BeruBara Tag Boom: Pre-War Girls Magazines and Post-War Shoujo Manga

[Passionate Friendship by Deborah Shamoon goes in-depth on the topic that I’m covering today. A small database of early Shoujo Gahou

By the start of the Taisho era in 1912, Japan had made great strides in industrializing and becoming a modern country with a strong military force that had already taken control of Taiwan and the Korean Peninsula. With life in the imperial core thriving, advertisers saw an opportunity to reach new markets within the middle and upper classes. Young children, teenagers, and housewives were seen as sectors of society that had a new buying potential; this would help bring a wave of new magazines entering circulation in the 1910s focused on specific demographics that hadn’t been expressly written to before. Girls’ magazines in particular would reach their apex of popularity during the late 1920s into the early 1930s with the leaders of the cultural movement being Shoujo no Tomo(Girl’s Friend), Shoujo Club (Girls Club), and Shoujo Gahou (Girls’ Pictorial). In the late Meiji era popular romantic adult fiction of the time, Ukigumo, Yabu no Uguisu, and Futon, treated shoujo as a threat to Japanese society with their fast adoption of Western styles and ideas (or in some novels her inability to adapt to the new Japanese normal) and used her as a sexual interest for the male protagonist(s), the magazines published for shoujo treated their audience with a level of dignity not reflected in other parts of media and popular discourse. These publications brought some discourse from the adult world, like the concept of spiritual love, into a context seen as acceptable and safe for students while also fostering girls’ creativity with large sections dedicated to reader-submitted content and helping create a distinct subculture separate from the world outside of the single-sex schools that would confuse and bring dismissal from outsiders looking in. The visual and literary aesthetics formed in these magazines helped create the next generation of creative forces in girls’ media and further influence the style of the shoujo genre of the new popular visual medium, manga. Despite seeing a drop in popularity due to the changing demographics of public education, S-Relationships would have a long-lasting effect on shoujo manga with works in the 1970s still using the concept of “sameness” but in new ways with the creation of seminal Boys’ Love works, The Heart of Thomas and Kaze to Ki no Uta, and the immensely popular The Rose of Versailles. The derision from critics of some aspects of early shoujo manga for being shallow stories with little action meant that popular large panel illustrations and “style pictures” used by early shoujo mangaka, Makoto Takahashi and Miyako Maki, would evolve into new narrative devices and experimental panel layout and lettering used by later mangaka from the Year 24 Group, like Moto Hagio, Riyoko Ikeda, and Keiko Takemiya.

In the first decade of the twentieth century the first magazines targeted towards school girls were made for of all ages starting with Shoujokai in 1902 and Shoujo Sekai in 1906, these magazines focused more on the primary aged student with illustrations and photos often depicting this age group. Neither magazine enjoyed a long lifespan, but the following decade would see more magazines with specific demographics in mind begin print and the three most popular girls magazines would choose to focus on the teenage students populating the growing number of all-girls schools throughout the country, Shoujo no Tomo, Shoujo Club, and Shoujo Gahou. Shoujo Club started in 1923 and had the most subscribers of these three magazines with its content closely linked to the national curriculum set by the Girls High School Law of 1899 and had a conservative tone making it most popular with parents and teachers. Shoujo Gahou began in 1918 as a sister magazine to Fujin Gahou (Women’s Pictorial) and serialized popular stories from the collection, Hana Monogatori, by Nobuko Yoshiya, its content was also more focused on more educational subjects but also featured girls and cute animals in lifestyle portraits and photographs of nature. It would get absorbed into Shoujo no Tomo in 1942 by a war-time edict due to the paper shortage. Shoujo no Tomo started in 1908 and enjoyed the most popularity among secondary school students and had the greatest focus on creative subjects like art and writing compared to the magazines, especially once Motoi Uchiyama became editor in chief in 1931. Uchiyama strove to bring respected authors and artists to Shoujo no Tomo, being inspired by magazine Akai Tori, and printed stories and poetry aimed for a teenage readership. An important feature of all girls’ magazines from their inception was interactivity with the audience through reader submissions; short stories, poetry, contests, and art that fostered girls’ creativity and sense of a shared community. Shoujo no Tomo enjoyed the greatest popularity among its audience because it featured the most reader-submitted content among its contemporaries, especially under Uchiyama, these large sections of reader content made the readers feel like they were a part of the magazine and helped shape popular girls’ culture that lived in the pages of the magazines and in the schools. Sponsored meetups allowed girls who knew each other by reading letters from the magazine to meet in person and perform dances, music, and skits for each other while also getting to meet the beloved staff of Shoujo no Tomo and contributing writers and artists. By the mid-1930s Shoujo no Tomo featured the most reader content in its magazine, the November 1935 issue of the magazine had 14% of its nearly 350 pages dedicated to various submitted content by the readership, frequent contributors would even receive a gold wristwatch and gain access to write for a special section of the magazine called The Green Room. In the same year the more conservative Shoujo Club only had 2% of its 320 pages from the October 1935 issue dedicated to readers’ submissions. Shoujo no Tomo under Motoi Uchiyama made efforts to adopt the language of their audience and speak to them in a friendly tone as opposed to one of strict authority and this made the readers adore Uchiyama and the staff as they felt like an organic part of the growing community of girls and were greeted warmly when they would make appearances at the official Tomo-chan Meetings. Much in the way people today communicate with faraway and nearby friends through discord and social media group chats, the Tomo-chan Meetings would have a featured part of the magazine called “Tomo-chan Club” and girls who had gone to these meetings around Japan and the colonies, (by the mid-1930s Shoujo no Tomo had circulation in Manchuria, Korea, and Taiwan and they too had Tomo-chan Meetings), would write short letters to each other or even just state their general well-being and the happenings of their school life.

