University of Hawai'i Press
  • Facing Modernity:Japanese Women and Hygienic Facial Culture (Biganjutsu) in the Early Twentieth Century

This article aims to capture a discrete historical moment—the emergence of "hygienic facial culture" or eisei biganjutsu (hereafter referred to as biganjutsu, the art or technique of the beautiful face)—in early modern Japan.1 Hygienic facial culture was an important feature of middle- and upper-class Japanese women's lives from 1905 to the late 1920s, and it was both a professional career option for the upwardly mobile and a form of cosmopolitan leisure for the wealthy. Originally denoting a method of facial massage performed with electrovibratory machines, the term biganjutsu eventually came to include cosmetic surgery, care of the hair, nails, and other extensions of the skin, as well as makeup application and fashion advice. Imported from the United States and practiced throughout Europe, hygienic facial culture marks Japan's early participation in an international beauty dialogue whose boundaries were set by the physiological discourse of modern biomedicine.2 The present exploration of biganjutsu contributes to the larger history of early twentieth-century Japan by providing critical insight into how middle and upper-class women shaped and were shaped by changing beauty practices in a rapidly transforming society.

An understanding of biganjutsu is particularly useful for exploring the connections between women and consumption in modern Japan. In the early twentieth century, the media sensationalized biganjutsu —presenting it both as ultra-modern and questionably [End Page 3] extravagant—while simultaneously proliferating advertisements for beauty schools and facial products to a wide audience. In this way, biganjutsu played heavily into the conflicting media constructions of female identity in early twentieth-century Japan described by Barbara Sato in The New Japanese Woman (2003) and expanded on in Sarah Frederick's (2006) analysis of the production and consumption of women's magazines in the interwar period. Shifting cosmetic practices not only provided women with new products and techniques to consume but also avenues for professionalization. As recent academic studies further our knowledge of the careers available to Japanese women in the burgeoning consumer culture of the first decades of the twentieth century—from shop girls to elevator girls to dance hall girls (Freedman et al. 2013)—and the urban landscape in which they operated (Tamari 2018), it is important to define the phenomenon of hygienic facial culture because it comprises another largely unexplored facet of working life for Japanese women.

Hygienic facial culture is also important for what it can tell us about the complex relationship between women and beauty. Within facial parlors, Japanese women did not just encounter Western products and practices, they redefined their relationship with their own skin. Biganjutsu was enmeshed in a national hygienic campaign to rationalize women's lives by promoting a new standard of beauty that emphasized health instead of whiteness (Yoshimi and Hidenori 2012, 179). Biganjutsu both set a new standard for Japanese beauty that remains widespread today and functioned as the precursor to the massive Japan esute (aesthetics) industry (described in Miller 2006). Indeed, many of the earliest hygienic facial parlors continue to hold an esteemed place in the urban Japanese beauty scene, and facial massage remains a popular aesthetic technique.3

Although beauty practices are sometimes dismissed as inconsequential to the larger scheme of history, they are an essential aspect of the everyday lives of most women, and understanding how they change over time offers us unique insight into the transformation of what Mikiko Ashikari (2003, 4) termed "the public representation of ideal womanhood." In the early twentieth century, beauty parlors were an important site for disseminating new conceptions of beauty and enforcing gender roles as part of a larger modernizing process. Indeed, Harry Harootunian (2000, 17) notes that for Japanese women, "Western clothing, cosmetics, and the beauty salon" were essential markers of modernity. The technique of hygienic facial massage played a key role in promoting a transnational beauty ideal through the consumption of Western techniques and goods. Just as the dancehalls of the 1920s and 1930s provide a useful space for "reflecting on the movements of people, products, practices, and ideas under the conditions of colonial modernity" (Mackie 2013, 69), so too is the biganjutsu parlor a particularly useful site for exploring the lives of young Japanese women in the early [End Page 4] twentieth century as they made sense of changing beauty ideals and employed new methods of managing the body for social and professional gain.

The Emergence of a Hygienic Facial Culture

Two events radically transformed Japanese citizens' relationship with their skin at the turn of the twentieth century. The first was the passage of Japan's first food and drugs standards law in April of 1900, prohibiting the use of traditional, lead-based makeup (Hiramatsu 2009, 147) and prompting a massive shift in cosmetic practices. The second was the dissemination of a new physiological discourse on the skin and its hygienic function (Kawase G. 1901, 117–18). Alongside a growing awareness of the dangers of lead poisoning emerged new concerns about the role of the skin in maintaining health. Frequent washing of the skin was promoted to prevent the spread of infectious disease, and hygienic reformers encouraged widespread knowledge of the skin and its functions, urging citizens to think of their skin as one of the most important organs of the human body (Ōta 1907, 3). The new scientific approach to the body created anxiety about the skin's ability to breathe (kokyū sayō), and maintenance of clear pores became an essential aspect of everyday bodily upkeep, the importance of which was reinforced by memory of the infamous Nakamura Incident of 1887, when a kabuki actor suffered from "skin suffocation" on stage due to his heavy makeup (Murata 2003, 60–61).4 Although the transformation in Japanese beauty rituals would ultimately take time, the first decades of the twentieth century mark a radical breaking point when traditional cosmetics suddenly became both dangerous and distinctly unscientific.

