Comic: Well, I missed THAT Memo…

92 well i missed that memo  comic cartoon amwf japan manga gaijinI think one of my biggest culture shocks when I came to Japan, oddly enough, was beach etiquette. Growing up in Texas (and then in Ghana), I spent a lot of time at the beach or outside in the sun, tanning.

I like it when my skin has a ‘healthy glow’ – when it’s “too pale” it kind of freaks me out.

Japan is completely different.

Most of my Japanese friends try to keep their skin as pale as possible, with hats, umbrellas, and extra sleeves in the summer. 

One of my biggest shocks was when Ryosuke and I went on a “triple date” to the beach. The guys grouped off and played in the water – while the girls stayed on the beach and dipped their toes in the water. I had come in a full-out bikini (because, beach), but the other two girls were wearing long sleeve shirts, hats, and pants/skirts that covered their legs.

It was a real culture shock for me.

(it was also kind of boring. I lasted like 20 min sitting on the beach, chatting, before I waded out to the deep part of the ocean and played with my husband)

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About Grace Buchele Mineta

I got into the writing business by accident. Now I live in the countryside near Tokyo with my husband, Ryosuke, where I draw comics, blog, and make videos about our daily life. Contact: Website | More Posts

31 Comments on Comic: Well, I missed THAT Memo…

  1. I have seen Caucasian people with pale skin, and it looks different than Asians with white skin. My mom likes to call it “radiant”. It looks glowy, unlike Americans who look deathly sick. I think this is because Asians spend a lot of time taking care of their skin (especially South Koreans). Whenever I go back home, my family gives me a bunch of hats and skin-whitening creams. XD
    My theory is that long ago, if you weren’t rich enough to be a shop keeper or government worker, you were a farmer. That meant staying out in the sun and getting tanned. So now, people in Asia prefer lighter skin. Sort of the same about how small feet meant that you couldn’t work in the fields, and now, Asians prefer smaller feet. Well, the Chinese do, anyways. We were the primary country that practiced foot binding.

  2. I am very pale but I used to tan all the time as a kid because I would go swimming like every single day with my neighbors kid the strongest sun block on couldn’t keep me from burning lol

    My sister can’t ever seem to tan like she wants to she just gets more freckles XD I don’t like getting tan or being out in the sun for to long, I don’t like being in the heat pretty much and I am living in the wrong state cause here it’s always sunny and hot :( but I manage to stay pale but even now when I do tan since I walk everywhere I am still a pale tan.

  3. Beauty standards are always interesting and surprisingly different in each country. I´m from Germany and look admittedly what you would call sickly pale. Even people who see me once a week and should know better, regularly ask me if I´m okay/sick/want to sit for a bit. And then I went to China where people came towards me asking for a picture with me, simply because I´m in their eyes beautifully pale. And I´ve had tons of conversations trying to get across why I´ve anything but a nice complexion back at home but those things are so deeply rooted in the histories of our countries that it just wont do.
    It´s understandable though – for us a nice tan means you were outdoors, had time to rest and relax. And I guess in most asian countires it´s a sign of wealth and wellbeing not being tan, because they hadn´t have to slave away and work their butts off outside. :)

    • You said it. It really isn interesting seeing different beauty standards in different countries.
      I have quite a few American (white) pale friends here that love the attention/the fact that people don’t make fun of them for burning and being unable to tan. It’s such a drastic difference.

  4. Oh I know this situation soo well. My husband always want me to wear many clothes and to put tons of suncreme everywhere on me, just not to get brown (evenso I never get brown easily). But umbrella is very important in Japan, I often burned my scalp because of the strong sun. I´m wondering that they don´t go swimming with a hat also haha.

  5. Beach culture is actually something new that I encounter after I came to Perth, Australia. My hometown in Bandung, Indonesia is surrounded by 7 mountains forming a bowl and I live in the basin area of it, and beach is waaayyy far out. But for having beautiful beaches (seriously pretty!) in Western Australia I can’t stop myself to enjoy it too with short and sleeveless while having BBQ or picnic with friends.

