How Are These Depictions of the “Modern Girl” in Taishō Japan and “Post-Modern” Girl in Contemporary Japan Similar? How Different?
The people were socially divided into hierarchical classes. The most powerful warlord, the shogun, ruled almost as a dictator. He did not allow popular participation in government. Leaders severely limited contacts with the outside world. Japan was seen as a “closed country” that engaged in diplomacy with few of its neighbors.
This has the tendency to minimize all women's activism unrelated to suffrage, while simultaneously taking all suffrage-related activity and overemphasizing its impact on a society. The idea that a feminist movement exists outside of a suffrage battle is something that seems secondary to Western feminist scholars. The study of Japanese feminism is no exception to this rule.
Socially, the Taishō Period is often remembered as the so-called “jazz age” of Japan. Both influenced by and similar to the Roaring Age of innovation and excitement of the 1920s in the United States, the period saw a proliferation of social expression through magazines, movies, cafe and urban culture. This was the period of the moga who was, in essence, the Japanese flapper: a sexually liberated, urban consumer who symbolized a new freedom of the individual and liberation of that individual from the past. While some in the state insisted that modern and imperial could continue hand in hand, the apparent disagreement was evident in the varying role and portrayals of women (Huffman, James L., 2010). As the Taishō period came to an end, in 1925 the Universal Law of Male Suffrage was passed (notably barring women from voting). Tension regarding the roles of women would continue to exemplify an aspect of Japan’s ongoing complex experience of modernity. In 1888, the Japanese government under the Meiji emperor adopted its first written Western-style constitution. The Constitution was modeled after the Prussian constitution of the time, providing for a government in which authority emanated from a hereditary emperor whose government ruled for the people. In seeking to define the role of the people, the Meiji Constitution outlined the responsibilities of subjects to the emperor and nation, with discussion focused on duties rather than rights. The promulgation of a written constitution was also orchestrated as part of a massive effort to modernize the nation, drawing upon Western ideas of liberalism and social modernization. Such renovations, Japan’s leaders understood, would help to give it international standing in the world of increasingly democratizing modern states (Goto-Jones, Christopher, 2009).
Some scholars look at women as the target of government policies; some examine women as agents of some part of the state; some are interested in women in organized or institutionalized politics or movements; some study women in groups that articulate with state power; and others look at the discourses about women and the state.
Goto-Jones, Christopher. Modern Japan: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2009.
Huffman, James L. Japan in World History. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2010.
Gordon, Andrew. A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2013.