A Portrait of Shōjo
The Poetic Ambience of Japanese Girlhood
Talks / Lecture
Shōjo, the girl positioned between child and adult, is an iconic representation of femininity and girlhood in Japanese culture. A pretty and stereotypically feminine aesthetic that sometimes disguises dark and disturbing themes, shōjo has fascinated artists working in many fields from literature to manga, film to fashion, and not just in Japan. Researching the National Library’s significant contemporary shōjo collection, Masafumi Monden explores the multifaceted importance of shōjo as a cultural imagination, a complex and sometimes shocking ideal of girlish identity in Japanese popular culture that encompasses both objectification and agency, desire and identification.
Dr Masafumi Monden is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Technology Sydney.
He is the author of Japanese Fashion Cultures (Bloomsbury, 2015). His fellowship is supported by the Harold S. Williams Trust.
Speakers: Alex Philp (A), Dr Masufumi Monden (M)
Location: National Library of Australia
A: Good evening, everybody. Look, I’m really sorry to interrupt your conversation, sounds like you're having a lovely time. My name’s Alex Philip, I’m the Director of Overseas Collections here at the National Library and I’d like to welcome you to our beautiful building on this lovely chilly Canberra winter’s night. So nice to see so many of you. Before we start I’d like to acknowledge the Nanbury and Ngunnawal people who are the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet today and to pay our respects to their elders past and present.
It’s an absolute delight for me to introduce this National Library Fellow presentation, A Portrait of Shojo, the Poetic Ambience of Japanese Girlhood by Dr Masafumi Monden. Dr Monden is post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Technology Sydney, specialising in Japanese fashion and culture. He lectures and publishes widely in the areas of men’s and women’s fashion, Japan art, youth and popular culture. His first book was published a couple of years ago titled Japanese Fashion Cultures, Dress and Gender in Contemporary Japan. The book details the relationship between fashion, culture and gender within contemporary Japan and its relevance to an increasingly transcultural world.
The Library’s fellowship program of which we’re immensely proud was founded to promote the Library as a centre of scholarly activity and research, to encourage scholarly use of the Library and to promote the Library’s rich and varied collections. Dr Monden is precisely the kind of distinguished scholar I’m glad we can bring to the Library through our fellowship programs. The thing I really love about these talks is seeing how the collections we’ve built over many years allow our scholars to complete their work. The Library’s Japanese collection is large and diverse and it supports a wide variety of scholarship. Alongside the Library’s fellowship program we also operate a program called Japan Study Grants which we’re hoping to expand this year across the Asian language collections in general. At this moment I’d like to publicly acknowledge the excellent work of our Japanese unit, a few of them are here this evening, over many years in building the wonderful collections we have and particularly the head of the unit, Mayumi Shinozaki, for her enduring and expert support for our researchers.
Now luckily for me I got to see a rehearsal of Masafumi’s presentation yesterday so I know what you’re about to see. I’m sure you’ll share my deep interest in how he links images across different decades and cultures by using our wonderful collections. So after his talk there will be an opportunity for questions and it gives me great pleasure to introduce Dr Masafumi Monden.
M: Thanks Alex and before starting and – well good evening and thank you very much for coming today. Before starting I’d like to thank the National Library for giving this wonderful opportunity to do my research here. I’d like to thank everyone on LG1 and in Asian Collections and especially in the Japanese unit. Without their help I couldn’t have done this so thank you, thank you.
So I’d like to start with this image, this is an image by Japanese illustrator, magazine editor and a fashion designer, [Durintunak Hada] 3:35. It was originally produced for a girls’ magazine called Shojo no Tomo or Girl’s Friend in 1940. I wanted to start with this image tonight because I think it perfectly captures the idea of shojo which is the topic of tonight’s talk. The word shojo is often translated into English simply as girl but the Japanese meaning is more complex. Visually the concept of shojo is [frankly] 4:07 ultra-feminine, adorned with flowers, ribbons, frills, flowing and flapping movements and leaf [cactus] 4:16 with bright sparkling eyes as you can see in these images. Nakahara is one of the [Taiwanese] 4:22 who introduced this graphic interpretation of shojo which continues today.
Tonight I want to focus on the two main ways the Japanese concept of shojo is expressed. Shojo manga or Japanese comics were girls and fashion. The National Library had an excellent selection of works on shojo manga in the Japanese collections and I have drawn on many of these sources for this talk. Most of the images I use tonight are also from the National Library’ Japanese Collection. I wasn’t sure who would show up tonight so this talk is a bit of balancing act. I would like to apologise to any shojo fans in the audience tonight if you find this talk a bit too academic and conversely if you are an academic this might include a bit more pop culture than you are expecting.