    When I read your post it reminds me again with my Japanese friends especially those who came for exchange study. I can’t believe how come they did so when the average temperature in summer is 32’C and the highest is 45’C. I can still understand people using umbrella because the glare is just too much, but long sleeves and long skirt is a big no-no for me. When I saw them wearing one it makes me feel even hotter :P

    • It is really impressive…
      I actually do understand the umbrella and the hat (keeping the sun off your face). I would prefer to slather up with sunscreen to wearing layers. Different cultures, I guess?

  6. I’ve had lots of painful sunburns. When we lived in the Philippines, we tried not to swim in the middle of the day, but we still got burned. This past June, we spent a week in Hawaii, and I noticed that more people (not Japanese) are wearing fitted swim shirts (high necks, long sleeves, UV protected fabric.) I didn’t have one, so got burned again. Maybe next time I’ll buy a swim shirt.

    • I’ve seen those swim shirts too.
      I always make sure to wear plenty of sunscreen when I’m going out (I want to get a nice tan, but not burned).

      Have you seen the UV face masks for swimming? They’re full-out face masks, so you don’t get any sun. They look terrifying…

  7. アンドレア // 24 July, 2014 at 12:46 am //

    I have the opposite problem; I’m an American who covers herself year-round.
    I’ve simply accepted that in a fight, THE SUN vs me: INFINITY – 0.

    This is me (a cute Australian ad from the 80’s) ^_^:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b7nocIenCYg
    I usually wear long sleeves (cardigan, hoodie, etc), leggings (underneath my skirt) or pants, a wide-brimmed sun bonnet and neck scarf (but it’s cute, with little polka dots), SPF 50, and (prescription) glasses/sunglasses that have protection.

    I try my best to protect my skin from sun damage / defend against skin cancer. I know how painful it is to have moles removed and worry that they might be cancerous. Four weeks later, and I’m actually still healing from one that resulted in a whopping nine stitches. I’ve avoided the big C thus far and would like to keep it that way. To me, a tan = unfortunate skin damage (that I will likely pay for later), not a source of healthful ambiance/pride.

    I’m more of a mountains/tree-lover, but when I visit the beach, I prefer visiting in the morning or at night (less-intense sun) — to enjoy the look/sound of the ocean, the smell/taste of the salty air, the feel of the sand and water at my feet, to search out pretty seashells/sharks teeth, build a sandcastle, have a picnic or play games, visit a lighthouse, etc…I enjoy all of these things while fully covered. When I swim, I wear a long-sleeved shirt and shorts over my bathingsuit, and cover up again when I get out. Easy-breezy beautiful covered girl. hahaha (get it? Cover Girl… covered girl… yeah… :P)

    I’ve covered up so long, I don’t notice the stares so much, but I could do without the awkward social interactions. I think the sweetest but most awkward conversation is when a complete stranger thinks I must be insecure/ashamed of my body or something like that [Um, no. Just. No.] and jumps into a loving pep talk full of body-positive compliments. I never know what to say —
    ~”Thanks? You, too! We’re awesome! *high five/fist pump!*”
    ~“I know my body is freakin’ awesome; do you see these muscles and super-power curves? Well, if we were in a shady place, you could see, but right now, you’ll just have to take my word for it. *flex flex/catwalk*”
    ~”I’m super hot and doing everyone a favor by covering up. By comparison, you would look just regular hot. You’re welcome. *wink/curtsy*” :P
    LOL I don’t need to be saved!

    Related to this: I was recently talking to some of my Japanese-born&raised-but-now-living-in-America friends about how common sun parasol usage is in Japan, and they complained that they wish it wasn’t so weird to carry them around here in the U.S. because they feel too embarrassed to use them here (even though they want to, they won’t). Now, whenever I see someone carrying a parasol around, I get excited and mentally shout encouragements at them (like “Fight the power!” or “Stick it to the man!”). From the outside, it probably just looks like I’m staring at them (like I think they are weird). LOL

    tl;dr (wall of text FTW!): Social conventions/expectations can be so dolphin-flippin’ subjective. Just be/take care of you.

