Crossing Gazes

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Ten years before the Best Album award for NonNonBâ at the Angoulême Festival, in the pages of Le Monde Diplo,[1] Pascal Lardellier painted a frightening portrait of the yellow peril, exhorting to take arms to defend our endangered homeland, and concluded : “There is no minor cultural fight that deserves indifference or resignation. Manga should make people realize that. Or we will jeopardize, once again, for the sake of a commercial logic, another part of the European cultural heritage”.
Today, the worries about the seduction of the innocents has left place to questions about the long-term existence of “our” comic book industry in the face of this commercial tsunami. The martial vocabulary (“warlike poetic”, would have said Pascal Lardellier) has not changed, but with time we ended up finding some quality in the Japanese productions.

But if there are now fewer mentions of an “almost omnipresent violence” or of a “deliberate exhibition of suffering”, a fundamental question (already present in the article) regarding the characters’ representation emerges regularly : “the systematic denial of slanted eyes has an easy explanation : it facilitates the exportation of those productions to huge markets, the American already conquered, and the European, on the brink of invasion. The face of a typical character is limited to the barest, smooth, with dimmed features, and overall huge, disproportionnate eyes.”
The commercial grounds indicated here did not stand for very long, once attention was given to actual sales figures : indeed, the Japanese production is primarily targeted at their domestic market, far more lucrative than the export markets. A consideration that has to be completed with the strong “Japanicity” of the narratives, both in the topics and in the behaviors, that further devaluate the idea of a production turned toward the seduction of foreigners.
Leaving the capitalistic arguments, people opted for esthetics, arguing that the reasons behind these representations lied in the beauty ideal of the Japanese, a beauty ideal that had to be occidental. After all, Asians massively undergo eye surgery, bleach their hair, wear tinted contact lenses, as they are fascinated by a Western ideal largely broadcasted by the mondialization of advertisement and Hollywood.

It goes without saying, if du9 ponders today this difficult question, it is in the hope to give it a definite answer. Once and for all.

An occidental youth

The “occidentality” of manga characters is all the more striking when considering the pictorial representations of the previous centuries in Japan. Thus, ukiyo-e (the major artistic trend of the Edo and Meiji eras) often represent characters with strongly slanted eyes, with faces and attitudes that are undeniable asians (cf. Ill.I by the master Toshisai Sharaku). Some quick and dirty conclusions could be easily drawn from this observation, opposing a “before” (the arrival of the white man) with an “after”, the Meiji era (1868-1912) marking the beginning of the opening of Japan to occidental influences after many centuries of isolationism — and the beginning of a long-standing fascination.

In fact, the reasons of those changes in the representation of faces are to be found not in fascination, but in imitation. Thus, ukiyo-e[2] with its inspiration in Chinese tales and artworks, will be replaced by the early comic books published in newspapers, with the introduction of the satirical The Japan Punch launched in 1862 by Charles Wirgman, an American based in Tokyo. From the codes of Chinese Art, artists will then turn to the codes of occidental caricature and illustration. (cf. Ill.II by Kitazawa Rakuten)

Things will become even clearer in 1947, when Tezuka Osamu publishes Shin Takarajima, inaugurating the beginning of “modern manga”. Tezuka made no mystery of his influences — detailing his inspiration, for his graphic style (and in particular for animation) from what had done Max Fleischer (Betty Boop) or Walt Disney (Bambi) (cf. Ill.III). Much has been said about Tezuka’s importance, the “God of Manga” with his ultra-prolific career counting over 150,000 pages of comics. But beyond the sheer volume of his production, his predominant influence on the whole of the Japanese production has to be emphasized.
Indeed, remember that in Japan, manga-ka work in a system reminiscent of what was in use at the Renaissance with workshops and apprentices.[3] Thus, one often begins one’s career as apprentice to an already established manga-ka, before being able to fly on one’s own — in this way favoring the propagation of styles and influences, along the resulting “genealogical branches”. Tezuka himself set up the system by creating in 1952 a kind of studio, the Tokiwa-sô,[4] with a small team of manga-ka who will, at some point, work as an assistant of the Master over the course of a series : Fujiko Fujio A., Fujiko F. Fujio (the only one who never assisted Tezuka), Yokoyama Mitsuteru, Kuwata Jirô, Nagashima Shinji, Ishinomori Shôtarô and Matsumoto Reiji.