One of my aims for this fellowship at the National Library has been to examine the multiple ways that shojo is used as a cultural imagination. This can be a complex and sometimes shocking construction of girlish identity in Japanese popular culture. Tonight I would first like to look briefly at the concept of shojo – how the concept of shojo came into existence with the modernisation of the state then we’ll move on to look at girls’ comics and how a group of manga works have combined shojo aesthetics with dark and sometimes shocking themes. Finally we’ll look at how shojo influences fashion in Japan, signalling both its enduring popularity and its performative nature.
So how did the concept of shojo come into existence? If you look at the references in the Library’s Japanese collections we find one book, Shojo as Construction by Shuko Watanabe, which is featured at the centre of this image with a black cover, tells us that the idea of shojo was first used as an early form of social engineering in the late 19th century. In the wake of the Sakoku period when Japan was largely closed to foreign influence Japan aimed to strengthen itself to compete with European nations and America higher education institutions for young women were established to further this aim but it required young women to put off marriage and having children to attend. So the concept of shojo originally served this ideological purpose, constructed by the Japanese government in order to encourage girls to embody ryosai kenbo which means good wife, wise mother. This was an ideology inspired by Victorian notions of true womanhood, that is 19th century European ideas together with Confucian values.
According to the government the shojo demonstrated three virtues, affection, chastity and beauty and this indoctrination was aimed at female student between the ages of 12 and 17 and in this image – actually tells us how girl students in the early 1900s were dressed like because back then they didn’t have a school uniform but girl students were dressed in a specific way and this image is actually from the National Library’s Melodrama in Meiji exhibition which - some of you might have already seen it but if you haven’t you can go down to the gallery and see the real authentic version of this beautiful image among others.
But in those days the most effective way to spread this concept of shojo was to visualise and articulate it through popular cultural texts such as girls’ magazines, novels and illustrations. Despite the crafted and imposed origins of shojo it found a willing audience and by the early 1900s cultural representation of the girl were increasingly produced by shojo writers and artists for girl readers. Poetic, romanticised images of the girl were distributed through flowery sentimental fiction targeted at school age girls.
One of the most famous was female author, [Nobokosho’s] 9:32 Flower Tales, which is a series of stories about romantic relationships between young women, and this kind of shojo culture is today perceived as a girls’ delicate rebellion against the patriarchal visions orientated to world of masculinity especially in pre-war Japan. As [Hiromits Jadolisay] 9:52 points out in her analysis of Flower Tales, by consciously indulging themselves in a world of floral beauty and romanticism, which filled these shojo fictions, girl readers of such novels rejected even if momentarily the intrusion of male [codes] 10:15 and institutions in their lives. So even if it was originally devised and imposed by adult men the genre was adopted and appropriated by the girls as their own, exhibiting a degree of autonomy that has, as expert on contemporary shojo culture, [Lolan Miller] 10:35, rightly argued, became a feature of shojo culture.
[Nobokosho’s] Flower Tales have been [reissued] 10:44 a number of times with new illustrations because of its popularity and one of the artists to illustrate later editions was Junichi Nakahara whose 1939 version is pictured here. Nakahara is particularly well-known for his contribution to Japanese girls’ culture and image of shojo. He was inspired by a genre of painting called [political] 11:13 illustration or [jojoga] 11:13 which was popular [bit] 11:15 in the 1910s and the 1930s. [Political] illustration is characterised by the delicate sensibility of the artist conveyed through the combination of artistic imagination and the realism as captured in this work by Yumeji Takehisa who is the most well-known famous [jojoga] artist in Japan. And its aesthetic styles has contributed to the style post-war shojo manga which will return.
Nakahara made his debut as illustrator for the magazine, Shojo no Tomo or Girl’s Friend in 1932 when he was only 19. From 1935 he produced cover art for the magazine which is particularly well loved by its girl readers. He also edited a fashion feature section called Girl Students’ Fashion Pages from 1937 which became tremendously popular. In 1940 however against the backdrop of war the Japanese government intervened with the magazine to alter the style of its illustrations. The government influenced by the military felt its shojo images were unhealthy, too beautiful, fragile and skinny when the government was promoting more robust and stronger images of girls. Nakahara refused to give in to this and resigned.
It was reported that Nakahara’s departure broke the hearts of many girl readers who sent letters of protest to the publisher. In the covers of Shojo no Tomo changed from like this, Nakahara’s last cover in 1914 to like this which graced the cover of Shojo no Tomo in 1944 during the war period and the image of shojo that the government wanted to promote differed quite significantly from Nakahara’s ideal shojo image and you can probably see why many of the girl readers were really disappointed with Nakahara’s departure. The magazine actually lost more than 7,000 readers with Nakahara’s departure.
After the war Nakahara launched his own women’s fashion magazine, [Solay] 13:56, in 1945, first as quarterly then bimonthly. It was followed by Himawari which means sunflower in Japanese, a fashion magazine for teenagers in 1947. Himawari was renamed as Junior [Solay] in 1953 and it continued until 1959 when Nakahara became ill due to exhaustion and overwork. And in 1960 both [Solay] and Junior [Solay] ceased to exist.
While he designed many styles including European style dresses and a kimono as well as menswear, children’s wear and women’s wear, Nakahara’s fashion designs are best remembered as romantic styles for girls embellished with ribbons, frills, flower-like skirts and so on. His idea of girls, exquisitely dressed upper-class young ladies with delicately coiffed hair, large eyes, thin waist and long limbs which were and still are an embodiment of shojo in Japanese culture. And the women in these images are considered to be embodying Nakahara’s ideal shojo image and obviously they are dressed and styled by Nakahara and these images are from Junior [Solay].
Nakahara’s influenced both – many forms of visual expression of this girl tradition, shojo illustration and shojo fashion. His magazine, Junior [Solay] also featured illustrations of [Runinito] 15:33 and Chiaki Fuji among others. Their fashion illustration like art, along with Nakahara’s that you can see in these pictures, in turn influenced the graphic language of girls’ comics or shojo manga. After the war the popularity of shojo novels and the magazines were gradually taken over by shojo manga. Although not quite as popular today as their peak in the 1990s shojo manga is still a strong influence on the manga and aesthetics of shojo.
Although the beginning of shojo manga has been traditionally regarded as Osamu Tezuka’s Princess Knight in 1953 who also created the famous Astro Boy more recent studies have explored the presence of shojo manga prior to Princess Knight including the link between shojo manga and shojo novels like [Nobokosho’s] Flower Tales, the style of Macoto Takahashi and the influence [political] illustration artist such as Nakahara and [Takahisa] 16:43 on the works of [ali] 16:43 shojo manga including Takahashi’s. Macoto Takahashi in particular is known as the first manga artist to use what is today known as shojo manga aesthetics like large sparkling eyes and highly embellished graphic styles like featuring flowers and stars in the background. And this image is from one of his earlier shojo manga works published in the mid-1950s.
The rise of pioneering women manga artists such as Masako Watanabe who debuted in 1952, [Hido Komisna] 17:19 in 1955 and Miyako Maki in 1957 were followed by a group of women artists in the 1970s including Moto Hagio who are often seen as having revolutionised shojo manga and elevated the values of shojo manga as a subgenre with their choice of poetic and even philosophical themes and often subversive topics of gender and sexuality.
It is worth us taking a moment to take a look at the definition of shojo manga because this definition has become increasingly broad recently and this is partly due to the increased popularity of online publishing. Before the internet manga works were usually serialised in manga magazines first with popular works later republished in book format. Manga magazines were often segmented according to gender and age groups of target readership. [Isiko Sikor] 18:30 is one scholar who has tried to develop a framework and has articulated two fundamental definitions of shojo manga which are substantially manga that are first published in magazines targeted primarily at girls or shojo like this one, Boys Over Flowers or [Hanadan] 18:45 by Yoko Kamio which is still the highest selling shojo manga in Japan and this work is made into a - TV soap operas in Taiwan, South Korea and of course Japan.
And conceptually those manga works categorise that shojo manga because of their authors, narrative themes or graphic styles. So for example this one, You Are My Pet, was originally published in a magazine that was targeted at older age group but if you compare this You Are My Pet and Boys Over Flowers for example in terms of graphic styles they look very similar. So graphically shojo manga is often characterised by big stary eyes, flower petals scattered across the frame, [blood or irregular] 19:40 panels and highly detailed and embellished graphics.
The beauty of the principal characters is of fundamental importance in shojo manga, many shojo mangas. Flowing locks, slender limbs and elongated neck and long delicate fingers are the distinguishing characters typical of shojo manga girls’ comics and [Wakiyem Onto’s] 20:05 work is featured here and she’s known as producing very beautiful characters in shojo manga tradition, particularly in the 1970s.
But these physical characteristics have often raised questions of ethnicity in manga studies. Are these features in shojo manga meant to represent westerners? So for example [Yamoto’s] 20:31 heroine who is pictured here is wearing the kimono so she’s expected to be [courted] 20:36 as a Japanese girl and she’s actually a Japanese girl but some people read these traits of large eyes and long limbs which is also a feature in [Yamoto’s] works as confirming to Euro-American beauty ideals. And others argue that this is nonsense because these characters don’t look like real humans in the first place.
I’m not going to venture into this debate here but I do want to point out that artists like Nakahara and [Runinito] who influenced shojo manga and whose work we’ve seen were also fashion illustrators. And as you can see in these famous 1950s fashion illustrations by French Italian artist [Rune Gro] 21:28 the bodies in fashion illustrations of the time are quite exaggerated as well just like girls’ comics. So fashion illustrations might have been as much an influence as ethnicity.
Manga offers an interesting medium to examine the concept of shojo. Shojo manga has frequently been seen as a medium that is created for young women by women where women exercise creative control and expression at least to a certain degree. The image of shojo first created and promoted by men is now controlled largely by women creators.
Shojo manga vary widely in theme and subgenre but typically shojo manga has been regarded as sentimental tales that feature shy, ordinary girl whose essential values are formed by her often socially popular romantic interest. And like the ones by [Ecu Mutzi] 22:32 and [Hido Kotachikaki] 22:33 who are known as producing highly romantic and gentle and kind kind of story which happens in ordinary contemporary Japan in a high school or university. And this kind of manga was popular in the late 1970s to early 1980s.
But shojo manga has been deemed unimportant because of its focus on sentimentality and highly embellished graphic styles. There’s a modern view shared by many cultures that culture forms in artefact which are decorative and considered feminine or girlish and these are deemed less important and less worthy of examination than more masculine kinds of art. Likewise many critics claim that shojo manga has been ignored by serious scholars for the same reason, at least to a – at least recently.
Studies of shojo manga, especially by those who are interested in gender-based approach, which has been popular since the 1990s, have focused on challenging these views rather than looking at typical shojo manga like these ones. As a result shojo manga studies have tended to focus on limited aspect of the category until recently. For instance selected and often believed to be subversive works of famous artists in the 1970s like the Rose of Versailles by Riyoko Ikeda who has the heroine who is cross-dressed and wearing the male uniform and fights or fighting girls or the queer genres of boys’ love where the focus is on the relationship between beautiful boys or men. These limited studies indicate that the tendency in shojo manga studies is to favour a reading that the rejection of girlish femininity either physically or conceptually is a key to unpack the significance of the medium. As a result the more typical aspect of shojo manga have yet to receive adequate attention.
One of my aims for this fellowship at the National Library which I have said earlier has been to examine the multiple ways that shojo is used as a cultural imagination and this can be a complex and sometimes shocking construction of girlish identity in Japanese popular culture. An example of one of these more typical styles of shojo manga that has been largely ignored by scholars is a series of works from the 1980s and the 1990s. Indeed the main character is typically an adolescent girl with ultrafeminine appearance whose ambition in a desire to escape from a miserable life leads her to perpetrate lies, deceptions, betrayals and even murders. Graphically these works are girlish, feminine, really but the stories can be much darker. An example is [Mihoko Koiba’s] 25:57 manga titled Midnight Cinderella. It was serialised in 1981 in the mainstream comic magazine, [Akiose] 26:11 Deluxe which was targeted at the youngest age group of readers from primary school to about Year 8 girls.
And it tells the story of [Ruli] 26:20, an orphaned girl who is brought up by her grandmother and her grandmother works as a live-in servant at a very, very wealthy family household. And by the way the manga is set in contemporary Japan. The wealthy family’s only daughter, Noriko, is the same age as [Ruli]. At the age of five [Ruli] naively thinks that if Noriko didn’t exist she could take Noriko’s place and live like a princess and wear her dresses. That same night [Ruli] sets fire to the mansion, apparently killing Noriko and her mother. And indeed Noriko’s grieving father treats [Ruli] just as he would his own daughter, spoiling her. With a newly acquired wealth and influence [Ruli] becomes the queen of her new exclusive old girls’ school.
To maintain this position [Ruli] continues to murder those who gets in her way. She murders eight people in total including her only friend, her adopted father and her own grandmother just to stay in her dream of living like a princess. This <inaudible> 27:40 story has a further turn. In the final episode [Ruli] finally falls in love with a wealthy French man more than twice her age but on her wedding day she learns that he is – guess what? Her long-lost father. It’s quite shocking.
Midnight Cinderella is significant for several reasons. Firstly it was published in a mainstream manga magazine that was targeted at the youngest shojo age group including primary schoolers. And secondly while she shows a high level of freedom, of action and independence [Ruli] never wishes she were a boy or dress in boys’ clothing in order to act so ambitiously. This contradicts a widely held view in shojo manga studies that equates girlish femininity with a desirable passivity and oppression.
At one point [Ruli] actually said in her inner monologue that I want to have power, I have decided to live like a princess so I need power to have a gorgeous carefree life. I need absolute power. This point is emphasised graphically. As you can see in this image [Ruli] is portraying highly girlish graphic styles and opulent dresses she wears enhances this idea. Here the princess is linked to a gorgeous lifestyle and a carefree attitude by the naked exercise of power rather than hidden romantic narratives. So [Ruli] doesn’t need a Prince Charming.