But even the isolated and idyllic world of these girls’ magazines couldn’t escape the reality of the growing war effort and eventual devastation of the country. The invasion of China by the Imperial Army and beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese war created a sweeping wave of censorship against any items that didn’t promote the ideals of the “New Japan”, patriotism , and the productivity of citizens on the home front so the perceived nonproductive lives of school children was attacked and in 1941 Uchiyama published an editor’s note saying that sentimentalism was clouding girls’ understanding of the real world around them and this forever created a rift between the editor in chief and the audience that once saw him as a part of their community. An eventual paper shortage saw Shoujo Gahou merge with Shoujo no Tomo in 1942 and many artists and writers that were frequently featured in these magazines were getting censored because their works promoted sentimentalism and other emotions that would interfere with a girl’s ability to be a productive member of the warfront at home. Members of the Takarazuka Revue at this time were producing war revues and movies, touring the foreign war theaters to entertain soldiers, and eventually women who didn’t live nearby were sent home and local residents enrolled in the Takarazuka Music School were taken out of classes and began working at local munitions factories. Artists whose work graced the covers and pages of these magazines were getting censored because the government deemed that their art promoted a lifestyle that made members of society, schoolgirls, unproductive and were no longer printed. Popular writer Nobuko Yoshiya, a favorite topic of discussion among contemporary feminist scholars, did not experience such censorship of her work —mayhaps because Yoshiya’s work never resists or critiques against any of the systems of Japanese society that cause inequality, like sexism and poverty, while some parrot anti-Korean racism while Japanese and some German characters are presented as beautiful and examples of elegance— in spite of the paper shortage while other important creators working in the field of girls’ and popular media were facing punishment for seemingly small infractions. Jun’ichi Nakahara, a pre-war illustrator and one of the innovators to the shoujo art style, was fired from Shoujo no Tomo as authorities deemed that his art promoted individualism, ironically Nakahara illustrated one of the volumes of Nobuko Yoshiya’s Hana Monogatori. The United States performed its first air raid of Tokyo in 1942, aka the Doolittle Raid, and began to regularly bomb Tokyo with the new B-29 Superfortress bombers in November 1942 until Japanese surrender on August 15, 1945; the apex of these series of bombings is Operation Meetinghouse, a two-day spree of mass bombing that left an estimated 100,000 people dead. Mere days before Operation Meetinghouse two atomic bombs were dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and August 9, 1945, leaving hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians dead in a span of a couple of weeks. The month of August 1945 created an inconceivable national trauma that continues to affect Japan and its citizens to this day.

