Envisioning the Shôjo Aesthetic in Illustrations of Miyazawa Kenji’s Literature.

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Helen Claire Kilpatrick


Despite an ever-growing body of scholarship on the shôjo (girl) in manga and anime, little has been written about representations of the ‘girl’ in Japanese picture books. Shôjo literature and culture have grown exponentially in Japan since about the 1980s, but there has been a tendency in popular media to overemphasise the 'cute', disempowering aspects of the ‘girl’. By using Takahara Eiri's (1999) concept of “girl consciousness” and Honda Masuko's (1992) envisioning of the girl’s imagined freedom through a hirahira (fluttering) aesthetic, notions of the powerless or mindlessly consuming shôjo can be dispelled. Such concepts help demonstrate that the girl ‘has her own creative, critical and cultural, if not social or political, power’ (Aoyama 2008: 286).

This paper examines the shôjo tropes in contemporary illustrations that were produced to accompany two tales by the renowned author Miyazawa Kenji (1896-1933), Futago no Hoshi (Twin Stars) and Ginga Tetsudô no Yoru (Night of the Milky Way Railway). Although Kenji (as he is known) is not generally considered a shôjo author, some of his works incorporate gently transgressive shôjo themes reminiscent of, for example, Yoshiya Nobuko’s Hana Monogatari (Flower Tales) from the 1920s. I argue that the current artwork of two award-winning artists, Makino Suzuko and Azuma Itsuko, reflects and enhances Kenji’s ‘girlish’ verbal images, bringing them to the fore in their accompanying imagery for Futago and Ginga by drawing on shôjo art, manga and literature. The artists thus bring into play intertextual references that occur not only across different historical temporalities but also through relations between the author, the artist, the text(s), the protagonists and the reading/viewing audience. The analysis of their striking artwork shows how they bring Kenji’s 1920s’ works firmly into the arena of the contemporary ‘girl’, expanding the abstract consciousness of the shôjo to emerging audiences in Japan.

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This essay won the 2013 Inoue Yasushi Award for the best article or book chapter on Japanese literature published in Australia or New Zealand.

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Author Biography

Helen Claire Kilpatrick, University of Wollongong

Helen Kilpatrick is a lecturer at the University of Wollongong. Her research focuses on modern Japanese literature, particularly works produced for young people and as picture books. Her monograph on the pictorialised Miyazawa Kenji is forthcoming. She is also interested in feminist visual representations of literary works, and constructions of transculturalism in modern Japanese fiction.