The New Woman and the Modern Girl in Japan: The Deviant Sisters

Kazue MUTA(Osaka University)

    In Japan, ‘modern girl’ and ‘moga’ emerged as new terms and became widely used in public discourse in the latter half of the 1920s. In Japan, “moga” had a predecessor, namely ‘new woman’ or ‘atarashii onna’ who first appeared in the early 1910s. In Western context, these two representations of women, the new woman and the modern girl, were deeply intertwined in history and did not seem to have temporal distinctions. However, in Japan, the two representations were ten years apart from each other. Despite that the “new women” was radical in their assertion and enlightened many other women, they were not able to enjoy consumer culture as the “modern girls” did. Perhaps we can say that the “new women” in Japan were premature “modern girls”.

    Even though it might be possible to consider the “new women” as secret sisters of the “modern girls,” the two did not look harmonious. The “new women” were very critical towards their younger sisters. Even the “new women” were mocked and criticized by their contemporaries in their debut in the 1910s, several of them became prominent intellectuals and were active in the debates and social events by the time the modern girl came out. They harshly criticized “the modern girls” who ventured to the society, breaking social norm just like what they had done fifteen years ago.

    What turned the two modern women adversaries? How were the two situated in broader social context in early 20th century Japan? Through examining the emergence of the new woman and the modern girl as two forms of deviant women, I would like to explicate the power dynamics brought forth by the positioning of women, while at the same time, Japan’s role also changed dramatically in the international scene in the early 20th century.