The practice of biganjutsu emerged as an alternative, rational cosmetic practice that made maintenance of the skin part of basic hygiene while simultaneously transforming clear skin into a signifier of a healthy body. A standard hygienic facial lasted forty minutes and cost fifty sen and involved placing a hot towel on the face to open pores, the application of massage cream, followed by the use of electrotherapeutic devices (Ōta 1907, 6–8). Initially only available at specialized parlors in urban centers, treatment was meant to be ongoing, with customers making regular visits, typically one to two times per week, over a period of two months to half a year. Electrovibratory devices were also offered for home purchase, and manuals were proliferated to instruct women on how to perform facials from the comfort of their own homes. These manuals included instructions and diagrams, as well as photographs of kimono-clad woman applying electrical devices to their face (Tokyo denki ryōhō kenkyūkai 1908, 116; Tamaki 1908).

Electrotherapeutic tools were a key feature of biganjutsu, and these included rollers, brushes, and probes connected to a faradic battery as well as handheld vibrators (Tsuchiya 1912, 1). It is notable, therefore, that the emergence of a hygienic facial culture at the [End Page 5] end of the Russo-Japanese War coincided with a revival of interest in the application of electricity to the body (Ito A. 2011). A wide range of electrotherapeutic methods began to be employed at hospitals, nerve clinics, and sanatoria in Europe during the nineteenth century, and by the first decades of the twentieth century they had spread to Japan as well (Kawase S. 1917, 386). Hygienic facials represented simply one extension of the budding interest in using electricity to improve the human form; electrical therapy also enjoyed widespread use in the specialties of dermatology, psychology, gynecology, ophthalmology, dentistry, and laryngology.

Figure 1. An early hygienic facial room (biganjutsushitsu in Tokyo run by Mr. Sōji. A patient is wearing a device designed to stimulate his cerebral nerves (nōshinkei). Although the vibrator would come to be the most popular tool used i biganjutsu parlors, a variety of other electrical devices were also used to treat the head and face. Printed in Ōta 1907.
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Figure 1.

An early hygienic facial room (biganjutsushitsu in Tokyo run by Mr. Sōji. A patient is wearing a device designed to stimulate his cerebral nerves (nōshinkei). Although the vibrator would come to be the most popular tool used i biganjutsu parlors, a variety of other electrical devices were also used to treat the head and face. Printed in Ōta 1907.

Due to their use of electrotherapeutic devices, hygienic facial parlors were often marketed as a type of medical therapy. Customers were referred to as "patients" and references to "operating tables" can be found in training manuals (Tokyo eisei kyōkai 1909). Staff at biganjutsu parlors wore nurses' uniforms or smocks with surgical masks. The fact that the devices used for biganjutsu were electric no doubt helped in the conceptualization of hygienic facials as a cutting-edge scientific practice. Photos from the turn of the century often depict the use of a variety of strange medical instruments. [End Page 6] In Figure 1, a photograph taken at a biganjutsushitsu (hygienic facial room) in Tokyo, a patient, surrounded by three attendants in white smocks, is wearing a large metal helmet designed to both stimulate his facial muscles and soothe the nerves of his brain. Despite the somewhat alarming look of the device, both patient and employees appear calm, if not relaxed. However, some of the electrical tools employed in hygienic facials parlors, especially the handheld vibrator, raised alarm and would ultimately become a source of prurient interest.5

Employed by beauticians across the country and later featured in the windows of department stores, the electric vibrator generated both curiosity and concern. Electrotherapists cautioned consumers shopping for personal vibrators to carefully observe the sound of the machine: a good vibrator provided a steady stream of gentle, rapid impulses that, when functioning properly, gave off the hum of a bee in flight (Tokyo denkiryōhō kenkyūsho 1924, 19). At the same time, outspoken critics declared the majority of devices nothing more than junk technology. Indeed, despite the relative safety of vibrators in comparison with other electrotherapeutical devices on the market, injuries were not uncommon (Fujinami 1922, 4). Although there was potential for harm, the experience of hygienic facial massage for most consumers was safe and enjoyable—the sensation of electric massage was described as hypnotic (Isomura 1913, 59) and capable of producing a state of dreamlike pleasure (Dainihon bihatsukai 1922, 93). Indeed, the addictive quality of biganjutsu was described as a serious problem capable of driving women to poverty (Hosokibara 1919, 118).

Spreading with an alacrity some saw as alarming, the practice of hygienic facial massage boomed in early twentieth-century Japan, becoming "so popular nearly every respectable housewife practiced it" (Tokyo eisei kyōkai 1909, 14–15). For upper and middle-class women, who made up over 70 percent of the clientele (Isomura 1913, 56), participation in biganjutsu was both a medical and an aesthetic practice—it was believed that the removal of dirt and grime from the pores helped to treat blemishes, shoring up the skin's health and improving the individual's resistance to infectious disease. In 1908, the Tokyo Makeup Research Group (Tokyo keshō kenkyūkai) described biganjutsu as an American technique meant to treat pimples, freckles, and wrinkles, and assured readers that "this Western makeup technique has been subject to much academic and experimental study, . . . making our own country's practices seem primitive (yōchi) in comparison" (31). The media also helped to frame biganjutsu as a specifically modern practice while simultaneously generating anxiety about Japan's relationship vis-à-vis the West. For example, one journalist accused the Japanese of being one of the most wrinkled races in the world due to their penchant for bathing in extremely hot water and praised biganjutsu as an essential practice for becoming a civilized nation and a [End Page 7] respectable world power (Asahi shinbun 1906b, 6). This conflicting image of biganjutsu as both a necessary hygienic technique and a frivolous—if not dangerous—expression of excess led to the practice being lampooned in a variety of outlets, from its adoption as an object of satire in rakugo sketches (Tamura 1911, 150–162) to the illustrator Kondō Kōichiro's (1917, 169) inclusion of biganjutsu in his collection of comedic illustrations of modern student life.

A New Conception of Beauty

As the presence of women in the public sphere burgeoned at the turn of the century, it comes as no surprise that hygienic facial culture, which had become an icon of feminine modernity through its representations in various media outlets, flourished in the early decades of the twentieth century. Despite fierce competition between industrializing nations, often fueled by racism and xenophobia, this was a time of international exchange, promoted in part by a willingness to make sweeping generalizations about national character for the purposes of comparison. Statistics transformed human beings into numbers intelligible across national and linguistic borders, and international exhibitions—like the 1900 Paris Universal Exposition—gathered them together in a shared space. Improved transportation made travel and exchange a possibility for a greater number of people, and these experiences allowed for the transmission of knowledge while simultaneously confirming hypotheses about the connection between nationality and appearance. The increasing presence of young females commuting to school by train, for example, made their bodies available for public scrutiny and ultimately transformed them into modern sex objects (Freedman 2010, 45). Furthermore, technological innovations allowed the media to capture and circulate photographs of gorgeous women faster than ever before (Cho 2012, 166; Frederick 2006, 13), inviting female readers to compare themselves to these idealized beauties and fanning nationalist sentiments. For example, in 1908, when sixteen-year-old Suehiro Hiroko's photograph won first prize in a national beauty campaign sponsored by the Jiji shinpō and ranked sixth in a larger world beauty hunt sponsored by the Chicago Tribune, her beauty was celebrated as a public virtue (Fraser 2012, 20; Freedman 2010,45). In this way, attractive young women became symbols of Japan's status as a world power.

There was little room for ugliness in modern Japan, and the creation of a beautiful citizenry was deemed essential to the development of a civilized nation. Cataloged along with military, industrial, and scientific developments, an abundance of beautiful women was valued as a sure sign of the country's emergence from savagery (Pangborn 1900, A1). Unattractiveness signified a failure to cooperate with the civilizing mission of the modern nation state, and authors like Tanizaki Fumi (1908) advocated for the creation of a law to [End Page 8] promote the marriage of beautiful citizens. Responsibility for being attractive ultimately fell squarely on women: "as the flowers of the human world, it was women's natural duty to be as beautiful as possible" (2). Describing the relationship between a country's status as a world power and the appearance of their people, Tanizaki remarks that it is only natural that a nation filled with attractive women would have a higher standing in the international community, as human nature abhors ugliness and is drawn to good looks.

Upper-class women and nobility were accountable for leading Japanese women to new heights of beauty, and the public renunciation of the cosmetic practice of blackening the teeth and the shaving and repainting of the eyebrows by the Empress Dowager Shōken in 1873 initiated a sea change in makeup and dress for middle- and upper-class women that would continue throughout the interwar period (Murata 2003, 4). Advances in lighting also played a significant role in increasing awareness of the skin as an object of aesthetic pleasure. Rather than enhancing beauty, the "sea of light" that spread over the streets of Tokyo quickly dissolved the veil of darkness that had shrouded men and women in forgiving shadows (Wada 2004b, 854). The purple of the arc-sodium lamps made women's faces stand out, highlighting both physical and cosmetic imperfections (Wada 2004a, 52). Reflecting on these changes, beauty shop owner Yamano Chieko remarked: "Making good use of the complicated hues and lack of shadows is one of the most obvious challenges coloring modern life" (quoted in Wada 2004a., 397). This was especially true at a time when women were appearing in public more than ever before.

From the 1880s, in an effort to appease foreign guests, "a small number of high-ranking women were thrust into a more public role in order to impress the Western powers" (Nolte and Hastings 1991, 154; see also Hastings 2011). This led both to the increased mobility of women outside of the home and to a proliferation of male anxiety concerning the way Japanese women were being interpreted by Western visitors. Embarrassed by foreigners who referred to Japanese women as living dolls, reformers urged citizens to adopt new standards of beauty universal to industrialized nations that eschewed the traditional use of heavy white makeup in favor of a naturalized beauty. Young women needed to adopt new beauty practices to signify their cooperation with the national modernizing mission. The Tokyo Hygiene Association, one of a number of local groups established to reform the daily lives of Japanese citizens as part of a larger civilizing project, labeled women who continued to employ thick white facial paint as "winter gourd monsters" (tōgan no bakemono), a reference to the once highly prized effect achieved by the settling of white powder atop the skin (Tokyo eisei kyōkai 1909, 3). Women who clung to traditional makeup were considered not just unattractive, but selfish. This is reflected in Rebecca Copeland's (2006, 28–29) discussion of the memoir of Miyake Kaho, a student at the Tokyo Women's Normal School during the heyday of the Rokumeikan. An incident [End Page 9] is described in which a young lady has ignored the good advice of her maid and slathered her face in white, lead-based makeup. Standing beside her friend Namiko, whose "cheeks glow with a natural charm," Hamako is presented as being both superficial and irrational (Copeland 2006, 28-29).

Hygienic facial parlors quickly became places where upper-class women could partake in cosmetic practices designed to give them "a countenance that could calm the hearts of men" (Tokyo eisei kyōkai 1909, 4–5), characterized by "a shift from stylized forms to naturalism, make-up in keeping with the age, the open disclosure of the intention of sexual enhancement, and the principles of symmetry, natural colour, and harmony moulded to modern convenience and periodical trends" (Slade 2009, 121). Indeed, trips to a biganjutsu parlor were essential before a big social event. Facial parlors catered to well-to-do ladies and entertainers, and they became a popular stop for men and women en route to parties and banquets as well as locales frequented by celebrities and government officials, including the wife of three-time Prime Minister Katsura Tarō (Asahi shinbun 1909, 5). As the discourse of domesticity shifted to an emphasis on monogamous love, biganjutsu undoubtedly also became important for married women who now had a duty to remain attractive to their husbands (Tanaka 2011, 131). Hygienic facial culture—whether practiced in an urban salon or at home or simply read about in a newspaper or magazine—served to forward the aims of civilization and enlightenment as it established a new standard of beauty that made healthiness attractive.

