Eating, Chatting, and Talking Back: Japanese Modern Schoolgirls’ Agency in the Early Twentieth Century


The eyes are important interpretive tools when analyzing modern schoolgirls of the early twentieth century. Scholars in the field of girlhood, such as Kan Satoko, have pointed out that modern Japanese girls’ culture is characterized by sentimentality. The eye, an organ that exudes tears, has many symbolic meanings in the modern subgenre of girls’ novels. Illustrations show luminous brown eyes filled with tears. According to Takeda Shiho, girls’ tears often signify nostalgia, sorrow, and lament over the loss of their female friends in novels in girls’ magazines. This study focuses on another body part that carries a symbolic valence: schoolgirls’ mouths, which are contested terrain. I argue that schoolgirls’ mouths, or rather their use of the organ, serve as a potential instrument for social change in girls’ culture. This paper offers a reading of the “speaking mouth” and the “eating mouth” of schoolgirls in girls’ novels and illustrations in schoolgirls’ magazines such as Shojo Gaho [Girls’ Pictorial] and the satirical magazine Marumaru Chimbun [Comic Paper]. Schoolgirls create a unique language that is used only by them. They also eat out and chat while eating—an act contrasted with feeding children and husbands at home. They are audacious enough to talk back to their parents and teachers. By interpreting schoolgirls’ eating and talking mouths, this study demonstrates how they function as an emblem of struggle against the traditional (and patriarchal) norm and reclaim control over their own bodies.

Author Information
Yu Umehara, University of Tsukuba, Japan

Paper Information
Conference: IICAH2022
Stream: Literature/Literary Studies

This paper is part of the IICAH2022 Conference Proceedings (View)
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To cite this article:
Umehara Y. (2022) Eating, Chatting, and Talking Back: Japanese Modern Schoolgirls’ Agency in the Early Twentieth Century ISSN: 2432-4604 – The IAFOR International Conference on Arts & Humanities – Hawaii 2022 Official Conference Proceedings
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon