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Japan's latest makeup fad? A whole new face

The quest for more chiseled features inspires new techniques and products to match

TOKYO -- More than a few Japanese women wish they had a smaller face with more prominent features, but going under the knife is a drastic solution. Luckily for them, their dream can come true just by mastering the latest makeup fad.

"Contouring" -- using contrasting shades to create a more defined, three-dimensional look -- is rapidly catching on across the nation, particularly among young women. 

Masako Miyamoto, a 21-year-old student in Tokyo, is thrilled with it. "I'll never forget the striking change that happened to my face when I tried it below my cheeks for the first time."

Another woman in Kobe, western Japan, first tried contouring with her friends by following the advice from beauty vloggers. The first step for the 31-year-old was applying foundations of different tones. At that stage, "I just looked like a clown," she admitted, "but it was already fun enough."

The pierrot look wasn't her goal, so she used her fingers to blend the borders between different shades.


"My nose suddenly looked so high, and I looked startlingly beautiful."

Contouring is nothing new. It began making waves internationally several years ago when American TV personality Kim Kardashian shared some before-and-after photos on social media. Japanese women quickly noticed, seeing a solution to making their rather flattish faces look more three-dimensional.

Shading can also be used to make a face look smaller.

Megumi Kuji, a 29-year-old hairdresser in Tokyo's Daikanyama district, says: "A growing number of customers are asking for styles that make their faces look smaller and their features sharper.

Riding the boom, cosmetics makers are now selling products specifically made for contouring. Mariko Kashiwaba, a 34-year-old office worker in Sapporo, first learned about the technique last fall when she saw contouring-specific products on display at a cosmetics boutique. "It was shocking," she recalled. "Now I can't live without them."

Kashiwaba said she doesn't like her square forehead. "I can make it look more oval by shading along the top and sides," she said. "In an instant, I have the ideal small, egg-shaped face."

A whole new person

One well-known Japanese YouTube vlogger, who goes by the name Marilyn and specializes in makeup tutorials, has posted more than 600 contouring clips showing how to achieve a chiseled look. The videos have been viewed more than 50 million times.

When she applies contouring to herself, Marilyn does not look Japanese. "Once after putting on my makeup and going out, a supermarket clerk spoke to me in English," the 22-year-old said.

Marilyn's advice to achieve dramatic facial features includes a lot of tips regarding the eyes. Apply several colors on the eyebrows, she says, then add a concealer around the eyebrows and blur the gap neatly. Draw eye lines both at the upper lid edge and at the line of the double-lid. 

Marilyn further highlights her eyes with false eyelashes on both her upper and lower eyelids. "I do so even though it narrows my field of vision," she said.

When she has finished with her eyes and eyebrows, Marilyn shades her nose, cheeks, jaw and forehead -- then balances the tone of her whole face by rubbing out the shade.

Total time spent in front of mirror -- an hour or so.

But with special cosmetics designed for contouring, the process can be less time-consuming and labor-intensive.

Contouring-specific products first arrived in Japan last autumn. Maybelline New York sold out of its V-face Duo Stick, which comes with shading and highlighting colors, in one month.

Kate, a Kanebo brand, had sold 1 million sets of Brown Shade Eyes during the four months after it made its debut in 2014. The four-color palette, including a dark color for shading the spaces between the nose and eyes, is still popular among young Japanese women.

The selfie effect?

Social media and video streaming platforms are helping spread the contouring boom. Smilley Shiira, a 30-year old in Tokyo's Setagaya Ward, says tutorials by overseas vloggers are useful. "I wile away the night exploring (those videos) and practicing," she said. 

Chie Kanemoto, a 27-year-old in Yao, Osaka, says she improvises to better suit the techniques to her own face.   

Perhaps this is part of a wider trend. A lot of us are becoming almost obsessed with sharing selfies on social media -- to the point of wanting to stand out among our friends in group selfies, according to Mizuho Nakahara, the operator of @cosme, Japan's largest beauty information website.

But you don't have to be obsessed to give the new contouring products a try and see if they result in a complete new look.

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