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A confident young Japanese woman in modern dress and hairdo during the early Showa Period (1926-1989). Japanese women first started to experiment with Western fashion during the Meiji Period (1868-1912). By the 1920s, the trendy moga (modern girl) sporting the latest Western fashion and short fashionable hairstyles, had made her entry. (Inset shows current Japanese hairstyle).
An increasing number of urban young Japanese embraced Western culture wholeheartedly during this period. They dressed in Western styles aspiring to look like Western flappers and listened to Western music, especially jazz. Moga read newly launched magazines which featured articles and fashion tips on the moga lifestyle. To these young people, Japanese culture seemed outdated and from the past.
Modern Japanese women on advertising posters for the Shukan Asahi (Weekly Asahi), a weekly magazine that was established in 1922 (Taisho 11) and is published to this day. Left: 1922 (Taisho 11). Right: 1933 (Showa 8).
The term moga, and the male counterpart mobo (modern boy) were loaded with political tension. The moga and mobo were often criticized for the foreign influences they absorbed and displayed.
Social conservatives felt especially threatened by the moga, whose popular image exuded sexual power, westernization and independence.
“In many ways,” writes Kendall H. Brown, a professor of art history at California State University at Long Beach, “women were at the very core of the social and cultural tension in interwar Japan.”
Both the new roles of women and modernization itself raised difficult questions.
How could one be both Japanese and modern, if modernity is defined as Western? Were modernity and Japaneseness antithetical? Or could individuals and society synthesize some new middle ground? If so, how?1
Questions that may still confound some Japanese today.
The onset of the Showa Period, with its ultranationalist ideology, spelled the end of moga and mobo, but not the end of Western fashion as can be seen in this image. And certainly not the end of Western influence. It returned with a vengeance after the end of WWII.
In the mid-1990s however, young Japanese in Tokyo’s Harajuku district started to experiment with fashion in a typical Japanese way. Many of them reached back to their Japanese roots to come up with fashion ideas.
1 Brown, Kendall H. (2004). The ‘Modern’ Japanese Woman. The Chronicle Review, Volume 50, Issue 37: B19