Miyakofuzoku Kewaiden / Capital Beauty and Style Handbook

Approximately 200 years ago, a guide on urban beauty called the Miyakofuzoku kewaiden painted a picture of the ideal Japanese woman. Making its subject matter the domestic details of women’s private lives, the book—loosely translated to “Capital Beauty and Style Handbook” —was the

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first Japanese “how to” guide on feminine beauty. Published in 1813 by Hanshichi Sayama, it was created in a traditional watsuzuri format in which washi paper was bound by thread in order to create a durable, delicately bound volume. The guide contained instructional ink drawings by Shungyosai Hayamizu which diagrammed step-by-step instructions—from how to cleanse the skin to how to move gracefully in an urban environment. It is written in the style of girl talk, in intimate dialogue with its readers about the most personal aspects of their lives.

One of the most striking features of the book is the author’s introductory remarks concerning Japanese beauty. She explains that beauty is not merely an unalterable physical attribute but something that can be achieved through sophisticated living. The keys to achieving beauty are movement and style; cosmetics, skin care, and etiquette are means through which one can enhance these aspects of one’s person. Like her Heian ancestors, the author derives her notions of beauty from nature, aspiring for her imagined reader to be as poised as a flower, for her face to be as luminous as the moon, and for her hair to be as soft as clouds. Much of the book centers on achieving moderation and harmony, a balancing of extremes and an attention to aesthetic choices suited to the particular features of each individual. Indeed, the women of the Edo period endeavored to achieve the “self-possession” that 11th century Kyoto-based author Murasaki Shikibu described hundreds of years earlier.

An instant success, the 1813 guide was the beauty bible for the urban woman—a 19th century Vogue magazine—written entirely for women and concerning women’s interests. The book was republished again and again for over a century before essentially disappearing in the 1920’s, when an interest in Western beauty trends and fashions de-emphasized traditional Japanese rituals. Nonetheless, its secrets remain in use throughout Japan today through an oral tradition passed on from grandmother to mother to daughter. Indeed, the 1813 guide was itself a written record of a feminine oral history, encapsulating the wisdom of generations of women before it. In it, the author remarked on the ancient uses of many natural ingredients indigenous to Japan and its neighboring countries and advised on their manner of preparation and use passed down through the ages.

At the heart of the Edo beauty guide’s

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endeavor to achieve beauty in the urban woman was the care and maintenance of skin through natural ingredients. Flawless porcelain skin was, and remains, the special province of Japanese women, stemming from an aesthetic sensibility that eschews embellishment in favor of intrinsic goodness. Many of the methods and ingredients discussed in the beauty book have been proven by modern science to be extremely effective in the care and nourishing of the skin. For example, the book discusses the use of rice bran, or komenuka, in cleansing, exfoliating and hydrating the skin, instructing women on the traditional method of using a maple bag, or momiji-fukuro, to run the minute rice bran particles across one’s skin in gentle facial massages. Today, we know that komenuka contains essential vitamins such as vitamins A, B1, and B2, as well as many fats and proteins which contribute to nourishing and moisturizing parched skin. Another example is the use of sensual silk, or kinu, in skincare, which was cited as originating in ancient China as a tool for smoothing and cleaning skin. Silk was even to have been used by Himiko, the Queen of Wa, in her daily toilette in lieu of soap. Contemporary scientific studies now show that the protein sericin found in silk has wound healing, moisturizing and anti-aging/anti-wrinkle properties.

kewaiden7 photography: kimio takeyama

So efficacious are the ingredients and preparations contained in the book that modern day beauty brand TATCHA developed an entire skincare collection based on this time-tested approach. With clinical studies reinforcing dramatic results, TATCHA has effectively recreated these finely honed, effortless regimens for beauty lovers of today. While the author of the Edo period beauty book did not have science at her disposal, she had the wisdom of generations before her – and it is only more recently that we’ve been able to understand just how powerful that was.

TEXTS: Vicky Tsai , Nami Onodera Assistant: Senna Abe