- Age of “Shōjo”: The Emergence, Evolution, and Power of Japanese Girls’ Magazine Fiction by Hiromi Tsuchiya Dollase
Since the 1990s, Japanese- and English-language scholarship on shōjo shōsetsu (girls’ fiction) and shōjo zasshi (girls’ magazines) has helped enrich our understanding of modern Japanese literature, history, and popular culture. Hiromi Tsuchiya Dollase’s monograph Age of “Shōjo” adds to this body of work, further exploring the concept of the shōjo (“adolescent girl,” p. xii) and fiction associated with girls’ magazines. Broadly speaking, Dollase’s significant contribution to the field is the presentation of a girls’ fiction genealogy from the Meiji period to the 1990s. This substantial undertaking proposes new ideas for what can be considered shōjo shōsetsu, creating a unique through line for understanding the genre while reframing a number of perspectives within shōjo studies.
Chapter 1 discusses the first Japanese translation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (1868), Shōfujin (Little Ladies; 1906), a significantly adapted work that promotes the sanctioned Meiji ideology of the “Good Wife, Wise Mother” (ryōsai kenbo). Despite its adherence to mainstream values, Dollase argues, Shōfujin marks the beginning of girls’ fiction in Japan as it introduces to readers Josephine/Jo Marsh (called Shindō Takayo/Takashi in the Japanese version), an ambitious young woman who fulfills her goal of becoming a writer.
By choosing this work as the original shōjo shōsetsu, Dollase takes a different approach from studies that locate the beginnings of the genre in the stories for girls [End Page 215] published in Shōnen sekai (Boys’ World) magazine, founded in 1895. Literary scholar Kume Yoriko has shown that girl-targeted narratives began to be published in this magazine as girls came to be seen as separate entities requiring different narratives from boys. According to Kume, Mizu no yukue (Where the Water Goes; 1897) by Tanaka Yūkaze was the first story specifically labeled shōjo shōsetsu. Such early stories for girls focused on moral lessons, indicated ideal girl behavior, or, in the case of Mizu no yukue, dramatized girlhood suffering brought about by declining family fortunes.1 Although Dollase does not discuss this particular work, she does briefly acknowledge the role of Shōnen sekai in her introduction (p. xii), noting that Kume identifies the stories published in this journal by Wakamatsu Shizuko (1864–1896), famous for translating Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Little Lord Fauntleroy, as precursors to later forms of the girls’ fiction genre. Kume describes Wakamatsu’s stories as combining romantic and fantastic elements with didacticism.
Dollase is clearly cognizant of such lineages of shōjo shōsetsu that begin with Shōnen sekai, but she creates a different genealogy. Although her study does not feature Japanese translations of Western texts except in this first chapter, her choice of Little Women as an Ur-text, “one of the seeds from which the entire history of Japanese shōjo fiction grew” (p. xv), underscores the influence of Western works in the development of the genre. Dollase also emphasizes the concept of shōjo authorship as an important part of her framework for understanding shōjo fiction. In Little Women, the young protagonist Jo (or Takashi) writes a short story that is published in a newspaper. Dollase points out that many prominent authors of Japanese girls’ fiction, especially in the prewar period, likewise began to write when they were girls and established themselves through girls’ magazines.
The next several chapters pursue this line of thought. Chapter 2 discusses the early influential girls’ magazine Shōjo sekai (Girls’ World; 1906–1931) and its role in creating girl communities. Chapters 3 and 4 explore works by the authors who emerged from such reader-writer communities: chapter 3 examines Hana monogatari (Flower Tales; 1916–1924) by Yoshiya Nobuko (1896–1973), usually considered the definitive example of shōjo narrative, alongside works by Kitagawa Chiyo (1894–1965), while chapter 4 analyzes two semiautobiographical works, Yaneura no nishojo (Two Virgins...