Japanese Schoolgirl confidential – How teenage girls made a nation cool

‘Japanese Schoolgirl confidential – How teenage girls made a nation cool’ – Brian Ashcraft with Shoko Ueda

I bought this book at Hyper Japan in February 2012 just out of interest to read. However there is one chapter in particular which is very relevant to my symposium research project. The Japanese school girl is at the center of Popular Culture and has helped to define Japan as the eccentric, youthful and energetic nation it is today.

Chapter 6 – Art

This chapter gives an insight into the way Japanese school girls are represented within art and photography, including themes of sex, innocence and violence.

The chapter starts by talking about one of Japans most famous modern artists “Mr.” and his role with the school girl.

‘Nobody Dies’ is a short film which embodies all the aspects of the school girl. Teenage girls with airsoft guns depicting war as fun, cute and harmless. It is based on one of his paintings from 2007 called ‘It hurts when it hits the bare skin’. Directly influenced from the role of young women in Anime Mr.’s work has helped push the assumption that the best age for a woman in life is 14/15, no children, no work and no husbands, an idea that to us might seem absurd,  but in Japan the pressure of marrying and having children for young women equivalents that of 50’s Britain.

‘It hurts when it hits the bare skin’ – 2007
‘Nobody dies’ 2008
‘nobody dies’ 2008

Time out new york describes Mr.’s work and ‘Nobody Dies’…

Mr. is an unabashed fan of otaku, a geek-driven fantasy world whose denizens include pubescent girls with saucer eyes engaging in Lolita-like scenarios. His first solo exhibition portrayed these doll-like cuties as giant candy-colored sculptures that exaggerated their peekaboo innocence. Perhaps to distance himself a bit from Murakami, Mr.’s second solo exhibition, “Nobody Dies,” presents a video starring live girls “discovered” on the streets of Tokyo, along with a series of related photographs and a panoramic acid-hued painting, which seems to depict Akihabara, the massive, arcade-filled Tokyo neighborhood that is otaku’s subcultural epicenter.

The video follows the story of five tween schoolgirls who plan their revenge against a team of punk chicks who beat them in a mock survival game reminiscent of paintball. More than a half hour long, the tedious narrative weaves together silly flashbacks with a plethora of crotch shots. The accompanying photos depict the girls in front of various locales in elaborate costumes—from gingham uniform skirts to fashionista camo—designed by Mr. and Kaikai Kiki. What the viewer is supposed to get out of “Nobody Dies” is anybody’s guess, but if Mr. hopes to entice more than just otaku geeks, he’d better start giving a clue, or his own career may expire.

The next artists which is discussed in the book is Makoto Aida, who’s work I had come across before but only on anonymous bloging sites. As an adult man Makoto Aida is fascinated with the idea of the Japanese school girl.

These artists had grown up after the war, while the process of rebuilding Japan was in full swing. they experienced the rapid ascent of the japanese economy during the heady 1980’s, and came of age surrounded by pop-culutre. They drew inspiration form this-using the language of manga and anime to convey their message.
-page 128/129 Talking about Makoto Aida, Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara.

Makoto Aida. Azemichi (a path between rice fields) 1991

The book continues to write about how Aida uses the combination of innocence and sex to make his subject feel uncomfortable,.

“At the age of fourteen, I became obsessed with the magical quality young girls have,” he says. “As I get older, the age difference gets wider, and yet the almost magnetic attraction to these girls gets stronger and stronger.” But the artist emphasises  it’s not a romantic interest. Rather, it is a reminder of his youth and his ageing.
-page 129

Tomoko Sawada is a key photographer is understanding life as a Japanese School girl, understanding the abilities appearances can have for young girls. Individuality is a huge problem for Japanese school girls, living in a country with so many people how do you stand out?

In the late 1990’s Sawada used subway station photo booths to take passport-style portraits of herself. In each photo her hairdo or expression was different. Ultimately, the four hundred monochrome photos she took made us her work entitled ‘ID400’. The point was that although these were ID photos, none of them identified Sawada.
-Page 132

The passport-style photo is a key part of japanese life, it’s sent along with job applications, used for marriage match making, and remembering the “best” part of their lives, School.

Sawada then went on to create a ‘school days’ series which pushed her identity project further.

At first is appears that this is a normal school photo, but when you look closely you see that each character is the same person, Sawada. This is her exploration of individuality and shows how teenagers have the ability to be individual in the most structured environment. Maybe that is the appeal of teenagers, the freedom and individuality they possess.

Sawada, Koide, and Aida, and many other Japanese artists today, use schoolgirls in their work much in the same way French Realists like Millet and Courbet painted pheasants – schoolgirls represent the common people, they are the soul of the country and bear the brunt of society, they are the ones who keep it going. And sometimes that stress can take its toll.
-Page 135

Photographer Motoyuki Kobayashi also uses the school photo to present his thoughts on society, but in a different way.

‘I feel that if society looks at the purity of schoolgirls, it can see the future,” says Koboyashi. There’s hope. These girls represent the Japan of tomorrow. “The purity of young girls’ hearts is a common theme in Japan.”
-Page 136

Roughly half of Japans 120 million residents either were, are or will be school girls. They represent the mass. “Schoolgirls are a symbol of Japanese culture.” – Says Kobayashi

His books depict innocent, hopeful images of japanese school girls.

Keitai Girl is an image made by photographer Noriko Yamaguchi it looks at school girls and their relationship with  “Keitai Denwa (portable phone)”. Her photos are self-portrait, she has covered herself in hundreds of mobile phone key pads which concern the desire to touch.

Chapter 6 End

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