.

I hesitantly asked her if her makeup style was jirai meiku. The 20-year-old woman nodded and said she does her makeup the same way when she goes to class.

“If I take my time, it’ll take me an hour to do my makeup,” she said. “Older people or men don’t really like it, but I don’t care because it makes me look pretty.”

On social media, women whom others tend to stay away from because they look like they would be “trouble” are referred to as jirai onna, or “land mine women.”

The kind of makeup jirai onna wear to make themselves look more vulnerable or show that they want to be cared for by others has become known as jirai meiku, according to Mai Osada, director of Shibuya109 lab, a youth market research organization.

Courtesy of Naoko Ken
An Instagram post shows singer Naoko Ken wearing “land mine makeup.”

When jirai meiku started gaining more attention on social media last spring, some people posted videos of themselves wearing jirai meiku on YouTube. Models and celebrities, including Nicole Fujita and Tsubasa Masuwaka, as well as singer Naoko Ken, also posted such videos. The makeup style’s popularity also increased because people spent more time on social media or watching videos because of the coronavirus pandemic. An Instagram search showed that there were more than 59,000 posts related to jirai meiku.

“Jirai meiku, which creates a unique view of the world emphasizing vulnerability and frailty, has become a trend to express one’s cuteness,” Osada said.

Depending on their mood or outfits, some people like the makeup trend. A 22-year-old female company employee in Tokyo likes doing jirai meiku with her friends when they video chat or when she goes out on her days off.

“I like becoming a different me,” she said.

But despite the negative connotation of the name “land mine makeup,” why has it become so popular?

Uiko Nishihara, a research planner for the @cosme portal said, “The mainstream for makeup has been whatever makes a person look beautiful will make them more liked, but with fewer chances to meet people during the pandemic, jirai meiku may have gotten popular as a way for people to express their insecurities.”

“Land mine makeup” is sometimes referred to as yami meiku, or “sickness makeup,” because of how it makes the person appear.

Makeup that makes women look sickly has been around since the Meiji era (1868-1912), according to Yuka Kubo, who studies the media environment and is knowledgeable about the history of makeup.

After 1918, when the Spanish flu broke out, the melancholic depictions of women by artist Yumeji Takehisa (1884-1934) became very popular and were featured on magazine covers.

“The Spanish flu and the coronavirus pandemic have a lot in common,” Kubo said. “The spread of social unrest makes decadent things more acceptable.”

Kubo said the self-deprecating makeup styles of “land mine” and “sickness” makeup helps wearers feel less embarrassed about asserting themselves.

“Since wearing masks has become part of the norm, I think this makeup style will continue to evolve and spread as a way to express individuality through the eyes,” she said.

Feel like a different person

This reporter, who is around 50 and without too much makeup knowledge or skill, took this opportunity to dive into “land mine makeup.”

I turned to Megumi Nakamura, a hair and makeup artist at Atelier Haruka, a hair and makeup specialty chain with about 60 outlets nationwide.

“Now that masks are essential to everyday life, it is difficult to use lipstick or blush to improve your complexion,” Nakamura said. “But if you apply a red color around your eyes, it will improve your skin tone.”

Nakamura spent about an hour making me up in jirai meiku. The red eye shadow made me look like a completely different person. I felt really good.

“Land mine makeup” takes time, skill and the correct tools. But according to Nakamura, even beginners of jirai meiku can have fun with it by using just three colors, as shown in the illustration.

As I got more and more used to seeing myself wearing red eye shadow, which I had just purchased, I started to think that I looked OK. “Land mine makeup” taught me the joy of makeup during this time of masks.

Unfortunately, my 4-year-old son ran away in fear, saying, “You’re not my mom!”