Promoting this natural, healthy complexion involved redefining the meaning of whiteness and developing a new vocabulary to discuss skin color. Hiroshi Wagatsuma (1967, 416) notes in his essay on "The Social Perception of Skin Color in Japan," that while white skin has been treasured in Japan throughout its recorded history, in the early twentieth-century there existed little vocabulary to describe the medium between "white" and "black" skin. However, as the literature of biganjutsu shows, as the Japanese began comparing their own whiteness to that of Europeans and Americans, the meaning of the term shiro (white) shifted. New language emerged to identify different complexions, and cosmetics companies expanded their lineup to offer powders that were skin-colored (Ishida 2004, 72) alongside colorful palettes of complexion-correcting powders in purple, green, and orange (Gumpert 2000, 115). While white remained a standard option, it was no longer the only possibility available. The emergence of an ideal of natural beauty (tennen no bi)—later deemed a healthy beauty (kenkōbi)— therefore marked a distinct shift from cosmetic practices that emphasized opacity and whiteness—the so-called yukionna (snow woman) aesthetic—in favor of a more fleshly beauty captured by the term nikutaibi (corporeal beauty) (Hiramatsu 2009, 128–32). Pure white was no longer beautiful and could even be indicative of disease. Nikutaibi sought balance, endorsing a pink paleness [End Page 10] that implied health and stood somewhere between the tanned skin of rural classes and the stark white of consumptives.

The move away from traditional white powders—many of which contained lead or were applied so liberally (literally, "painted on") as to suffocate the pores—was conceptualized as a move towards rational, scientific practices. According to one hygienic reformer: "the face covered in white powder, without shine or oil, and papery like a shark skin, cool and susceptible to infection, may be the traditional ideal of beauty, but it is not twentieth century beauty" (Ito 1907, 234). A publication put out by the Japanese Pharmaceutical Association (Nihon yakugaku kyōkai) remarks that modernity has allowed for even housewives to make use of chemistry for the purpose of becoming more beautiful (Kamoda 1911, 12). The author goes on to suggest that Western women, due to superior education, are smart enough to eschew the harmful whitening makeup used by many Japanese women, preferring to use massages with special creams to boost their inner beauty. The Western woman's beauty was articulated through the practice of biganjutsu, which promised healthy, smooth, wrinkle- and blemish-free skin without the need for excessive makeup.

Women who were cursed with poor complexions were encouraged to incorporate the practice of structural (kōzōteki) and corrective (kōseiteki) hygiene into their regular beauty routine, while beauty manuals advised readers of the importance of daily exercise, adequate sleep, proper diet, and an upbeat attitude (Saitō and Murata 1911, 185). The end goal was to create a complexion that radiated with "natural beauty" like a polished gold or a diamond (Kitahara 1910, 5). Cosmetics advertisements gradually shifted from promoting "charming white skin" to valuing "naked young skin" as the ideal for women (Ishida 2004, 72). Although sun tanning was becoming popular in Europe and America at the turn of the century, with a tawny brown being prized by many as indicative of a healthy, active lifestyle (Featherstone 1982, 23), the Japanese penchant for pale skin remained strong. While sunbathing and trips to the ocean provided an opportunity for Japanese modern girls to show off their healthy physiques (Brown 2001, 20), the ideal of a deep tan did not take hold until the 1960s (Gumpert 2000, 140–42). White remained the ideal, even as its meaning was expanding to encompass a larger range of complexions.

Indeed, whiteness continued to be the most popular trope in Japanese cosmetics advertising until the mid-1930s (Ishida 2004, 75). With the spread of biganjutsu, however, whiteness took of a new meaning. It shifted from a uniform whiteness achievable with traditional cosmetics to an individualized "healthiness" achieved through proper regimen and the incorporation of scientific and rational skincare practices (Pearson 1917; Misu 1926). Hygienic facials were similar to many of the cosmetic products sold in the early twentieth century that purported to have the power to lighten skin if a woman so desired but [End Page 11] always idealized this whiteness as a healthy, even rosy complexion (Modern Girl Around the World Research Group 2008, 41). As the practice of biganjutsu emphasized uncovering a woman's natural beauty, improving the quality of her skin rather than concealing with makeup, whiteness became the natural state of Japanese skin—it simply needed to be enhanced through proper regimens that included the use of lotions and massage.

In the Meiji period, the improvement of citizens' bodies became a matter of policy (Burns 2000), and a beautiful, clear complexion not only signified wealth but underscored commitment to a national project that utilized the faces and bodies of middle- and upper-class women for the purpose of creating a modern civilization that rivaled Europe and the United States. It became a woman's civic duty to wash her face every day, a strong reminder of how important women's physical bodies were in the Japanese effort to modernize (Yamada 1911, 1). Hygiene campaigns served to combine health with moral values, and "the worth of human beings became manifested in the body" (Narita 1995, 84). White skin became synonymous with clean and healthy skin and was therefore "good," while dirty or blemished skin was transformed into a signifier of both illness and social deviance. Oft repeated was the concern that unattractive upper-class girls who were barred from aesthetic enhancement would gradually devolve into barbarians (yabanjin)—driven by jealousy and shame to petty crime, violence, and other forms of rebellion (Hiramatsu 2009, 156). The face quickly became a legible marker of a woman's social class, her commitment to the nation, and her physical fitness. It would also come to identify her as a suitable mate.

