Jogakusei: A Cultural Icon of Meiji Japan
University of Kansas
East Asian Languages & Cultures
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The term joshidaisei, female college students, is often associated with an image of modernity, stylishness, and intelligence in contemporary Japan, and media such as TV, fashion magazines, and websites feature them as if they were celebrities. At the same time, intellectuals criticize joshidaisei for focusing too much on their appearance and leading an extravagant lifestyle. In the chapter, “Branded: Bad Girls Go Shopping” in the book Bad Girls of Japan, Jan Bardsley and Hiroko Hirakawa assert that male intellectuals have criticized the consumer culture of young single woman, which joshidaisei has been a major part of, as a cause of the destruction of the “good wives, wise mothers” ideal, which many people still consider to be the ideal for young women in Japan. I argue that educated young women have been a subject of adoration and criticism since the Meiji period when Japanese government started to promote women’s education as a part of the modernization and westernization process of Japan. It was also the time when people started to use the term “good wives, wise mothers” to promote an ideal image of women who could contribute to the advancement of the country. Thus, it is crucial to analyze jogakusei (schoolgirls) in the Meiji period to understand the image of educated women in Japan and the public view of those women. The Meiji period was the time when Japan went through rapid modernization and westernization in order to catch up with Western countries, and many scholars such as Carol Gluck have done significant work discussing the history and ideology of the Japanese populace during the Meiji period. Yet, there are fewer studies that focus on the image of jogakusei during the period despite of the significance of jogakusei who were the first women to be able to obtain higher education in Japan. Thus, in this thesis, I will analyze the culture and lifestyle of jogakusei during the Meiji period. I will focus on how the media, especially novels, treated jogakusei, and in so doing, I will to show how educated women were regarded by intellectuals during that time. In the last section, I will discuss the image of joshidaisei in contemporary Japan to compare the status of educated women in contemporary Japan with the status of educated women in the Meiji period. This research will show that both jogakusei and joshidaisei have been subjects of the public gaze in both positive and negative ways. Both in Meiji Japan and in today’s Japan, women with higher education who combine youth, modernity, and intelligence are adored and cherished by the public. Their modernity is often symbolized by their modern fashion and attitudes. Students, especially those who attend universities that began as mission schools, are often associated with the ability to speak English and have the reputation of being stylish, which was also the case during the Meiji period. Those female students attract people’s attention; however, at the same time, people also criticize them for their culture and lifestyle, when they are seen as undermining morals or threatening to change society.
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