Slices of Japanese business, politics and life
Buff, bronze and beautiful
For the national holiday, Sports Day, I had a fitting assignment – a women’s bodybuilding competition in Tokyo.
It was my first time to cover bodybuilding, and as soon as I entered the venue I heard cheers from the 1,500 spectators eyeing 68 athletes from across Japan.
I hurried backstage to catch the competitors’ last preparations before the judging, and followed a trail of plastic, blanketing the floor, walls and furniture to protect the surroundings from the oil and skin toner creams covering the contestants.
Opening a door with a plastic-covered knob, I found the waiting room with over 30 bronzed and muscular women in bathing suits, aged from 27 to 56 and preparing for the stage.
In Japan traditionally a woman’s beauty has been in her skin’s whiteness, as well as her subtlety and frailty, as illustrated in the common saying, ”Beautiful women die young.”
But these women here were far from frail. Strong and powerful — they were beautiful in the sense that they were completely devoted to the sport, which I imagine must be a challenge in today’s Japan, where women are still sometimes encouraged to embody the concept of “kawaii”, or cuteness.
The bodybuilders stood proudly while working out with ropes and weights until their moment on stage. They helped each other dab on skin toner, giving advice to newcomers on posing.
Once the competition started, the women stepped on stage, smiling and flexing muscles that showed their long hours of training. They pushed themselves until their muscles quivered, blood vessels puffed up and sweat rolled down their hard bodies.
Looking at it through my camera lenses caused me to unconsciously hold my breath through each pose. My first impression was that their bodies were too extreme to appreciate, but as I continued snapping I imagined the tedious yet painstaking training required to attain their buff physiques.
Still, training doesn’t resolve everything. Takako Soma, a 42-year-old competitor in the sport for 13 years, told me: “I have to dab this skin tone cream a lot to hide my light coloured skin, as I can’t get a sun tan because my skin is sensitive.”