As female aesthetics became tied to fertility and reproductive potential during the prewar period (Miller 2006, 24), healthy skin came to signify fitness for motherhood. Blemishes on the skin were interpreted as markers of the reproductively unfit woman, and freckles and pimples were believed to be symptoms of infertility and diseases of the female reproductive system (Yamada 1911, 10). Not only were freckles and pimples not "white," they were signifiers of disease (fukenkō no shirushi) that posed a threat to the health of the nation (kokka no genki) (Ogawa 1902, 89–91). This concern was compounded by a belief in the incurability of acne and the connection between bad skin and poor health, weak psyche, and bad breeding (Katei yomimono kairyō kai 1918). In a special publication released in 1926 by the popular woman's magazine Shufu no tomo (Housewife's Companion), which had a circulation of over 300,000 readers in the mid-1920s (Frederick 2006, 6), the etiology of freckles is explained as follows:

Even today there is no satisfactory medical explanation for freckles, but among the nutritional scientists there are those who say that the origin of freckles is to be found in the over-consumption of raw fish, and not just by the afflicted–in mothers who [End Page 12] consume fish during pregnancy the poisonous parts of the consumed meat sullies the blood, and since this contaminated blood (nigotta ketsueki) nourishes the fetus, when the blood solidifies during childbirth it stagnates in the child's face and body forming unsightly freckles.

The prolific ophthalmologist Ogawa Kenzaburō went so far as to urge a prohibition on the union of men and women suffering from acne or freckles in a 1902 publication (89–91). Vibratory massage could hypothetically dislodge coagulated freckle blood, thereby making a woman a more viable candidate for marriage. In this way, biganjutsu became an arena for engaging in a type of eugenic "blood talk" (Robertson 2002) that colored popular discourse in twentieth-century Japan.

The emphasis on natural beauty that began in the late Meiji period provided relative social mobility to those blessed with congenital good looks while simultaneously creating an antagonism between the educated and wealthy urbanites and the lower classes. The impoverished could little afford to purchase facial soap or toothpaste, let alone the expensive creams and lotions imported from abroad (Weisenfeld 2004, 576). Indeed, as late as the 1930s, groups of middle-class women mobilized to help improve the lifestyle of the rural Japanese were shocked by the dirty, unwashed skin that greeted them in the villages (Partner 2001, 495). In the early twentieth century, all that was needed to reinforce the superiority of bourgeois urban life was a quick inspection of the grimy faces of the abiding folk (Tanizaki 1908, 93). The emphasis on the public importance of female beauty and the classification of those with clear skin as healthy, rational, and reproductively fit allowed the biganjutsu to become a practice suitable both for a good wife and a wise mother. Visits to a facialist—or the purchase of a home electrovibratory machine—and the consumption of often expensive beauty products to enhance the appearance of the skin became an important, and for some perhaps oppressive, ritual for performing femininity. At the same time, it created new professional avenues for women in the beauty industry.6

A New Career Path for Women

The most famous woman associated with biganjutsu is undoubtedly Endō Hatsuko, who is credited with introducing the practice of facial massage to Japan (Kuroiwa 2008, 179). Her parlor, known as the Riyōkan opened in 1905 at 12 Takekawa-cho in Tokyo's Kyōbashi neighborhood, near the posh Ginza shopping district. Figure 2 shows Endō at the Riyōkan surrounded by assistants. Endō became a model of the possibilities available to the new woman, and the female journalist and social critic Isomura Haruko paid her a visit in order to experience hygienic facial massage firsthand. Her experience is included in a 1913 collection of essays on Today's Woman (Ima no onna). Isomura's recollection begins as follows: [End Page 13]

Upon opening the door, a woman in a black satin uniform greeted me with a warm welcome . . . and led me up a narrow stairway to a second-floor waiting room. There were several women's magazines piled on top of a round table in the center of a Western-style foyer. My interviewee was the middle-aged Endō Hatsuko, who politely began, "When you say facial technology, there are some people who will badmouth it as if it is merely a method of selling cosmetics, but in fact it is truly a great cleaning of the face."


Isomura's experience was meant both to demystify biganjutsu for the average female reader and to present to a compelling portrait of a successful, modern working woman. The account suggests that electrified facial massage was both a well-known aspect of urban culture and an essential icon of feminine modernity. Indeed, hygienic facial culture offered women the possibility of becoming their own bosses, and as such it was hardly antithetical to the feminist cause. Oguchi Michiko (née Teramoto), a notable figure in the world of poetry and women's rights activism, was also a strong proponent of biganjutsu. After recovering from beriberi, Teramoto became an apprentice of Endō Hatsuko and spent the next decade working at the Riyōkan. She later established the Tokyo Women's Aesthetic Research Group (Tōkyō fujin biyōhō kenkyūkai) to train women to work as beauticians (Yomiuri shinbun 1912, 3). Indeed, biganjutsu could empower women in many ways: it allowed them to take charge of their family's hygiene and improve their own physical appearance while earning money.

Figure 2. At the Riyōkan, Endō Hatsuko sits for a photo surrounded by her female assistants. Endō is credited both with popularizing biganjutsu in Japan and adding wedding services to the facialist's repertoire Printed in Tokyo eisei kyōkai 1909.
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Figure 2.

At the Riyōkan, Endō Hatsuko sits for a photo surrounded by her female assistants. Endō is credited both with popularizing biganjutsu in Japan and adding wedding services to the facialist's repertoire Printed in Tokyo eisei kyōkai 1909.

