Source: Dukecitychica (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Plastic surgery in Japan

Japan is an image-conscious society. Just take a train during a weekday morning rush hour. Businessmen have on pristine suits with ne'er a wrinkle, while businesswomen look just as sharp with expertly applied makeup. Even school-age children, more often than not, wear school uniforms that can be surprisingly dapper.

Indeed, in most situations, it seems the expectation is that you look your best. Perhaps part of the culture's save-face attitude, citizens pay a lot of attention to superficial appearances. A former boss and long-time ex-pat resident once said to me, "Japan is a place where people make judgments based on appearances, and people have no qualms about doing so." He seemed to be describing an expectation that if someone is worth your time and attention, they will put in the prerequisite effort to appear so. Maybe—or maybe not—native Japanese people would agree.

Regardless, the effort that consumers invest in their appearance seems to have something of a dark side. In order to look suave, some residents will go to lengths that westerners would consider extreme. Women seek controversial skin whitening products that contain hazardous materials. Many young residents have self-esteem issues, and young women in particular are feeling less confident about their bodies. As a result, the number of underweight females is increasing in recent years.

A Surge in Surgeries

An unexpected problem has appeared in Japan during the COVID-19 outbreak. Separate from infections, a surge in demand for plastic surgery has taken medical professionals by surprise. A 23-year-old female nurse told Kyodo News, "There are many people who want eye surgery of facelifts. Some parents and children come together to get double eyelid surgeries."

Likely, clinic patrons saw an increase in downtime during the lockdown as an opportunity to get the operation they wanted finally. Nevertheless, their timing worried doctors who strongly discouraged nonessential treatments during the outbreak. The increase in operations also strained supplies as individual hospitals and clinics were forced to limit the use of gauze and the like during procedures.

Seeking Surgery Abroad

According to the Huffington Post, plastic surgery is all the rage throughout Asia, including Japan. The East Asian island nation ranks 8th for the most operations per capita. It is also home to the 4th most plastic surgeons of any country.

Nevertheless, Japanese residents interested in a nip and tuck often make reservations overseas in South Korea. Operations in the peninsular country are relatively cheap, but still high-quality. South Koreans themselves are also largely permissive of the practice, receiving more than 650,000 operations in 2011 alone.

It’s hardly any wonder that Japanese consumers are drawn to the allure of cheap and effective procedures. GNG Hospital Global, for example, followed a Tokyo consultant as she returned for a third time to the country for a third nose revision. While the video clearly promotes the hospital, it is also is representative of what many young Japanese people experience when they opt for plastic surgery.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Consultant Momo arrives in South Korea for her third, and final, nose revision—and some shopping in the meantime. Her procedure is scheduled at 1:00 PM the following day.

The next day, she arrives at GNG hospital and prepares for her checkup, where nurses draw her blood and perform other preparatory procedures. Next is her consultation, where she signs the necessary documents, has an X-ray taken and is shown to her room. Later she meets with her doctor, who explains what the surgery hopes to accomplish.

In the second video, Momo gives a post-op interview. The procedure slightly broadened her nose and fixed the discomfort she originally felt. Friends and family reacted positively to her new appearance. More importantly, she feels better about how she looks and is more confident in dealing with people.

Common Opinions

Although Momo seems satisfied, what do everyday Japanese people think about undergoing plastic surgery? YouTube channel Ask Japanese performed street interviews to find out what residents thought:

Indeed, opinions seem mixed, with women apparently more open to the idea of receiving plastic surgery. By and large, Japanese society looks down on cosmetic surgery, and many don't think it creates true beauty. However, individuals are free to make their own decisions.

On the other hand, it seems that young women are continually exposed to the prospect of changing their appearances. Many have friends that have undergone minor procedures such as changing their eyelids or reshaping their noses. Operations involving parts of their bodies other than their face are less acceptable.

By - Luke Mahoney.