    • Hahahaha. That makes sense.
      Actually, when I was in Texas, my best friend had this gothic lolita parasol that she always took outside, when we walked to class (we lived on a college campus. Long story). She is Chinese and didn’t want her skin to burn/have skin cancer.

      The first couple times she pulled out the parasol, I thought it was kind of funny. But after like the 3rd time, I got used to it and shrugged it off as “normal” (she wasn’t the only one on campus who had one).

      Everyone has their own preferences :)

      I always make sure to lather on the sun screen (I want to get tanned, but not burned, and not too much long-term damage). I’m hoping my face won’t go full-out leather/wrinkles when I get old, but I guess only time will tell~

      I’m glad you also stick to “you” (even if you stick out by covering up at the beach)!

  8. I had the exact same culture shock when I came to Japan 7 years ago.
    In Western Europe it’s normal to get a tan in summer. It’s seen as healthy and sexy, so everybody wants some color! ^^

    But I need to be honest, I’ve changed a lot since then. The sun in Japan is much more aggressive than what I am used to and whle I don’t mind getting a tan, here in Japan it just hurts like hell and I’m sure that it’s NOT good for your skin.

    As I’m travelling a lot, also in summer, I need to be super careful when I’m out the whole day. While I didn’t cover up anything at all, didn’t even use a high SPF years ago, I do now. Not as extreme as some Japanese women, but let’s just say I got more careful. Not because I don’t want a tan, I still think it looks great, but because I want to protect my skin from the brutal UV here in Japan in summer. ^^;;;;

    • I went through the same change as yours. When I was younger (10s-20s), I could not care less about getting tanned (I’m a Jpn man), and I used to brag about how my skin is stronger than my wife’s (white American woman) who just gets sunburned and, afterwards, freckles.

      Now in my early 40s, I can FEEL my skin is getting damaged when I forget to apply sunscreen or wear long sleeves before going out in summer. There is nothing fun and healthy about that!

      I also want to point out that the idea that darker/tanned skin is somehow “healthy and sexy” is just a cultural (and highly racialized, I would add) assumption in certain regions of the world, no more rational or normal than Japanese/East Asian preference of whiter skin tone.

      • It’s definitely a cultural thing.
        People who look pale are sometimes considered looking sick, but that’s also a cultural thing. In fact, the people who get a tan too often by staying in the sun for too long are the ones who’re really sick or at least will get sick skin in the future. :/

        • Yeah. I kind of figure as long as I stay in between the two extremes (not too pale, but not too tan), I should be fine…?

          I’ve seen the super-tan women when they hit 50, and it’s mildly terrifying. But I’ve also seen first-hand the wonders of vitamin D on your skin.
          In doses, sun is good :)

      • Yeah. I think it’s a mental/cultural thing.
        Two of the guys I dated before my husband were very white and VERY pale. And incredibly unhealthy.
        The guys I’ve dated that have been tanner (mostly because they spend summers outdoors white-water rafting, or something), have typically been MUCH more healthy and we got along MUCH better.

        But the whole “skin tone” preference thing is totally cultural/racial.

    • Yeah! After the first six or seven times I ended up with a nasty burn across my face, I keep a can of spray SPF 50 by the door. Before I leave anywhere, I spray a bunch on my face (especially cheeks, nose, ears) and whatever skin is showing.

      I’m proud to say I haven’t gotten burned in Japan so far this summer! :)

      • Thanks to my skin type I rarely get a sunburn. Before moving to Japan I’ve only gotten one once and that was in Italy when I totally forgot to put on sunscreen onto my shoulders and walked around for hours like that. ^^;;
        In Japan, I managed to get a sunburn in early April on a hanami party. So crazy!!!