Although Endō's salon is perhaps the most well-known of the hygienic facial parlors, with fourteen branches in operation by 1909 in cities like Osaka, Kobe, and Hiroshima, there were plenty of male hygienic facialists, including Shigeyama Kentarō, who established a Riyōkan in Yokohama, and Nishimura Ryūnosuke, son-in-law of a well-respected [End Page 14] enlightenment scholar Nishimura Shigeki (Asahi shinbun 1906a, 4).7 Therefore, although facial parlors were consciously created as healthy working environments for young females, with some owners only employing women, many employees were undoubtedly working under the supervision of a male owner. Nevertheless, these parlors were ultimately thought of as sites for female labor (Tamaki 1908, 259–64). The profession of the facialist was thought to be appropriate for women because it provided a respectable place of employment, unlike a barbershop or a billiard hall, and it made use of skills that women were seen to possess in greater abundance than men. By taking part in what could be seen as traditional women's work, a career in a biganjutsu parlor caused little disruption to established morals.

During the interwar period, it became increasingly popular for women to seek employment outside of the home after completing their education, either for financial purposes or self-cultivation, with the ultimate goal of becoming better housewives (Sato 2003, 134–38). Although for the majority of women assisting with the family budget stood as the most important reason for working, many of the wealthier young graduates of women's higher schools were looking instead to alleviate boredom by living a glamorous city life (Nagy 1991, 206–07). Urban facial parlors were usually located in close vicinity to a department store (Tokyo shokugyō kenkyūsho 1923, 88), no doubt making them an enticing place to work. Hygienic facial parlors were ideal spaces for interacting and sharing knowledge with a variety of actors integral to the modern scene. The services were decidedly available only to the wealthy, and working at such an upscale venue provided young women with ample opportunities to hobnob with elite clientele, from wealthy socialites to entertainers (see Ōno 2018). Indeed, the facialist often functioned as a personal confidant, and one training pamphlet suggested that the talk therapy that took place in the facial parlor was just as beneficial as the facial itself (Tokyo denkiryōhō kenkyūsho 1924, 111–12). In this way, the occupation of the facialist provided a unique opportunity for women to hone their social skills.

The facialist was also elevated above other urban professionals by virtue of her engagement in a technical profession. Unlike the factory girl who worked long hours in deplorable conditions or the café waitresses who were employed primarily for their feminine appeal and sometimes forced to tolerate the aggressive groping of male customers (Nagy 1991; Inoue 1998), the facialist was not simply an employee but a technician, and even those critics who derided the facialists' pricey fees agreed that, for those who could afford to pay, they provided a beauty service that was unrivaled (Dainihon bihatsu kai 1922, 81). While some saw the practice of biganjutsu as frivolous and mourned the loss of so many able young minds to a worthless profession, others defended hygienic facial parlors as an excellent choice for women who desired both a [End Page 15] career and a family (Asahi shinbun 1909, 5). Indeed, biganjutsu would quickly come to encompass a variety of techniques that any young woman or marriageable age would benefit from possessing.

In addition to performing facial massage, employees at facial parlors were expected to be versant in color matching and could be called upon to provide hair cutting, makeup application, and kimono selection for women holding public wedding ceremonies, although anyone willing to pay for such things was scorned by the media as "both wealthy and desperate" (Asahi shinbun 1913, 5). The addition of wedding services to the biganjutsu parlor appears to have been one of Endō's unique contributions, and by 1923 they were considered a standard part of a hygienic facialist's repertoire (Tokyo shokugyō kenkyūsho 1923, 88). In this way, biganjutsu expressed both a desire to use the female body as a "national symbol of tradition" (Goldstein-Gidoni 1999, 352) and to present upper-class women as distinctly modern and cutting edge. Ultimately, facial parlors would develop into sites that performed numerous other beauty functions like lipstick application and manicures; some even offered electrolysis and rhinoplasty (Kitahara 1910).8 Many biganjutsu parlors also sold imported cosmetic goods, and indeed, this sort of activity was almost essential for maintaining an economically successful business.

Even though the job may sound relatively simple, it required substantial training, and professional schools were created to meet the demand. One employment guide established to assist recent graduates in finding jobs comments on the rapid rise of biganjutsu professionals and details the requisite background needed to obtain a position. The entry begins by noting that anyone desiring to become a facialist needed to train by working under an established practitioner, whether through a professional organization or at a beauty school:

It takes about two to three months to learn the trade, about one month for makeup and one month for fashion assistance (like tying an obi). Hairdressing is typically seperate. Training fees are approximately 100 yen. Although there is no limit on the age of the student, most are graduates of women's higher schools around twenty years old. Mechanically applying makeup and dressing customers does not take an extraordinary amount of education, but learning foreign customs and how to read the letters on imported products can prove challenging. Instead of paying 100 or 120 yen for tuition, one can also work as an assistant (joshu) for two or three years and learn the profession. When the requisite skills have been acquired, one can work independently or assist as a technician at a salon.

(Tokyo shokugyō kenkyūsho 1923, 88–89). [End Page 16]

Although the apprenticeship model may have been ideal, the Taisho period witnessed an overall shift toward training in beauty schools, which accepted students almost exclusively on their ability to pay (Midorikawa 1998, 29). On top of the expensive training—the average monthly income for a working class household at this time would barely cover the cost of tuition (Uno 1993, 47)—opening an independent shop was another financial burden, requiring an initial investment of two thousand to three thousand yen, which included the cost of renting space (Tokyo shokugyō kenkyūsho 1923, 91). As most of the young women entering the profession were graduates of women's higher schools, they were likely to already be economically advantaged (Koyama and Sylvain 1994, 34). Assuming the role of an a facialist at an established parlor may have been viewed as an extension of their training as proper citizens, and ultimately good wives, and therefore a good investment.