As you might have guessed Midnight Cinderella still has a cult following in Japan. Many who read the story when it was published in 1981 still remember it as a shocking work and want to read it again. The book is out of print but second-hand copies command high prices, some over 10 times the original price. The owner of a second-hand book store in Tokyo who specialises in shojo manga told me that Midnight Cinderella is so popular and sought after that it never stays in his store.
Somehow less dramatic but more poetic is Marigold [Ivadata’s] 30:21 series of manga works published in the 1990s. [Ivadata] is an underexplored Italian renowned and influential manga artist especially famous in the mid-1970s to 1990s. Set in an unnamed regional town in Japan [Ivadata’s] masterpiece [Please Alice] 30:40 focus on two 17-year-old schoolgirls, [Miniko] 30:46 and of course Alice. The girls have known each other from the age of 12 when [Miniko’s] parents were hospitalised due to a serious car accident. [Miniko’s] taken in by her close relatives, and their daughter, Eriko, was friends with Alice.
As the story unfolds we’ll learn that [Miniko’s] parents never recovered and died and soon after Eriko also died with two other girls in a freak landslide that crushed the girls’ secret play house, a riverside cabin. In the aftermath Eriko’s parents adopted [Miniko]. Now 17 [Miniko] has developed a romantic feeling towards the elder brother of Eriko who goes to university in Tokyo but unfortunately he in turn shows interest in beautiful Alice. And Alice often makes suggestive remarks about the whereabout of Eriko whose body has never been found.
The story exposes suspicions around the deaths of Eriko and the girls who were playing with her and who locked the girls inside the cabin just before the landslide. [Please Alice] uses many images in its concept that are associated with established images of shojo. Mystical dreams, a missing girl, flowers, the secret play house and a merry-go-round in a ruined amusement park in their town. You can easily see the similarity in ambience to works such as Peter Weir’s masterpiece, Picnic At Hanging Rock which I believe you are very, very familiar with. And paintings of Ophelia, especially Sir John Everett Millais’ iconic version from 1851. [Please Alice’s] reference to the missing Eriko, the girls’ space of the cabin and the imagery of a girl floating on the water are typical of shojo. You might be surprised that Picnic At Hanging Rock which was first released in Japan in 1986 has been considered as a paragon on shojo aesthetics in Japan.
So for example this image is taken from one of the film magazines in the Library’s Japanese collection and when the film was released in 1986 the magazine featured this film quite extensively with a couple of essays exploring the link between Picnic At Hanging Rock and Japanese shojo aesthetics.
The name Alice and the existence of a dark tunnel in the cabin that lives underground and the key that mysteriously locked the cabin and trapped the girls when the landslide occurred also alludes to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. This original Alice is another icon described by famous author and translator, [Sumi Kayagawa] 33:58 at the [external] 33:57 shojo in Japan. While not featuring Alice – while not featuring Carroll’s Wonderland the merry-go-round and <inaudible> 34:06 amusement park in [Please Alice] also create an impression that it too is a wonderful, albeit a ruined, shabby and sad one.
I’m sorry to spoil the story for you but in the end we’ll learn that [Miniko] is accessory to the death of her own parents and locked the cabin and trapped the girls and pushed her cousin, Eriko, who escaped the landslide but was unable to swing into the water so she could take her place as a loving daughter in an idyllic family.
Alice who adores [Miniko] has hidden the body of Eriko in the amusement park under the merry-go-round and dies with the secret, floating on the river with flower petals like Ophelia on the day when Eriko’s body is finally discovered. These visual and literary references create a highly girlish atmosphere in the manga. Unlike Midnight Cinderella [Please Alice] was first serialised in the manga magazine that was targeted at much older age group. This is important as the subgenre of shojo manga that offers girls’ dreams filled with shojo aesthetics has fallen out of favour with younger readers because of its apparent lack of reality. If you think about Midnight Cinderella with a teenage girl who murders eight people you’ll get the idea. But interestingly manga-like <inaudible> 35:49 [Please Alice] that target older readers, women in their 20s for example, often use more shojo manga styles and aesthetics than those targeted at the younger readers. So instead of aiming to encourage readers to identify with shojo characters even if they are serial killers this style of manga allows all the readers to objectify and appreciate shojo on a purely aesthetic level.
This tendency becomes even more obvious in another manga work by [Ivadata] called White Satin Ribbon published three years later in the same magazine that targeted the older age group. The story focused on a girl called [Namiko] 36:41 who lives with her mother after her parents’ divorce. [Namiko’s] older sister who lives with her father, his new wife and grandmother often shows off the gifts she receives from their grandmother who never gives anything to [Namiko]. [Namiko] apparently doesn’t care about any of her gifts except a white lace dress with a big stain ribbon that Grandmother wore when she was 16. I mean this is actually the scene where the sisters find a picture of their grandmother wearing the dress when she was 16 so this is how the dress looks like.
