Japanese Modernism Across Media


It was not until the Great Kantō earthquake in 1923, that the Modern Girl, or modan gaaru, abbreviated to moga, emerged. As Nihon No Hanga writes, “There was a sense that with the reconstruction of Tokyo, the traditional restrictive values would remain buried under the rubble.”[1] The term moga first appeared in 1924 by author Kitazawa Shuichi in the women’s magazine Josei.[2] Like many concepts, the moga was multifaceted and for many very difficult to digest. The focus of Nihon No Hanga’s fifth exhibition in the spring of 2011 entitled “Feminine and Independent,” was the moga. The catalogue included an incredibly comprehensive definition and description of the moga and I believe it does far greater justice to defining the Modern Girl than I ever could:  

In reading these constructions of the new ‘sociological type’ one sees the stacking of character traits: apolitical, autonomous, liberated from age-old conventions, animated, fond of double entendre, erotically aggressive, flirtatious, promiscuous, anarchistic, militant and Westernized. Then her outer appearance: cropped hair, short shirts, bare legs, wearing make-up and jewelry. Her behavior included ginbura or ‘Ginza cruising’ referring to going out in Ginza and moving from bar to bar, going to the movies, dancing in the dance halls and actively pursuing men. She would be seen smoking and drinking cocktails. And perhaps above all, she was an active consumer, demonstrating her financial independence.[3]

As Nihon No Hanga makes a point of stating, “No woman fitted all these traits.”[4]

It is important to note that the moga was part of the larger phenomenon of the Modern Women. The other two types of women were the self-motivated housewife (shufu) and the rational, extroverted professional working woman (shokugyo fujin).[5] All three types of women, oftentimes in widely different ways, played a significant role in challenging the existing gender norms and in general repositioning women in Japanese society. As the following collection will demonstrate, due to the fact that the Modern Girl/moga strongly stood out and caused the most controversy, she was more frequently the focus and subject for printmakers, rather than the other two types of women.[6] However, as no Modern Girl fit the long list of traits listed earlier, the prints of these moga are quite diverse, ranging from those in which the hairstyle is the sole marker of modernity to ones in which the female’s full attire from head to toe denotes her modernness.

[1] Chris Uhlenbeck, Maureen De Vries, and Elise Wessels, Feminine and Independent: The Modern Women of Pre-war Japan (Amsterdam: Nihon No Hanga, 2011), 9.
[2] Uhlenbeck et al, Feminine and Independent, 9.
[3] Uhlenbeck et al, Feminine and Independent, 9-10.
[4] Uhlenbeck et al, Feminine and Independent, 9.
[5] Uhlenbeck et al, Feminine and Independent, 9.
[6] Uhlenbeck et al, Feminine and Independent, 10.


Yamamura Kōka (Toyonari) 1886-1942

Kōka, whose real name is Toyonari, was born in Tokyo. Kōka studied nihonga at the Tokyo Art School. As his interest in theater grew, he designed numerous prints of actors and the theatrical world in the series ‘Rien no hana’ (‘Flowers and the theatrical world’), published by Watanabe between 1920-1922. Kōka self-published Dancing at the New Carlton Hotel in Shanghai in 1924.[7]

[7]  Hamanaka Shinji and Amy Reigle Newland, The Female Image: 20th Century Prints of Japanese Beauties (Leiden: Hotei, 2003), 212.



Watanabe Ikuharu's 'Competing Beauties During the Showa Era'

The remaining images are displayed The Female Image in Shin Hanga Prints: Modern Beauties


Ishii Hakutei (1882 - 1958)


 Itō Shinsui (1898-1972)