Considering their educational background, working in a hygienic facial parlor probably seemed like a logical next step for these graduates at a time when the proper life course for women with larger incomes was considered to be "a period of self-cultivation followed by a rationalized married lifestyle that would draw on the skills learned in the workplace" (Frederick 2006, 96). Physiology, hygiene, and aesthetics were heavily emphasized in higher-school curriculums in anticipation of graduates pursuing careers as teachers, nurses, and ultimately housewives. For example, the Tokyo Women's Normal School (now Ochanomizu University) used a seven-volume translation of the work of Joseph Chrisman Hutchinson (1844–1905) as part of their first-year physiology curriculum (Ochanomizu jyoshi daigaku hyakunenshi kankō īnkai 1984, 37), and in 1917 they began offering textbook-based training for women desiring to become beauticians (Midorikawa 1998, 29). Helping young Japanese women appreciate the importance of health and beauty was also a major goal of physical education for women in the Taishō era (Yoshimi and Hidenori 2012, 179). It would have been difficult for a young woman to reach graduation without having been introduced to hygienic facial culture.

Nursing was a popular profession for women at this time, and biganjutsu had, at the very least, the veneer of a medical therapy. It also had clear connections to traditional Japanese therapeutics (kanpō), which were increasingly being used alongside Western medical techniques as a complimentary therapy (Umemura 2011). Imported from China around the sixth century, kanpō practice involves herbal remedies, on the one hand, and physical techniques like massage, moxibustion, and acupuncture on the other. After an 1897 edict removed professional licensure from kanpō practitioners, some kanpō schools, like the Nihon harikyū senmongakuin (Japan Vocational School of Acupuncture and Moxibustion), began incorporating electrotherapy into their curriculum. The Japanese Electrotherapy Research Institute also actively reinforced the association between the two [End Page 17] treatment modalities, asserting that kanpō and electrotherapy shared the same root (dōitsu no genri) (Tokyo denki ryōhō kenkyūsho 1924, 8). Just as the Miss Shiseido girls of 1934 were taught science and dermatology alongside cosmetic techniques (Shimamori 2000, 84), so too were women working in hygienic facial parlors afforded with some of the auspices of a medical career.

Although it required a substantial amount of capital to pursue the life of an urban facialist, biganjutsu grew into a popular cottage industry for middle-class women, allowing them to work while maintaining reputations unsullied by the hazards of city life (Asahi shinbun 1919, 5). The Tokyo Electrotherapy Research Institute began a recruitment campaign from 1918 to 1926, filling the pages of newspapers like the Yomiuri and Asahi with advertisements urging young women to enroll in their correspondence training program, allowing biganjutsu to expand into the countryside (Tokyo denki ryōhō kenkyūsho 1926, 50). It is fair to assume that opening up a home hygienic facial parlor required some proficiency in electrical technique as well as capital to buy a machine, but in exchange it offered women an opportunity for work at home (naishoku). By hanging a biganjutsu sign outside of their homes, women could attract customers with minimal effort—and indeed, these signs appear to have been ubiquitous symbols of the industry (see Kawase S. 1917, 385). Cottage facials costed significantly less than those available in the city—about twenty sen per session as opposed to fifty (Asahi shinbun 1919, 5). Not only would the home facialist be benefitting her family through her additional income, perhaps more importantly, she was performing a social service. Modern hygienic culture required citizens to take responsibility for the maintenance of their bodies, and this duty typically fell under the purview of the housewife. As Sharon Nolte and Sally Hastings (1991, 161) note, in the new Japan, "women who were wives and mothers could make legitimate contributions toward national goals outside the home as well as within," especially through participation in activities and professions that functioned as extensions of traditional women's responsibilities.

Of course, as might be expected, as the practice grew in popularity, incompetent practitioners and scam artists emerged. Some even conducted dangerous beauty experiments like injecting paraffin wax into the skin, permanently ruining the visage of their customers (Asahi shinbun 1912, 5). Problems regulating the practice of facialists eventually led the Tokyo government to establish the Standards for the Regulation of the Hygienic Facial Business (Biganjutsu eigyō torishimari kisoku) in 1927, requiring anyone desiring to set up a facial parlor to get permission from the local police before opening up shop (Asahi shinbun 1927, 1). Licensing exams for beauticians and hairdressers emerged around this time as well, making it increasingly difficult for women to go into business without proper training (Midorikawa 1998, 29). Although it would ultimately become [End Page 18] challenging for women to become professional facialists without official sanction, the practice of hygienic facial massage no doubt remained an important part of a standard beauty regimen.


As middle- and upper-middle class women entered the public sphere in greater numbers they were forced to confront not only the anxiety engendered by the new culture of social exchange but also new and highly demanding standards of beauty. Biganjutsu parlors became places that mediated the experience of class and gender in prewar Japan, and, like department stores, they provided women "with their own public space in the city, in effect a type of emergent women's public sphere" (Tamari 2006, 100). The hygienic facial parlors of the early twentieth-century delineated a space in which women actively engaged with medical science, foreign culture, and mass consumption with ease. The practice of biganjutsu bound the female body to the nation in a reciprocity of pleasure, and early feminists endorsed beauty regimens that were both costly and time consuming as a mode of female liberation: by beautifying the face, women who otherwise might remain inside their homes were free to walk the streets with confidence (Tokyo eisei kyōkai 1909). Indeed, social mobility for women was contingent on physical beauty. As the beautician Kitahara Tomio (1910, 3) phrased it, "the creature known as woman must labor for happiness in this world by possessing a beauty and refinement that matches the valor of young men." The facial parlor was thus transformed into a space of pleasure and dreams for the future. It also legitimized indulgence for women who were expected to be frugal consumers. The pampering that took place within the doors of establishments like the Riyōkan was construed as a form of therapy, not an act of self-gratification.