[Namiko] is repressed, behaving like a perfect good girl to please her wealthy and mentally unstable mother who only cares about her sister but on the other hand bullying one of the girls in her class so badly that the girl attempted suicide. The grandmother’s dress is a metaphor for the familial affection she so lacks, an innocent, perfect, angelic shojo identity that [Namiko] believes she can obtain by wearing the dress.
Like Midnight Cinderella and [Please Alice] the story has a sinister turn. [Namiko’s] attempt to steal the dress from Grandmother and her older sister who keeps telling [Namiko] that the dress will be hers, not [Namiko’s] leads to the death of the grandmother. [Namiko] is blackmailed by the brother of the girl she bullied but blames her sister for the bullying and succeed in making him kidnap her as a result. With the two women who stand in her way gone she can finally wear the dress but [Namiko] is not an innocent shojo anymore. At the age of 16 she discovers that she’s too mature, too vile to fit the dress and embody the shojo ideal.
Some scholars interpret texts like White Satin Ribbon as indicating that this kind of shojo culture originally seen as a soft delicate rebellion against a patriarchal system in the pre-war period has now morphed into an idealised girlish identity that conforms to ideological gender schemes yet to obtain one. The shojo girls’ attention is directed away from outward concerns and towards her inner self.
In [Myasokochi’s] 39:15 opinion the girls’ autonomy is therefore replaced by narcissism. [Myasako] 39:21 who has written a famous series of short essays on shojo and non-shojo which is available from the Library’s Japanese Collection, argues that a girl with a sense of independence cannot be a shojo. In other words [Namiko] is too independent, too autonomous to remain the ideal shojo even though physically she perfectly embodies it.
So [Ivadata]’s 39:50 manga targeted at an older age group objectify the shojo figure and the concept of shojo itself as a construction, a performance even. White Satin Ribbon allows her readers to take pleasure in the pure aesthetics of shojo. [Ivadata’s] White Satin Ribbon is based on the idea that dress is a quintessential medium to craft and communicate the identity of the wonderful <inaudible> 40:20. So this perhaps is a good segue to the second major expression of shojo tradition that is fashion.
While some academics try to distinguish dress from clothes, styles from fashion and fashion from dress, in practice these terms are used interchangeably so dress is considered to carry symbolic meanings, it is a means of communication. But we need to be cautious because the meanings communicated through fashion or clothing can be very subtle and complex. As fashion historian Valerie Steele rightly says its meanings depend on the context, who wears it, when, along with what other clothes, what were the history of the garment? So in other words we need to have a shared knowledge or understanding to rightly interpret the meanings that dress or clothes carry.
And this also means that there are certain shared qualities of the dress or look that evoke the qualities of shojoness or shojo quality in Japanese culture and these qualities are most likely related to the idea of shojo as put forward by renowned scholar of girls’ culture and children’s culture, [Masko Honda] 41:44. Honda was one of the first and very few academics to study shojo and fashion and although her work dates from the 1980s it is still relevant to the visual identity of shojo today.
Honda links such fashion items as ribbons, flowers, frills and <inaudible> 42:06 in [Nakahari’s] 42:09 <inaudible> 42:08 of girls who wear these to the concept of shojo. Honda sees the state of shojo as a temporary state, kind of in between child and adult where girls are old enough to appreciate romantic, beautiful and often dreamy things but not required to be mature, to be responsible so they do not have to prioritise functionality over aesthetics. And since they are spared of much social responsibilities and the concerns at least temporarily they can appreciate anything romantic, dreamy and largely impractical things on the purely aesthetic level. So Honda, the shojo is most likely schoolgirls who are yet to be moving onto the society as a fully responsible adult.
In delicate and impractical fashion items which Honda calls hira due to the way they flatter in Japanese are the visible manifestations of this state of shojo. For Honda this fashion aesthetic of flowing lace, frills and ribbons signal the lightness, the legacy and transient freedom ascribed to a state of girlish femininity. Her idea of shojo gives a degree of independence to adolescent girls, s<inaudible> 43:32 them from children but also from mature women and that was what Nakahara was doing with his designs as well because he designed dresses for – specifically for girls who are not children but not women – mature women either.
The dress styles of Victorian period upper-class girls have had a significant impact on Japanese shojo fashion aesthetics. Victorian era fashion as portrayed in John Tenniel’s famous illustrations of Alice in Lewis Carroll’s books is an obvious example of this. The three virtues of shojo in pre-war Japan, affection, chastity and beauty, also dovetail with ideals of Victorian feminine beauty, maternal, childlike and modest as well as healthy, natural and virtuous. The film, Picnic At Hanging Rock, comes to mind again here. Praised by Honda as an eternal tale of shojo the girls in the film wear white high-coloured lace or [frilly] 44:25 muslin dresses just below cuff-length, most of them with flowing locks and black stockings as you can see in these images.