If this short list is already impressive by the great names it contains, the successive generations of assistants further its ramifications to englobe a huge part of manga-ka still in activity. To get an idea of the complexity of those relations, it is interesting to give a look to the “assistants tree” provided here as an illustration (cf. Ill. IV. Taken from this Japanese site) which, even if it only covers artists published in Shûkan Shônen Jump, allow imagining what a complete genealogy could look like.[5]
It is therefore irrefutable that the stylistic and narrative influence of Tezuka is central in the development of manga today — having brought a revolution to the genre in particular thanks to the dynamism he put in his stories. Which is what Pascal Lardellier refers to (with a healthy dose of fear-mongering hysterics) when he evokes “the style, strangely static and syncopated, as well as the angles, which oblige the spectator or the reader to a frequent face-to-face with the characters”.

Thus, the occidental influence on the emergence of manga is real, and manifests itself in two stages : first, in the move from the Chinese representation codes used in ukiyo-e to an occidental approach to illustration, following the introduction of newspapers at the end of the XIXth century ; and in a second phase, the revolution brought by Tezuka Osamu who established the basis of modern manga, strongly inspired by the narrative techniques of the animation of Max Fleischer and Walt Disney.

The blame on Disney

The “big eyes” coming from Walt Disney, we now have to turn to the reasons behind this particular choice — in order to understand if there is a will to represent occidental eyes, or if the reason could lie elsewhere. It so happens that biologist Stephen Jay Gould pondered the question in 1983, in his article “A biological homage to Mickey Mouse”, considering the evolution of the physical characteristics of the famous mouse between its first apparition in the early 30s, to its canonical form that is widely known today (cf. Ill.V). The conclusion is without appeal : increase of the size of the eyes compared to the size of the head (from 27 % to 42 %), as well as an increase of the size of the head compared to the body (from 43 % to 48 %). Gould also notes that this evolution brings Mickey closer to the appearance of his young “nephew” Morty Mouse, while the “baddies” systematically display a more adult morphology, even though they usually share the same chronological age as Mickey.[6]
Gould then concludes that Walt Disney unconsciously uses the mechanisms of neoteny, as defined in particular by Konrad Lorenz. Lorenz indeed indicates that childhood characteristics[7] have a strong impact on humans, and that this influence is abstract and leads us to judge other animals according to the same criteria — which explains the never-ending wonderment brought by kittens, cubs and other young animals with big eyes and small bodies.

It is obvious that the choice of a representation with “big eyes” in manga can result from two distinct factors : on one hand, the more or less conscious use of a representation system established by Tezuka, and on the other hand, the universal influence of neoteny, that completes and/or reinforces the first aspect.
It should be noted that Tezuka himself sometimes forfeits his usual style to bring ruptures in narration. For instance, in Kirihiko Sanka, Doctor Urabe is regularly represented with a darker and more realistic line (cf. Ill.VI), bringing a strong contrast with his usual attitude — reinforcing the impression of sinister dualism that surround this character.

Moreover, it is also interesting to consider other types of representation that are used in Japan, and which have developed outside of the central influence of Tezuka. Such examples can be found in particular among the artists who used to work in the kashibonya network from which would later emerge Garo and the gekiga around the mid-60s. There again, the assistant system generates “currents of style”[8] it is undeniable that styles are more diverse, and that voices with specific personalities have emerged.[9] And in those works more generally targeted at an adult audience, the “big eyes” are more often the exception than the rule (cf. Ill.VII).
Yet, this is a whole part of the Japanese production that is often less well known, for the lack of translations. Whether because of a style perceived as less readily accessible, or because of themes deemed by far too Japanese, the main foreign publishers make a selection that often reinforces the impression of uniformity and standardized production. On top of this, the still frequent amalgam made between a manga and its animated adaptation (adaptations for which technical constrains bring another layer of standardization in representations) — again limiting the perception of the whole manga production to an emerged tip that is very far from being representative.