Japanese hygienic facial culture illuminates the close connection between skin and identity in the early twentieth century—the skin provided avenues for employment and entertainment, the acquisition of social and cultural capital, and, most importantly, health and happiness. Biganjutsu also helped to disseminate a new ideal complexion that signified both health and cooperation with the national civilizing mission. However, by formulating Japanese skin as naturally white—in need only of polishing—the message spread by proponents and practitioners of hygienic facial culture was also deeply racial. Although Japanese women were discouraged from instantly transforming their faces using traditional makeup, biganjutsu offered the promise that, with a small investment of time (and sometimes a significant investment of money), a woman would inevitably uncover her natural whiteness. Although the idealization of a naturally pale complexion emerged alongside the adoption of Western style and fashions, it came to be understood as innately Japanese (see Endō 1926). While white skin continues to be conflated with "Japanese [End Page 19] skin," as Ashikari (2005, 88) has shown, "the ideal of Japanese beauty is constituted through a contest with the images of western women . . . and the relationship to 'universal beauty' in the world." In other words, the same forces at play during the emergence of biganjutsu over a century ago continue to shape Japanese standards of female beauty today.

Although the practice of biganjutsu eventually transformed into the more expanded practice of esute, its impact remains palpable today. Indeed, many of the earliest proponents of biganjutsu like Endō Hatsuko and Kitahara Tomio are now the namesakes of large beauty empires, and modern businesses like the Hair Salon Ono Group can trace their lineage back to hygienic facial culture (Ōno 2018). Care for complexion continues to be an important force in defining what it means to be a good Japanese woman, even as contemporary beauty ideals shift away from the face as the epitome of beauty and focus on the whole body and its proportions (see Bardsley 2008). Aesthetic salons in Japan still employ various electrotherapuetic and vibratory devices to transform women's faces and bodies, and instruments like facial rollers can easily be found for sale alongside other beauty goods.

The practice of biganjutsu survived the ambivalencies and criticisms that surrounded its emergence in the early twentieth century, and the esute industry it spawned now generates billions of dollars in sales revenue each year (Miller 2006, 41–42), providing women with avenues for both employment and consumption. As Laura Miller (2008, 399) notes, "one reason that the aesthetic salon business continues to thrive, despite the many well-publicised dangers of fraud and bodily harm, is that it has tapped into the potential for human agency in the beautification process as a hook for selling products and treatments." In the case of biganjutsu, the skin became one avenue for women to realize their potential as good citizens, sexually attractive wives, and reproductively fit mothers. It also provided an opportunity to enjoy the luxuries of a modern, urban life through rationalized consumption. Finally, for some, hygienic facial culture offered the opportunity to become—if not an independent business owner—at least an esteemed professional working woman. In this way, the biganjutsu of the early twentieth century provided multiple avenues for self-realization even as it produced a cultural discourse of beauty that would ultimately require conformation to a new, "modern" ideal. [End Page 20]

Jennifer Evans

Jennifer Evans obtained her master's degree from Harvard University's Regional Studies East Asia program in 2011. She received her Ph.D. in the History of Science from Harvard University in May 2017. Her research interests include the history of medicine and the body in East Asia, the life and work of Wilhelm Reich, and the psychoanalytic and historical meaning of skin.

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1. The rendering of biganjutsu as "hygienic facial culture" follows the precedent established by Slade (2009). When written in English or Romanized characters, the term "hygienic facial culture" appears in only a smattering of Japanese publications from the late Meiji and early Taisho periods. The phrase biganjutsu, however, is ubiquitous in Japanese medical and popular literature of the early twentieth century.

2. One Dr. N. S. Campbell is purported to have introduced hygienic facial culture to Japan (Tamaki 1908, n.p.).

3. Popular publications aimed at women continue to suggest that women can obtain love, money, and health through facial massage (see Katsuyo 2015).

4. The dangers of skin suffocation were also reinforced through the story of a young boy who was painted in gold for a Roman celebration and, although he was a beautiful sight to see, died soon after (Ōta 1907, 3–4).

5. For more on the history of vibrator as both a medical and a sexual device, see Maines (2001).

6. Although I have been unable to find statistical records for biganjutsu-sha, the existence of special training programs and the inclusion of the occupation as a discrete profession in employment guides suggest that there was a significant number of women engaged in this occupation. Commentators seem to imply that almost anyone could become a self-professed facialist simply by placing a sign outside of their residence or place of business (see Masaki 1923, 363). This no doubt would confound attempts to keep systematic records of practicing facialists. Futhermore, as Margaret Nagy (1991) notes, statistics on women working from the Meiji through early Shōwa period are either unreliable or non-existent for many industries employing female workers.

7. Shigeyama was a member of and lecturer for the Greater Japan Hair and Beauty Society (Dainihon bihatsukai) which cooperated with the Greater Japan Independent Hygiene Society (Dainihon shiritsu eisei shakai) to determine licensing qualifications in 1914 (Asahi shinbun 1914, 5).

8. Laura Miller (2000) notes that the Japanese cosmetic surgery industry began in 1896 with the performance of a double-eyelid surgery and dates the first nose job to 1923 (178). Some commentators lumped the practice of biganjutsu in with cosmetic surgeries like modifications of the nose through parrafin wax injection (Masaki 1923, 363).

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