Recently I got to think about something that really seemed natural to me, but when I started looking more carefully at the faces of male Japanese passersby while walking the streets of Osaka, I realized it was not: I’m talking about beards.
When we landed in Japan one of the men from customs control asked me how old I was and then added: “That’s a wild beard you’re growing there.” Not sure if that was a compliment.
Apparently it is rather uncommon for Japanese men to wear beards or moustaches. The only bearded celebrity I could spontaneously think of is the famous Anime director Miyazaki Hayao.
Apparantly one of the reasons why men in Japan abstain from wearing a beard is plainly because the ladies don’t crave it. In a (not necessarily representative) poll on naver.jp 300 women younger than 30 were asked about their opinion on beards. Only 1% answered that they really liked bearded men and 22% were ok with it. The overwhelming majority of 77% didn’t like bearded men. The comments on this little poll unequivocally agree that beards don’t make a well-groomed impression. They look dirty and hurt when kissing, the comments go on. Although this may be true for beards everywhere, it doesn’t seem to discourage many men in Europe to wear beards, so why in Japan?
When I took a glance at a Japanese men’s fashion magazine, it seemed to me that they try to push beards again, especially this moustache + chin-beard combination displayed in the naver.jp thread by many other celebrities I didn’t know of. The beard has to look just the right degree of chaotic to make a casual impression. This seems to contradict the results of the poll cited above, but one commentator on naver says: “It looks ok on actors, but there are just really few people on whom a beard looks good.”
Today it is unimaginable for a Japanese politician to grow a beard as Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, does. It seems that beards came out of fashion in the post-war period. You can oftentimes see pictures of regular men and politicians wearing full beards before the war. I haven’t read anywhere pre-war complaints about beards looking dirty and itch when kissing, but maybe women then just hadn’t the right to voice their disdain for beards…