A serious case of ethnocentrism…

There are indeed manga, and a consequent part of the Japanese production, which present characters with big eyes. Big eyes, therefore occidental, QED — would one be tempted to conclude. Hence the fascination, the beauty ideal and so on. Yes, but no.
Actually, this it where the ethnological concept of ethnocentrism comes into action : “Ethnocentrism is the tendency to look at the world primarily from the perspective of one’s own culture. It is defined as the viewpoint that “one’s own group is the center of everything,” against which all other groups are judged. Ethnocentrism often entails the belief that one’s own race or ethnic group is the most important and/or that some or all aspects of its culture are superior to those of other groups.” Brought forward by anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss (in particular in his book Race et histoire, 1952), ethnocentrism is a spontaneous and universal attitude.
When reading manga, ethnocentrism will then function on two levels : first, in the reading of the picture itself, which will lead the occidental reader that the featured character resembles him/herself ; and second, in the inference that the reader then makes that this representation is the consequence of fascination — fascination that is de facto a valorization of his/her own ethnic group, therefore superior to the Asian group.

The works of Robert Kurzban[10] have revealed the criteria that we use to evaluate and judge other people : sex, age and race. In fact, it seems that the perception of racial difference is due to the presence of an “otherness detector” which focuses on detecting all that is unusual and obvious.
A similar notion can be found in semiotics, with the
markedness theory developed Roman Jakobson : “The markedness theory presuppose a capacity from humans to perceive people, objects, actions and events as conforming to a paradigm (a model, a type, a pattern) or as differing from this paradigm. What simply conforms to the model is unmarked ; what differs from the model is marked.”
In this way, there is no doubt that in English, the expression “slanted eyes” corresponds to a marked feature — differing from the implicit model in which eyes are not slanted. To the contrary, it should be noted that the Japanese language introduces no such mark : the terms used (hito-e or “single eyelid” for slanted eyes, and futa-e or “double eyelid” for non-slanted eyes) being on the same level, with a descriptive value.

A warning should be given as this stage, as those difference markers are relative — and are based on the perception that a given individual has of the group he belongs to at a given time. The article “Adaptation to natural facial category”[11] relates a enlightening experiment. By using composite faces (obtained by morphing occidental and Japanese faces with varying proportions), the experiment aimed at identifying the “boundaries” of the perception of belonging to a given ethnic group.
Two interesting results are to be noted. First, the perception of belonging accepts very little variations compared to the standard. Thus, Japanese people see the limit of “Japaneseness” at 67 % Japanese / 33 % occidental ; while occidentals see the limit of “occidentality” at 58 % occidental / 42 % Japanese. What that means, is that perceptions of the other are very different — each group most likely convinced that the boundary is clearly defined. But according to this experiment, there are individuals that would be perceived as occidental (as non-Japanese) by the Japanese, but also perceive as Japanese (as non-occidental) by the occidentals.
Moreover, the experiment shows that Japanese people having lived in the United States present a displacement of the “Japaneseness” boundary — to 61 % Japanese / 39 % occidental. Or how their confrontation to a more diversified daily environment leads them to revise their perception of their own ethnic group.[12]

For those reasons, any reader will consider manga characters through their own perception of normality and difference. For occidentals, this difference will consist in slanted eyes, yellow skin and dark hair ; as opposed for Asians, where it will be large noses and solid jaws — these characteristics indicating without fail the belonging to a specific ethnic group. And inversely, the absence of those difference markers allow acceptance in the group, on the basis of a supposed similarity.

There is a particularly striking illustration of those mechanisms in manga featuring a mix of both Japanese and non-Japanese characters. Monster by Urasawa Naoki is a strong such example, as it introduces a Japanese character, doctor Tenma, among a cast that is 100 % German (cf. Ill.VIII, doctor Tenma being in the center). The way physical differences are expressed becomes very obvious, with privileged areas such as the nose and the shape of the face.

Okay, but what about Candy Candy ?

All this is very well, but one might bring forward the example of manga like Candy Candy, in which the action takes place in the United States, and where all occidental protagonists are represented … in the same way as characters in similar manga series, but that are set in Japan. Which is an irrefutable proof of occidentalization. Hence fascination, beauty ideal, and so on. Yes, but no.
One could already mention the simple demands of narration, focused on efficiency : stories that mix characters from different ethnic groups find it necessary to signify this difference to the reader, which is not the case for those involving a homogenous ethnic population. But this technical reason is further more completed by a far more fundamental reason, linked to the way we apprehend pictures.

