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Reviewed by:
  • Passionate Friendship: The Aesthetics of Girls’ Culture in Japan by Deborah Shamoon
  • Kazumi Nagaike (bio)
Passionate Friendship: The Aesthetics of Girls’ Culture in Japan. By Deborah Shamoon. University of Hawai‘i Press, Honolulu, 2012. ix, 181 pages. $60.00, cloth; $27.00, paper.

In Passionate Friendship, Deborah Shamoon writes that “we do not know the good girl. Studies of the normative aspects of girls’ culture in Japan have been lacking, or they misinterpret homosocial or homosexual content” (p. 138). It seems that she is asking her readers: “Do you really know any [End Page 216] good Japanese girls?” The current overwhelming popularity in the field of Japanese cultural studies of the seemingly “nonheteronormative” shōjo culture of boys love (BL) has stimulated Shamoon to undertake an academic quest to discover how the sociohistoric conditions of female (shōjo) gender/sexuality developed after the Meiji modernization. In carrying out this mission, Shamoon succeeds in reorienting our ideas concerning the historical prototypes of shōjo and shōjo culture and consequently enables us to grasp more fully their contemporary cultural aspects. The appearance of a passionate analytical engagement with shōjo studies can be clearly seen in a number of valuable recent English publications concerning shōjo, such as Laura Miller’s and Jan Bardsley’s Bad Girls of Japan (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005) and Tomoko Aoyama’s and Barbara Hartley’s Girl Reading Girl in Japan (Routledge, 2009). Each of these books presents an insightful approach to the shōjo discourse as an ambivalent cultural force in Japan. Shamoon’s Passionate Friendship must now be added to the above list, as it provides a close and insightful reading of Japanese shōjo culture (and shōjo per se) as a specific cultural discourse within the context of Japanese modernization.

Chapter 1 elaborates on certain key aspects of the notion of shōjo as presented in the works of three male Meiji-era writers. One of the primary literary characteristics of these stories that feature shōjo characters involves the ambivalent construction (or invention) of the shōjo concept, which complies with the nature of the newly introduced idea of the “West” but is ultimately rejected by patriarchal Meiji society as an “abject” other. During this period, Western cultural artifacts engendered in Japanese intellectuals both a strong attraction and an equally strong repulsion.

Shamoon brilliantly demonstrates that, in Meiji Japan, psychological confusions and anxieties with regard to the West were projected onto the figure of the shōjo, which was newly introduced or invented as a form of gender identity that differed from the traditional concept of “woman.” For example, Shamoon views the three shōjo characters in Miyake Kaho’s Yabu no uguisu (A warbler in the grove, 1888) as vehicles for the expression of ambivalence regarding Western influences, at once both accepting and rejecting them. One of these shōjo characters superficially consumes the trendy aspects of the West; another shōjo wishes to become modern but ends up confining herself to the role of ryōsai kenbo (good wife and wise mother) in the patriarchal system; while the third shōjo explores modernization by accommodating herself to the masculine idea of nationalism. As Shamoon concludes, the fact that the ryōsai kenbo shōjo character in this story is rewarded clearly reflects men’s anxiety over any Westernized and modernized shōjo who might refuse to reinforce imposed patriarchal structures. What Shamoon calls “girl panic,” as presented by these male Meiji writers, relates specifically to the masculine project of imagining the shōjo [End Page 217] as an uncanny other. However, this very ambivalence in relation to the shōjo reflects a similar reaction toward modernization and Westernization.

The most significant theme in this book involves a historical recontextualization of shōjo culture within Japanese culture as a whole. In attempting to clarify the controversial historicity of shōjo manga, Shamoon traces the genre’s origins back to the novel shōjo culture that suddenly flourished during the Meiji modernization period. Passionate Friendship helps us to comprehend the cultural development of shōjo manga as a specific genre, the roots of which may be found in the sh...


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pp. 216-221
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