Push for diversity, acceptance seen in entertainment, fashion

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Masanori Honda gives a lecture on Dec. 17 at Yoshimoto Kogyo’s NSC Osaka school.

Last year, Maki Fukuda of the comedy trio San-ji no Heroine posted a message on Twitter declaring that the members had “decided to ditch skits that focus on a person’s appearance.”

The tweet went viral because mocking people based on how they look is common practice in Japanese comedy. However, growing awareness of issues related to diversity has engendered a generation of entertainers who are moving away from the acid-tongued archetype of Japanese comedians.

During a class in December at the Osaka campus of New Star Creation (NSC), a training academy established by the Yoshimoto Kogyo talent agency, teacher Masanori Honda warned his students after watching a skit in which they had used an expression referring to the size of an overweight man.

Courtesy of STEMS UT
The 14th issue of Todai Bijo Zukan magazine

“People have different values, and it is difficult to draw a line between what is acceptable and what is not. We also face the dilemma of self-regulation out of fear of criticism,” Honda said, adding that he thinks making fun of a person’s appearance triggers a more severe response in society nowadays.

One of the students said she repeatedly checks her material to ensure there are no inappropriate expressions. “It’s important to avoid expressions that might offend,” she said.

Comedy that everyone can enjoy without worrying about being offended is the ideal, according to Honda, who cited the long-running manga and anime series “Sazae-san,” which revolves around the life of an ebullient housewife and her family.

“It’s safe fun that wouldn’t offend anyone. It may sound simple, but it takes a professional to be able to craft such material,” Honda said.

Inner beauty

Awareness about the importance of respecting diversity and various kinds of lifestyles is growing among young people in Japan.

In November, a student group at the University of Tokyo published the 14th issue of Todai Bijo Zukan, a magazine featuring images of bijo, or “beautiful women” at the university.

The magazine was launched in 2014 with the initial aim of changing the image of the university’s female students, who were perceived as being uninterested in fashion and focused solely on their studies.

At first, issues showcased the beauty and intellect of students in photo-filled features, but there has been a change in the magazine’s editorial policy in recent years.

The 14th issue was the first to have no photo on the cover and it included in-depth interviews that offered real insight into the lives of the university’s female students.

Student Hanaki Mochizuki, the editor-in-chief of the 14th issue, said: “At one point, we considered changing the magazine’s title altogether, but we eventually came to the conclusion that we should instead pose questions to our readers through our content. What we want to convey to our readers is the real lives of our students and the inner beauty each of them possesses.”

Defying standards

Izumi Yonezawa, a fashion culture professor at Konan Women’s University, said: “In the ‘90s, the ad slogan, ‘What’s wrong with judging a book by its cover?’ was popular. Nowadays, people are speaking out against judging others by their appearance because prejudice based on looks has become too extreme.”

In fashion, there is a growing trend of using models of various body shapes instead of excessively slim women. Genderless products are also increasing. There is also a noticeable increase in the number of people who leave their gray hair undyed.

Ryosuke Niimi, an associate professor of cognitive psychology at Niigata University, said, “There are many positive effects of changing one’s appearance with makeup and the like, but if people get too caught up in uniform beauty standards, societal pressures will start to feel oppressive.”

Living as you are and respecting the lives of others is an important factor in the pursuit of happiness.