Indeed, studies on perception have shown that occidentals and Asians do no apprehend pictures in the same way. More precisely, confronted with urban scenes, “Europeans tend to focus their attention on objects, independent of context (i.e., to attend and perceive analytically), while East Asians focus on the context (attending and perceiving holistically)”.[13]
This difference is also present in comic books, as in Understanding Comics (p.112-114), Scott McCloud notes that in order to represent movement, European or American artists use techniques that put emphasis on the movement of the object/character situated in the foreground, especially using movement lines or repetitions of silhouettes, blurred or not. While Japanese artists seem to favor a very different system, using a subjective expression of movement — or rather than signifying the movement of the object, placing the reader in a situation of movement, and putting the emphasis on context.

Thus, confronted with a scene from a manga, occidental readers will give more importance to objects in the foreground — that is, the characters ; disregarding the background, a background that is often (for stories set in Japan) less familiar and therefore difficult to identify. To the contrary, Japanese readers will consider more the background surrounding the characters, a background they can identify and that then grounds strongly those characters in a definite environment.
To illustrate this last point, one only has to turn to the majority of contemporary romantic comedies — stories for which artists often use photographic documentation, sometimes going as far as using photocopiers or tracing tables for their backgrounds. The reader is then projected in a true-to-life and realistic Tôkyô, with emblematic locations easily identifiable … for whom knows the Japanese capital : Shibuya (with the Hachikô statue and the 109), Shinjuku (the station, the city hall, or even the giant screen of studio Alta), Ikebukuro (the statue in front of the station or the Sunshine City), or even the Tôkyô Tower, to name but a few.

Moreover, it’s the totality of a very specific street furniture that, beyond the postcard-worthy locations, resolutely grounds those stories in a deeply Japanese reality. Illustration IX (from the Bakuon Rettô series by Takahashi Tsutomu) provides a good example of a page that could be perceived as occidental by an occidental reader (in particular with the presence of the blond character[14] ), but in which a multitude of details indicate it is indeed a Japan scene.
Of course, we will focus primarily on the frame at the bottom left, which represents a crossing. The electric cables, omnipresent and tangled, are a characteristic of Japan, where only a tiny part of the network is underground — the result of frequent earthquakes. Then, if the building with the long balconies, is not particularly specific to Japan, the convenience store in the foreground is a local specialty — from the sign (with the color strips) to the automated distributors by the entrance to the building itself, with the tree pots on the side. Finally, the bicccle parked on the right (without any lock) is again very characteristic, with the basket on the front.
Moreover, the frame located above represents (from underneath) the concrete structure of the shutô, the aerial expressway which covers Tôkyô with its network. Finally, in the frame with the blond character, both the small house with the lozenge-shaped tiles and the characteristic housing complex are two staples of Japanese urbanism.

To conclude with, while a Japanese reader will find in all these elements the confirmation that this story is set in his home country, an occidental reader with no access to this cypher will see no obvious indication of “Japaneseness”. Which brings us back to the markedness theory — a scene devoid of obvious indications of “Japaneseness” being interpreted as occidental.

The last resort : esthetics and plastic surgery

This is often the stage that defensors of the “Japanese fascination for occidental beauty” chose to pull out the heavy-duty argument that “every year, thousands of Japanese women undergo eye surgery”. Last resort argument, for sure, but undeniable irrefutable. Yes, but.
First, the article “Facial Aesthetic Preferences Among Asian Women : Are All Oriental Asians the Same ?”[15] shows that “significant differences in preferred beauty features were identified”, and that if “Koreans preferred a larger fold paralleling the lid margin, with elimination of the epicanthal fold”, to the contrary “Japanese women desired thinner lips, with more delicate facial features”. Before concluding : “The results demonstrate that there is a difference between oriental Asian aesthetic values. Plastic surgeons should be sensitive to different ethnic concepts of beauty and appreciate a range of values rather than assume that all Asians simply prefer “occidentalization.””[16]