In the decade following the war we see many girls’ magazines either shut down or changed their target demographic to younger, primary-aged students to capture the potential advertising market that grew due to the baby. Literary magazines were also facing competition for the teenage audience with the emerging popularity of cinema in post-war Japan, the post-war cinema boom of the 1950s brought international recognition to Japanese directors and actors like Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story and Akira Kurasawa’s body of work with Toshiro Mifune. The magazine responsible for many of the developments in girls’ culture, Shoujo no Tomo, eventually shuts down in 1955 but rival magazine, Shoujo Club, transforms into a shoujo manga magazine and gets rebranded to Shoujo Friend in 1962 and has its final name change to Bessatsu Friend in 1996. Shoujo Friend publisher, Koudansha, started a second manga magazine in 1954 called Nakayoshi/Pals and a rival publisher, Shueisha, created Ribbon in 1955 and Margaret in 1962 aimed at older teen girls. During the period of the 1950s and 1960s literary magazines were slowly making transitions from written fiction and illustrations to introducing more manga content, during this transition cinema and movie stars became the epicenter of popular culture. Despite movie stars not allowing the level of interactivity that was the norm for girl’s magazines, young actresses such as Hibari Misora and Sayuri Yoshinaga would often be featured in magazines with interviews and photospreads as fashion magazines were also becoming more popular in the era of the movie star. 

Before we venture further into the development of shoujo manga the creation of the signature look of the genre will be quickly discussed starting with the birth of jojouga/lyrical pictures. Self-taught artist Takehisa Yumeji, while also making art for advertisements, while his work didn’t feature heavy emphasis on the eyes, his major influence on the art of girls’ culture were backgrounds that evoke strong emotions and women that look physically delicate and almost dreamlike and slightly surreal. Kashou Takabatake went to multiple fine art schools training in the japanese style of “nihonga” and the western style of “yoga”, (Kyoto City School of Arts and Crafts, Kansai Academy of Art, and a private school run by former art professor Kogyou Terasaki), combining his study of Art Nouveau and nihonga Takabatake’s art featured modern women wearing both western clothes and kimono and at the time were considered to look androgynous. The women in Takabatake’s work had large, detailed eyes with small mouths and plump lips, these characteristics were also present in his works for boys’ magazines and were influential to “bishounen/pretty boy” art of the 1920s and 1930s — an art style that quickly fell out of favor with the government in the late 1930s after the invasion of Manchuria — . The final key artist to mention is someone who’s art before and after the war provided major inspiration for the lasting image of shoujo manga with his subject’s large, detailed, and starry eyes and limbs that are delicate and always posed, Jun’ichi Nakahara. Nakahara started working with Shoujo no Tomo in 1921 and after developing a good relationship with editor in chief Uchiyama he became a regularly featured artist in the magazine. The women in his pre-war work had rounded oval faces with sharp chins and also had small mouths with full lips, Nakahara, Kashou, Yumeji, and others creating jojouga for girls magazines had their characters visually represent the idea of “sameness” that was a common theme in the homosocial space of all-girls schools and S-Relationship stories with identical faces and often wearing the same school uniform that can appear a bit eerie to a contemporary viewer. In the post-war decades Jun’ichi Nakahara is still a major influence in the developing style of shoujo manga as his style has evolved to closely resemble illustrations common in fashion magazines and models in pictorial photoshoots.

The cover to the current print of two Makoto Takahashi stories, Paris-Tokyo and Sakura Nabiki