<inaudible> 44:49 girls is signalled by the relatively short little girl dresses and the lightness of the garment which echoes Honda’s [hira hira] 44:56 aesthetic. When Irma, the only one of the schoolgirls to return, visits the college to bid farewell she wears a long floral-patterned dress that reaches her toes, covered with a vivid red cape and a matching hat atop neatly coiffed hair, so signalling her transition from the shojoscape or girlscape into womanhood. So in the film the college is a metaphor of girlscape and while she’s in the girlscape she dresses like these white frilly and lace dresses but once she leaves this girlscape she dresses like a mature lady.
And like Alice, Picnic was and still is loved by a certain group of women in Japan due to its dreamy art direction and dresses and its [exquisite] 45:53 maidenly ambience. In fact light lacy frilly dresses in pastel shade that resemble the muslin dresses worn in the film are still popular in Japanese fashion culture today and these images are from recent issues of Seventeen and Nonno which are two of the most popular fashion magazines for young women. And these are from another very well-known magazine – street fashion magazine called Fruits and these women are actually not models but these ordinary women are on the street so you can see like these kind of frilly girlish dresses are still going on in Japan, at least in Tokyo.
The National Library has a good collection of Soen, one of the oldest high fashion magazines in Japan. Unlike magazines such as Nonno and Seventeen Soen often features more stylistic, flamboyant and haute couture dresses but it also regularly features fashion spread with lace, ribbon and flowers like this one dressed by Jane Marple which is a fashion label very well-known for producing [highly] 47:08 girlish and often European-inspired styles. And remember these items and styles are closely linked to shojo aesthetics and these fashion features are almost always associated with shojo so these are always – almost always described as shojo-like or shojo style or girlish.
And often actresses like Nana Komatsu and [Iamena Kasuro] 47:38 who are strongly linked to the idea of shojo through the roles they play in films and TV dramas <inaudible> 47:45 these shojo-themed features, their lithe figures resembling Junichi Nakahara’s shoji illustrations as well. And in this feature of famous Japanese fashion designer, Rei Kawakubo, and her new line for women, Comme des Garcons girl uses floral embroidery, frills and lace which the magazine describes what shojo longs for and it is worth noting the magazine has named the feature the eternal shojo that Comme des Garcons suggests so we see Honda’s girlish aesthetic of hira hira is still relevant today when describing dresses with lace, frills, ribbons and floral embroidery.
Significantly Honda’s idea of the shojo fashion aesthetic is that, while embellishment such as ribbons signal girlishness in modern times it simultaneously draws attention away from the body of the one who wears it by concealing its shape and so perhaps avoids eroticisation. Honda argues that the decorative fashion items of hira hira allow the simultaneous denial of womanhood and emphasis of femininity. So in other words shojo fashion with frills and ribbons like the one in this image can [up] 49:15 and hide the shape of the body while accent – they accentuate girlishness. The idea of girlish beauty without eroticisation is actually remarkably similar to the design philosophy behind Rei Kawakubo’s better known aggressively geometric anti-fashion couture.
Fashion for young women and adolescent girls in particular tends to be polarised between overt sexualisation and passive modesty and it’s increasingly difficult to find in-between styles on this d<inaudible> 49:51 continuum. Contributing to this is a tendency in Euro-American societies in particular to regard girlish femininity negatively with adolescence viewed as an unfavourable, unstable and even pathological stage of life that requires adult intervention and regulation. So in some respect this concept of shojo is innovative, not just an imposed idealised construction but a mode of girlish identity embraced and manipulated by girls and young women themselves.
To sum up shojo started as ideological political construction in order to modernise the Japanese nation however the aesthetics of shojo have been gradually co-opted by the original target audience to serve their own agendas. Shojo manga, created by women for young women, has offered an ideal accessible medium to develop, reflect and experiment with shojo as a culture imagining. Beneath a dreamy aesthetic the frills and lace, even mainstream shojo can present a complex, nuanced and sometimes shocking picture of girlish identity in Japanese popular culture that encompass both objectification and free will, desire and identification. Shojo can be ambitious, cruel and cultivate a high level of independent action.
Shojo ideas can also be expressed through fashion with such fashion items as lace, frills, ribbons, revealing femininity and beauty while concealing the body and over-eroticisation. In shojo we can see a different expression of the same radical fashion ideas that raised Rei Kawakubo to international acclaim. And best of all the National Library has an excellent representation of both theory and manga in the Japanese collection.
I hope I’ve inspired some of you tonight, whether you are an academic or a shojo fan, to take a closer look. Thank you.
