I was delighted by a particular anthropological phenomenon that I observed this morning. In nearly two years of daily life in Japan, it was the first time I’d encountered it.

I saw a girl on the train in front of me, putting on her make-up on the way to school. That’s not unusual at all. I frequently see women curling their eyebrows with those barbarous-looking tongs as the train judders over a particularly rough set of points. They seem to manage it without any injury, which is quite a feat on a shaking, crowded train.

Today, though, the girl in question was attacking her eyelids with something that looked like a small version of those one-shot tooth flossing sticks. It was a plastic stick of about five centimetres in length, terminating in a semicircle which was closed off by a flat piece. The shape approximated that of a stirrup, if that makes it any clearer. She was poking the flat end into her upper eyelid, occasionally transferring the stick to a small bottle containing some liquid.

Then I worked it out. Epicanthic fold glue. Epicanthic folds (and I think I’m correct with this terminology) are the folds in the eyelids of East Asian peoples that gives them that distinctive appearance. It seems that she was poking and fixing her eyelids to get them to open in precisely the right way. Whether this was to make them more regular, or less “Asian” looking*, I couldn’t say. I’m going to see if I can find out more about the phenomenon.

* Sadly, there seems to be a sort of (unjustified) inferiority complex among some Japanese women regarding beauty. I don’t know what the root is, but it is fed by the media: all the adverts for whitening creams and foundations (to hide “yellow” skin tones?); the extensive use of Caucasian models in fashion and cosmetic advertising; the celebrities who have undergone blepharo- and rhinoplasty (plastic surgery of the eyelids and nose) to change their appearance.