“Shiseidô’s ‘Empire of Beauty’: Marketing Japanese Modernity in Northeast Asia, 1932-1945”

Annika A. Culver


According to a 2011 news release by the company, "Shiseido is focusing on expanding sales in emerging markets with the aim of becoming 'a global player representing Asia with its origins in Japan'."[1] The cosmopolitan image of the company overlaying its Japanese identity lends itself to intriguing prewar parallels and debates over cultures representing both East and West.  As noted by Frank Dikötter in his study of early Republican Era (1912-1949) Chinese material culture: "The endless circulation, domestication and recycling of objects with the advent of the global economy has frequently offended the guardians of cultural barriers:  the notion of 'hybridity' has been used to perpetuate the illusion of 'authenticity'."[2] This hybrid "Empire of Beauty" rather than purely Japanese idea of beauty unveiled in Russia, along with Shiseidô's new Asian focus, are in fact much older business concepts dating back to the early 20th century.  Not surprisingly, like other Japanese companies in the 1930s, Shiseidô also began its advent into emerging markets in the prewar period, where the progress of cosmetic penetration into northeast Asia paralleled imperial Japan's military intrusions.

In addition, Shiseidô’s unique modernist visual culture sold images of an empire of beauty, where women consumers on the continent helped support an emerging politics of national identity in their product choices. The company's intersection of modernist advertising and national propaganda reveals the multifaceted interests of organizations like Shiseidô involved in marketing the Japanese empire and its appealing modernity.

[1] Shiseido News Release, "Shiseido to Introduce Corporate Culture and Promote Sales at Event in Russia,", 1.

[2] Dikötter, Exotic Commodities:  Modern Objects and Everyday Life in China, 5.


Japan, China, Manchuria, empire, Shiseido, modernism, national identity, Japanese military expansion

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5195/shashi.2013.16


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