A: Well Masafumi, that was fantastic, I just loved it. At home I have a 10-year-old who’s at primary school who loves his graphic novels but I’m definitely not pointing him towards Midnight Cinderella. Maybe when he’s a bit older. Look, at the start of your talk you apologised to the academics and to the pop culture fans but I think you beautifully brought a narrative from our collections and from your experience which beautifully brought in both sides so thanks very much and thanks for making it so entertaining. Look, we do have a few minutes for questions if you’d like? Put your hand and – oh lady straight at the back first up.
Au: <inaudible> 53:12 I’m immediately thinking you know the Nemesis book and that whole notion of Miss Marple as the <inaudible> 53:24 encountering all of these violent deaths. Do you think the designers who created that label were deliberately and consciously engaging with that? Or is that –
M: I’m not 100% sure about her design but she named her label after the character so she –
Au: <inaudible> 53:45.
M: There’s a high possibility that she is, yeah, incorporating it.
Au: <inaudible> 53:56.
Au: Thank you very much, it’s a <inaudible> 54:05 most interesting. You mentioned the big eyes and you mentioned the long limbs but I was struck about how many <inaudible> 54:17 and I was wondering if you would say something about the hair colour, that’s one question. Can I have another one?
A: Of course.
Au: And that is that right at the beginning you said that the Japanese government actually started in 1906 or something to prolong youth and stop people from marrying early. Now in view of the Japanese demographics have they reconsidered? <inaudible> 54:47.
M: Thank you very much for very interesting questions. Firstly your question with hair, it’s a kind of really kind of <inaudible> 55:04 that is going on as well in manga studies and since – some people argue that like having blonde hair is a huge inspiration in shojo manga particularly in earlier days like in the 1970s many of the characters were actually not Japanese but in like somewhere in Europe so the stories are – many of the stories are set in Europe or America or like a fantasised or romanticised Europe, America rather than Japan. But also since manga is written in black and white and with like thin lines so in order to distinguish one character from another they used different colours of hair so if manga has two main female characters like [Please Alice] 56:00, one of the girls usually having black hair and another one is having [uncoloured] 56:09 hair so sometimes what appears to be blonde hair doesn’t mean actually blonde hair in manga, yeah.
A: Great, yes, here and then maybe back up.
Au: Thank you for the talk <inaudible> 56:32 shojo is an ideology currently. Action on one hand has changed <inaudible> 56:50 shojo hasn’t changed much. What do you think drives that?
M: Do you mean why the ideology hasn’t changed or –
Au: <inaudible> 57:08 driven girls <inaudible> changed for about 60 years. I find that interesting.
M: Yeah, I think many people have different opinions but I think it’s partly because of its purely aesthetic reason so having like frills and lace kind of dresses, many people find it really pretty and cute and they relates to the idea of shojo but many people nowadays probably don’t think these are too oppressive or passive as – so the idea of shojo itself has very different faces as well like – for example if I – it sounds a little bit stereotypical but male critics tend to perceive shojo as their others so it kind of include – sometimes include bit of sexualisation whereas like female critics tend to see the shojo as - through their idiosyncratic experience as saying like I was once <inaudible> 58:23 so it’s not the other but like it’s more personal view. But it’s also like a construction so it can be kind of in between these two like – so I think for example like manga works which are targeted at older ages like [Ivadata’s] manga that I introduced today tend to objectify the image of shojo but without giving like much identification. So like she present this kind of shojo image as purely to be observed and appreciated whereas like Midnight Cinderella which has a really bizarre story but still if you carefully read it it was targeted at much younger audiences so audiences or readers are supposed to be engaging or identifying with the heroine so – yeah so quite different, different ideas of shojo, I guess.
A: Yes, this gentleman.
Au: I was interested in the early part of your presentation where after world war 2 the images were very, very western style <inaudible> 59:36 big eyes <inaudible> and they reminded me of cartoons in late ‘20s and early ‘30s in North America <inaudible> great big eyes <inaudible> that became passe but I notice that the big eyes have kept on in Japan <inaudible> not necessarily shojo but in the anime faces. Is this a derivative from that time with the big eyes <inaudible> ?
M: Again like there are lots of <inaudible> 00:09 going on when it started and who started it but I definitely think your idea of North American animation being one of the influences is really true, particularly if you think about Tezuka who produced Princess Knight which is one of the first shojo mangas. He was strongly influenced by Euro-American cartoons. And the question that is going in Japan, I think there are many reasons but one of the reasons is having a big eye is considered to be a line inviting readers to engage with the characters so if a character has smaller eyes readers tend to – tend not to engage with the character whereas like if it has big eyes and if the eyes are featured quite largely in manga pages then readers tend to more often engage with the characters so I think that’s one of the reasons.
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