But even if Japanese women were willing to undergo eye-widening surgery. One should examine the reality of the operation that is covered by this term, and which, implicitly, suggest a “return to normality”, the widened eye being an occidental eye. The periorbital zone (around the eyes) of Asians can present two characteristics : first, the absence of the supratarsal fold — or the fold that the eyelid makes above the eye ; and second, the presence of an epicanthal fold — or the fold that the eyelid makes at the corner of the eye (cf. Ill.X). And it is very clearly the epicanthal fold that determines the aspect of slanted eyes.[17]
That being said, the operation of “unslanting the eyes” is generally a blepharoplasty,[18] which consists not in removing the epicanthal fold, but rather in creating a supratarsal fold — a fold that about 50 % of Asians do not have. And as one can see on those before/after pictures, the result of the procedure is not an eye that would look more occidental, but an eye that is more open for a more awake and younger gaze. (One can also judge on the results on occidental patients)

It becomes obvious how, once again, a mix of ethnocentrism and approximate information leads to completely erroneous conclusions. If some Asians do often use plastic surgery for the eyes, there are primarily Koreans, and not Japanese. And even though — the corresponding surgery doesn’t aim at “unslanting” the eyes, as it is often said,[19] but rather to give them a more awake and younger gaze. And therefore, no aspiration for occidentality, but good Japanese coquetry.

Mentioning the blond hair of some characters will meet the same definitive refutation. On one hand, this argument carefully makes a motivated selection in the possible color ranges to retain only the ones that flatter the observer’s ethnocentrism — often forgetting to mention the pink, green or purple hair that also appear in the same pages, colors for which the existence of an occidental beauty ideal seems less justifiable. The hypothesis of a narrative need to distinguish the different characters is more likely.
Moreover, the apparition of characters with dyed hair can be linked to the trend launched by Amuro Namie, the great J-Pop star, in the middle of the 90s. Indeed, this young lady used to have tanned skin and bleached hair, a look that she claimed was her “armor”, and which then launched the ganguro trend — the “black faces”. One will note how this “rebel” fashion trend is in total opposition to the traditional Japanese beauty ideal, white skin and dark hair.

More generally speaking, the universe of fashion often reveals this kind of hiatus, between the ethnocentric view (“they want to imitate occidentals”) and the Japanese view, far more short-sighted (“let’s remain in fashion and imitate this or that J-Pop star”). In this way, all cosmetic brands chose Japanese stars to be the faces of their campaigns. And even if occidental movie stars do cause riots when they come to Japan, television and tabloids devote nearly all their attention to the local talento.
In this way, considering Japanese pop-culture from the inside, and not through the deforming prism of what reaches our shores, brings often a deep reconsideration of our perception of an occidental cultural sphere of influence that would reach out to the whole world and overwhelm everything in its wake.


Now, for a quick summary.
Influenced by Walt Disney, Tezuka Osamu has developed a system of representation using big eyes. This system is based on the universal mechanism of neoteny to reinforce the appeal of its characters. The big eyes style is often met in manga, on one hand because of the importance and impact of Tezuka in the Japanese production, and on the other hand because the alternative production is less visible, being less often adapted for animation or translated.
Yet, the fact that occidental readers see in those big-eyed characters characters that resemble them is a consequence of ethnocentrism — again, a universal mechanism. This mechanism is further completed by the way one apprehends pictures, leading occidental to focus more on those unmarked characters, which then are seen as implicitely belonging to their idea of an ethnic standard ; while Japanese readers will also integrate the background (which is often marked as Japanese) and context in their approach of the same scene — but also considering the unmarked characters as belonging to their idea of an ethnic standard.
Finally, arguments related to plastic surgery, and supposed to comfort this idea of an occidental beauty ideal, are mainly based on ethnocentrism and an inaccurate knowledge of both ethnological and surgical realities. Fashion considerations belong to the same category.

Or in few words : yes, the Japanese do draw characters with big eyes ; but no, those characters are not obligatorily occidental, nor are they the result of a fascination for a beauty ideal that would be Caucasian. This last (erroneous) perception is due to our own limitations, us occidental readers, a mix of the projection of our own ethnic standards, and an ethnocentric reasoning regarding the supposed motivations of this representation.