        I usually just get very dark, not red, but I still think it’s not good for my skin and I also hate how the sun burns down so aggressively here in Japan that it hurts like hell.
        I have these long sleeve thingies for when I’m driving in my car. I also make sure to apply SPF50 onto my face and arms every day just for the short drive to work. T__T

        • It’s surprising how different the sun is, right? I have no idea why the sun seems so much stronger in Japan than in Texas. It’s weird. Like, shouldn’t the sun be about the same strength regardless of where you are?

  9. Anonymous // 23 July, 2014 at 3:35 pm //

    De ja vu…. I swear I seen this comic already? Yea, completely different than the west. Even Asian girls in the states show skin, lots of it. Lol. I think it’s more of a culture thing too. You look at Asian and even middle east culture don’t allow (but can) to show skin. But at the same time if it’s hot day why not? people stare too much when I take my shit off. I hate it when people stare. Could be the tattoos our my sexiness, lol. I dunno. But yeah pale skin is sexy I think, I’m talkingabout pale super white those are hard to find without freckle too. All skin tone are nice. I think the Japanese just aren’t use to being in the sun as much due to their location not being close to the equator where it’s alot hotter. You look at Cambodia, Malaysia, Mexico even California people are dark and it super hot in these area. Texas got that dry heat too.

    • Oops, you caught me! This is one of the “pre comics” that was inside an article I posted last week about my upcoming comic book. I realized since I never actually posted it, it should probably get its own post (so newcomers can see it when browsing through the archives).

      It took me years to get used to the Texas dry heat… and then I moved to Japan where the humidity is crazy. I give it like 3 more summers until I get used to it!

  10. Alkmini // 23 July, 2014 at 2:43 pm //

    I was also the only one in a bikini when I went to the beach! This is just crazy! I am sure we, Western people, are overdoing it with the sun, but not having fun at the beach is…crazy-boring-unhealthy!

    • I know!

      Thought, to be fair, when I go to the beach with just my “girlfriends” (or with Japanese girls who have spent quite a bit of time abroad), everyone wears swimsuits.
      It might have just been because we were on a triple-date? I have no idea.

      i LOVE the beach, though~

  11. Hi Grace, I also was thoroughly confused on my recent trip to Hawaii (which has a huge Japanese population) seeing Japanese people in the water with umbrellas, hats, long sleeve shirts, and tights and, mind you, it was between 80 to 85 degrees. Upon asking some of the Hawaiian citizens about this they explained the cultural belief in Japan that lighter skin signifies a higher class and indicates that the individual works inside which is more desirable than outside. Being of African descent this sounds like racism to me and looks absolutely ridiculous. I commend you for leaving the skin color conscious ladies on the shore and enjoying the beach and the beautiful day that you were blessed to enjoy. People still have a ways to go in embracing all skin complexions!

    • Anonymous // 23 July, 2014 at 3:43 pm //

      Yup dark skin mean u a field worker. Ain’t nobody got time fo dat! Pick dem cotton! Don’t make me bring the whip out!lmao. Just playn. Yup, that is a policy that been embedded into the Asian culture the darker u is, the less dey look and wana talk to u.

    • That’s a pretty standard explanation, I think. I’ve heard the same thing.
      I don’t know how much of that still remains (because people of any class can easily avoid the sun) – but I do know a lot of my Japanese friends (like both of my husband’s sisters) think that tan skin looks gross and ugly.
      The belief that “pale skin looks the best” is pretty standard here.

      My husband was always out in the sun, so he completely missed that boat. He thinks I look good no matter how tan/pale I am, though.

      • I agree that is a standard explanation, but the meanings change over time, too.
        In the 1970s-90s, when the threat of UV was not widely known, having “komugi-iro” (literally, “wheat-colored”) skin was viewed as being healthy and sexy. If you look up, say, travel agencies’ and airlines’ summer campaign ads (for trips to Okinawa, Hawaii, Bali, etc.), you would find super-tanned Japanese bikini models on the beach. In these times, perhaps, getting tanned skin was a sign of him/her having enough disposable income and leisure time to travel exotic southern islands!

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