Reading the Modern Boy in Interwar Japan

Debbie Chan3

3University of Western Australia, , Australia

Fictional narratives featuring the modern girl modern boy have been analysed in contemporary literary studies by focussing solely on representations of the modern girl, without interrogating how the modern boy has been constructed and the significance of such representations in our understandings of gender construction in interwar Japan. This paper examines two fictional narratives written in the 1920s, focussing on how modern masculinity was portrayed in these stories – the quintessential ‘modern girl’ narrative, Tanizaki’s Naomi (1925), and The March of the Lives of the Moga Mobo (Moga mobo seikatsu kōshin kyoku 1929) which was serialised in women’s magazine, Fujo kai. The male protagonists of these stories embody the hallmarks of modern boy masculinity – their penchant for western fashion, romantic liaisons with modern girls, and an emotional trajectory of growing self-doubt and despair over the course of the narrative due to the actions of their modern girl lovers. I argue that these constructions of modern boy masculinity were used to articulate anxieties about the increasing autonomy of women and the emasculating impact this was perceived to have on masculine identity and authority in a heterosexual relationship dynamic. Ultimately, these representations problematised the Japanese man’s embrace of western modernity and functioned as a didactic warning to readers of what not to become in their search for a modern masculine selfhood in interwar Japan.


Debbie Chan is a PhD candidate in the department of Asian Studies at the University of Western Australia. Her work explores the Modern Boy as a new type of modern masculinity by critiquing visual and literary culture of interwar Japan and Japan’s project of nation-building and international positioning in the early twentieth century.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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