Is this clear ? I hope so. Now only remains the thorny question, the true one, the one that should be asked and that no one ever mentions, even though Astérix, Gaston Lagaffe and other Achille Talon are widely displayed in our bookstores. Why the large noses ?
Should one read there the sign of an inferiority complex, trying to compensate with this exaggeration some other anatomical shortcoming ? The will to express by those impressive appendages the supremacy of smell in France, tenderly nicknamed the “country of cheese” ?
Without a doubt, the reasons being the large noses are hidden in a profoundly cultural motivation. So to help research progress, ami lecteur, lectrice mon amour (reader my friend, reader my love), do not hesitate to propose some explanation to this intriguing mystery…


  1. Pascal Lardellier, «Ce que nous disent les mangas…» in Le Monde Diplomatique (December 1996).
  2. A widely popular art, that was afordable and easily reproduced in large numbers.
  3. Note that while this system was very present at the time, it is progressively falling out of favor nowadays.
  4. Named after the flat where it was located. The flat was destroyed in 1982, a destruction that was emotionnally witnessed by Tezuka — and was the opportunity for many commemorative TV shows on the NHK.
  5. A little research can unearth some of the most surprising filliations, such as linking Masami Yûki (Kidô Keisatsu Patlabor) and Katsu Aki (Futari Ecchi) to Matsumoto Leiji (Ginga Tetsudô 999, Ûchû Kaizoku Harlock), a former resident of the Tokiwa-sô with Tezuka ; or Oda Eiichirô (One Piece) and Takei Hiroyuki (Shaman King) via Watsuki Nobuhiro (Rurôni Kenshin) to Terasawa Bûichi (former assistant of Tezuka himself) ; or even Inoue Takehiko (Slam Dunk, Vagabond), former assistant of Tsukasa Hôjô (City Hunter), who confessed being deeply influenced by Ishinomori, to the point he used some of his layouts is his works — Ishinomori, of whom Nagai Gô (Mazinger, Devilman, Cutie Honey) was also an assistant ; or even Nihei Tsutomu (Blame !) via Takahashi Tsutomu (Jiraishin, Tetsuwan Girl), former assistant of Kawaguchi Kaiji (Chinmoku no Kantai, Zipang) whose desire to create manga originated in Mangaka Zankoku Monogatari from Nagashima Shinji, a member of Mushi Prod — the animation company founded by Tezuka.
  6. From the original article : “I applied my best pair of dial calipers to three stages of the official phylogeny — the thin-nosed, ears forward figure of the early 1930s, the latter-day jack of Mickey and the Beanstalk (1947), and the modern mouse. I measured three signs of Mickey’s creeping juvenility : increasing eye size maximum height) as a percentage of head length (base of the nose to the top of rear ear) ; increasing head length as a percentage of body length ; and increasing cranial vault size measured by rearward displacement of the front ear (base of the nose to top of front ear as a percentage of base of the nose to top of rear ear).
    All three percentages increased steadily — eye size from 27 to 42 percent of head length ; head length from 42.7 to 48.1 percent of body length ; and nose to front ear from 71.7 to a whopping 95.6 percent of nose to rear ear. For comparison, I measured Mickey’s young “nephew” Morty Mouse. In each case, Mickey has clearly been evolving toward youthful stages of his stock, although he still has a way to go for head length.

    Lorenz emphasizes the power that juvenile features hold over us, and the abstract quality of their influence, by pointing out that we judge other animals by the same criteria — although the judgment may be utterly inappropriate in an evolutionary context. We are, in short, fooled by an evolved response to our own babies, and we transfer our reaction to the same set of features in other animals.
    […] I submit that Mickey Mouse’s evolutionary road down the course of his own growth in reverse reflects the unconscious discovery of this very biological principle by Disney and his artists. In fact, the emotional status of most Disney characters rests on the same set of Distinctions. To this extent, the magic kingdom trades on a biological illusion — our ability to abstract and our propensity to transfer inappropriately to other animals the fitting responses we make to changing form in the growth of our own bodies. […] Mouse villains or sharpies, contrasted with Mickey, are always more adult in appearance, although they often share Mickey’s chronological age.”

  7. Juvenile stages are characterized by a larger head, larger eyes and rounder shapes compared to the proportions of the adult body.
  8. Like what can be seen with Mizuki Shigeru, and his assistants Tsuge Yoshiharu, Tatsumi Yoshimoto and … Ikegami Ryôichi (Crying Freeman) ; or Shirato Sanpei (creator of Kamui-den), of whom Kojima Gôseki (artist on Kozure Ookami) was assistant.
  9. With, for example, artists such as Abe Shin’ichi, Takita Yû ou encore Maruo Suehiro, all having been published in Garo.
  10. Mentioned in this article : “Dr Kurzban observes that the three criteria on which people routinely, and often prejudicially, assess each other are sex, age and race. Judgments based on sex and age make Darwinian sense, because people have evolved in a context where these things matter. But until long-distance transport was invented, few people would have come across members of other races. Dr Kurzban believes that perceptions of racial difference are caused by the overstimulation of what might be called an “otherness detector” in the human mind. This is there to sort genuine strangers, who will need to work hard to prove they are trustworthy, from those who are merely unfamiliar members of the clan. It will latch on to anything unusual and obvious — and there is little that is more obvious than skin colour. But other things, such as an odd accent, will do equally well.”
  11. “Adaptation to natural facial category” by Michael A. Webster, Daniel Kaping, Yoko Mizokami & Paul Duhamel, in Nature, Vol.428, Avril 2004.
  12. For a reminder, Japan presents the most homogenous population on the planet, with only 0.6 % foreigners — with a majority of Koreans. See this article in the Encyclopedia of Nations.
  13. From the article “Culture and Perception : The Role of the Physical Environment”. The works in question refer to T. Masuda & R.E. Nisbett, “Culture and change blindness”, Cognitive Science.
  14. The story of Bakuon Rettô is clearly set in early-80s Japan, and this blond character is a Japanese boy with dyed hair. He is a member of the bôsôzoku or bikers gang, and the dyed hair is the sign of a “bad boy”, the affirmation of marginality, similar to his choice of clothing (the tokko-fuku) in direct reference to the kamikaze pilots of World War II.
  15. “Facial Aesthetic Preferences Among Asian Women : Are All Oriental Asians the Same ?” by Marek Dobke, Christopher Chung & Kazuaki Takabe in Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, Springer New York, June 2006.
  16. Here is the complete excerpt : “Significant differences in preferred beauty features were identified, especially with regard to the periorbital region. Although a supratarsal crease was found to be desirable in both groups, Koreans preferred a larger fold paralleling the lid margin, with elimination of the epicanthal fold. Japanese women desired thinner lips, with more delicate facial features.
    Conclusion : The results demonstrate that there is a difference between oriental Asian aesthetic values. Plastic surgeons should be sensitive to different ethnic concepts of beauty and appreciate a range of values rather than assume that all Asians simply prefer “occidentalization.””
  17. Let make it clear that, even if some people might argue that “all Asians look the same”, reality is altogether different. The ethnic composition of Japan is very diverse, the result of mixes over many waves of invasion and immigration. Again, I refer the reader to this article from the Encyclopedia of Nations. this means that in Japan exist all the possible combinations — with or without epicanthal fold, with or without supratarsal fold.
    By the way, the affirmation that “all Asians look the same” is again the consequence of a type of ethnocentrism that is very specific to occidentals. Indeed, studies have proven that it is easier to identify faces belonging to one’s own ethnic group, with occidentals being particularly bad at identifying faces belonging to other ethnic groups. The thesis “The effect of facial expression and identity information on the processing of own and other race faces” indicates in particular : “The results from Ellis and Deregowski (1981) indicated that during the course of repeated experience with faces of a particular racial group (usually own-race faces), people not only learn to recognise faces of their own racial group more accurately, but people also appear to learn to better recognise individuals from their own racial group despite transformations due to a change in pose. […] Thus the combined results showed that the differences between the quality of face representations for own and other races are more pronounced in European than in Japanese people, indicating that the effect of the own-race bias is more evident amongst European participants. […] Past studies have shown that the own-race bias is more evident amongst Caucasian than Asian or African people (Meissner and Brigham 2001), which is consistent with the present results.”
  18. A surgical procedure that is not limited to Asians.
  19. And especially in French — hence this longish part that might not seem as relevant for our English readers.
Dossier de in October 2007