Makoto Takahashi is a central figure in the early history of shoujo manga, inspired as a teen by Nakahara and Yoshiyo, Takahashi’s own art style further evolved the large, starry eyes and emotive backgrounds while also innovating visual narrative techniques that would open the ways shoujo manga could tell deeply emotional stories without reliance on action in the immediate area. In Paris-Tokyo Takahashi names secondary characters after some of his biggest influences and has three characters that are heavily inspired by three popular teen girl actresses referred to as the Three Girls, Hibari Misora, Chiemi Eri, and Izumi Yukimura, as the sidekicks to the main character, Mayumi, who’s on a search to find her missing father. Paris-Tokyo and Sakura Namiki feature large illustrations in the first couple of pages and text outside of speech bubbles in a style more like a picture book to introduce the characters and allow the reader to see full outfits, this was originally seen as a vapid choice to just highlight fashion but these full page and large panel illustrations by Takahashi allowed for laying in pictures and more experimental narrative tools that let the audience feel the character’s emotions in a figurative sense or better imagine the intended mood of a scene without the use of text. These large illustrations and the forthcoming “style picture” also provided readers with large references to practice their drawing and soon manga magazines would provide envelopes within the magazine for fans to send in recreations of drawing as a way of talent scouting for the publisher. The influence of pre-war jojouga illustrations mean that shoujo manga have an early style of having non-literal backgrounds that evoke emotions instead of filling a panel with thought bubbles and style pictures evolve into the three row overlay and characters seemingly floating over panels to better illustrate the actions in the world around them both in the immediate space and in faraway places. 1960s shoujo manga saw more panel and layout experimentation than boys manga due to the medium itself being so young and boys manga being seen as more profitable at the time, there were more expectations placed upon mangaka for boys’ manga and action featured in smaller, six-panel pages was seen as standard practice while shoujo mangaka didn’t have as much mainstream attention allowing creators more freedom and more innovations that would see some crossover into shonen manga in subsequent decades. The Year 24 Group is a group of female mangaka born around the 24th year of Showa era (1949) that made their manga debuts around the early 1970s, many of these women made some of the most popular works of this decade and some of the most popular shoujo manga ever. Many of the women in this group, Hagio Moto, Keiko Takeyama, Riyoko Ikeda, etc, explored themes not seen before in literature intended for girls or even young women; physical and mental trauma, revolution, feminism, boys’ love, yuri/lesbianism, sci-fi, crossdressing and other non-traditional depictions of gender, the occult, and horror. Starting in the height of the girls’ magazine in the late 1920s into the early 1930s, especially in  Shoujo no Tomo under the control of Motoi Uchiyama, these magazines encouraged their audience to interactive with the staff and creators of these magazines by creating their own works and submitting them in for contests. These submissions grow and begin to create generations of girls wanting to become artists and writers having an outlet for their amateur work and through official magazine meetups they also have a community of girls outside of their school that they can communicate with and share ideas with. Some of these girls, and boys too, join the magazines or use their experience through this community to launch professional careers and take the past experiences of interactivity with their audience with them. After the war the magazines start to change from literary focused to become manga magazines that now have to compete with publications that focus on fashion or the new wave of movie celebrities, it’s during this period of infancy that early shoujo manga starts to solidify its visual aesthetic by taking inspiration by pre-war art that decorated girls’ magazines and the specific language used in old stories to create a look unique and verbal style unique to shoujo manga.

By the late twentieth-century there’s generations of creators that grew up drawing and writing through encouragement from the media they consumed that there’s a cycle of female talent that seemingly hits an unprecedented number after WWII and the Year 24 Group of mangaka start to make their debut works around the late 1970s. Many consider the Year 24 Group to have created the golden age of shoujo manga with works like The Poe Clan, The Rose of Versailles, Kaze to Ki no Uta, The Heart of Thomas, and Shiroi Heya no Futari. The Takarazuka Revue takes a different approach to ensuring a continual cycle of girls wanting to become Takaraziennes by ensuring that their musicals can be viewed by the general populace across Japan. Since the late 1950s the Takarazuka Revue has had their musicals telecast on national broadcaster, NHK, and Osaka-based broadcaster, KTV, and the Takarazuka Music School offers primary school children dance classes that always end before 3pm performances at the Grand Hall theater. After the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995 Takarazuka Revue performances began being sold on vhs so fans could still see performances once many roads and railroads in Kobe were destroyed by the 6.9 magnitude earthquake. During the years of Fuji TV’s relationship with AJW joshi wrestling gained a positive reputation and gained a large female audience through the late 1970s into the mid-1990s, starting April 1975 Fuji TV began to regularly broadcast AJW wrestling thanks to the popularity of Mach Fumiake and Beauty Pair. In the early years of the Crush Gals’ popularity AJW had a 30-minute time slot on Monday nights on Fuji TV at 7:00pm starting on July 9, 1984 and changing after September 22 1986. The immense popularity of Beauty Pair meant that AJW was getting so many applications that up until the early 90s AJW tryouts were held at the Fuji TV studios, but unlike shoujo manga and the Takarazuka Revue, AJW didn’t reinvent how they could attract a female audience after the retirement of the Crush Gals in 1989 in order to keep a pool of potential talent available to them. After 1996 AJW, and other promotions, started to struggle to get multiple trainees to their dojos, let alone have someone stay around long enough to make it to a pro test. Unlike the previous two decades there simply weren’t enough female fans of joshi wrestling and combined with dwindling awareness of the sport there’s a growing number of cases of dojos being empty or having only one trainee, and today while the sport has seen audience growth through the 2010s many talents are now inspired by men’s wrestling promotions. Watching only men’s wrestling doesn’t allow as many women to visualize themselves as wrestlers, they only view themselves as a member of the audience. Without an active effort to get women and girls back into the audience of joshi wrestling shows I find it hard to see it possible to have another boom period in the sport as seen in the 1970s and 1980s.


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