At first glance, the cover of Japanese Schoolgirl Confidential: How Teen Girls Made a Nation Cool by Brian Ashcraft and Shoko Ueda reminds me of one of those horrible "How to Draw Manga and Anime" books you see at the back end of the manga section at book stores. A few sentences into the first page I knew I had judged it unfairly.
Japanese Schoolgirl Confidential contains a wealth of information packed into one convenient place. It is obvious that every section was meticulously researched, though there were a few small errors where detail is concerned. It was also written in an extremely familiar, engaging, and informative style, making it a breeze to read through what would otherwise seem like dense histories and analysis of what exactly makes the Japanese Schoolgirl so unique and vitally important within Japanese culture.
The book's contents are as follows:
- Ch. 1 Uniforms "Sailor girls"
- Ch. 2 Music "Idol worship"
- Ch. 3 Movies "Girls on film
- Ch. 4 Shopping "Material girls"
- Ch. 5 Kogals, magazines, & books "Cover girls"
- Ch. 6 Art "Artist's muse"
- Ch. 7 Games "Play girls"
- Ch. 8 Manga & anime "Comic icons"
You will learn why and how so many different schoolgirl uniforms came to be, how fashionable styles changed due to the women wearing them, their influence on the music, film, and animation industries. Why Japanese schoolgirls are always the focus of horror films, of visual novels, and why are there so many idol groups. Even more importantly, you will gain a better understanding of the historical and cultural events that shaped the way we have and do look at schoolgirls as a part of Japanese society.
At first, the formatting of the book may be a bit of a turn off, but the more you delve into Ashcraft's analysis, interviews, and explanations, the more the many pictures littering the pages and the sparkling diamonds bordering captions seem to feel right.
It's more than just the interesting facts you'll learn reading this, it's the little tidbits that really make you think about Japanese society as a whole. For example, when diving into the Japanese horror movie scene:
Schoolgirls are a good-to-go stock character for Japanese horror films. In a way, they're the Japanese equivalents of sorority girls in the 1980s American slasher films…. They're also seemingly easy targets, which makes them all the more terrifying if and when they become the killers themselves. p.71
'I think the reason why there are so many Japanese schoolgirls in horror movies,' suggests Kuriyama, 'is that when Japanese parents don't want their kids doing bad things, they'll say, 'If you do that a ghost or a goblin will get you.' So it makes sense to use school kids or young girls for horror movies in Japan.' p.71
The uniform fundamentally suits the Japanese. Not just because they provide conformity, but because they provide a sense of belonging to a group – something that is extremely important in Japanese society. p. 141
On schoolgirls and society
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. p.145
'I feel that if society looks at the purity of schoolgirls, it can see the future,' says Kobayashi. 'There's hope. These girls represent the Japan of tomorrow.' p. 146
In a sense 'schoolgirl' doesn't simply mean young girls in sailor suits, it describes half the country, it's a stage in a woman's life. It's the female experience. p.146
'Schoolgirls represent possibilities,' says Ueda, echoing the common theme. 'They're young, they're inexperienced, they can do anything, and at that age, they have a freedom that older people don't have.' p. 194
Japanese Schoolgirl Confidential - Verdict
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in learning more about Japanese schoolgirls, Japanese culture, and young women in Japan. You'll probably binge read it, I certainly did. If you are looking for a paper topic for your Japanese culture or women's studies class, this book would be a place to start looking for topics, and a source after you find one.
It really is a true celebration of female youths and youth culture in Japan.