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Japanese Schoolgirl Confidential: How Teenage Girls Made a Nation Cool – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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She’s part samurai, part geisha, and is taking on the world. Whether it’s in anime and manga like Sailor Moon and Neon Genesis Evangelion or in videogames like Street Fighter, the Japanese schoolgirl has become the new icon of Japanese cool. With chapters covering everything from sailor-suited pop-idols and cult movie vixens to the power of shopping and uniform fashion, Japanese Schoolgirl Confidential: How Teenage Girls Made a Nation Cool discovers the secrets behind this iconic creature. Learn from the origins of their famous sailor-style uniforms, and how they became a brand used to sell anything from kimchi to insurance. Discover why these girls have become such a symbol of girl power, and why they are so very, very cool!

The Japanese schoolgirl. The mere word brings forth a multitude of imagery, ideas, fetishes, and most certainly stereotypes. Viewed within anime and drama series, advertisement, music, film, video games, and yes, even the political realm, the Japanese schoolgirl has been a symbol to not only Japan, but the world as well. It’s this transformative representation of Japanese soft power that has garnered it considerable weight within the international scene and has certainly brought about speculation concerning the phenomenon. What authors Brian Ashcraft and Shoko Ueda have done with Japanese Schoolgirl Confidential is delivered perhaps the most comprehensive compilation of the Japanese schoolgirl to date, bringing forth a myriad of informative insight in order to demystify the schoolgirl as is.

Chronicling the rise of the Japanese schoolgirl through eight elaborate chapters, Japanese Schoolgirl Confidential explores the various facets that contribute to Japanese culture and their relationship with that of the schoolgirl. Exploring the socio-anthropological structure of Japan and their understanding of the schoolgirl, the book takes an extensive look from the very foundation of the school uniform within Japan in the 1800’s, all the way to it reaching worldwide recognition throughout a diverse range of mediums. This delicate exploration offers a look into the world of Japanese schoolgirls and the many unknown facts concerning them and their role within Japanese society. Reading the book, one will discover numerous details regarding the starting point of many popular trends and ideologies surrounding the schoolgirl, which is certain to surprise many readers. From sexuality to feminism, the boundaries of what entails the schoolgirl are largely explored within the book, and we are offered a more complete understanding of a very controversial subject.

Another one of the book’s strengths is that it works as an informative guide towards the historical lineage surrounding the Japanese schoolgirl. A lot of this information isn’t exactly well known outside the capacity of Japan, and unless one has done extensive research into the matter, this information will be extremely enlightening as well as surprising. The book offers a historical treatment of the material in a fashion that is entirely accessible to those individuals with little to no knowledge of Japan. One doesn’t have to be adamant in understanding Japanese history to develop an understanding of what is showcased within the book—which certainly relieves itself from being yet another dry look into an otherwise fascinating subject. This is pop culture we’re talking about here, and like the ever-changing landscape that encompasses it, the book positions itself to be a fun romp throughout its various subjects.

And whether we like to admit it or not, we humans are highly susceptible to stereotypes. In order for us to understand the unknown characteristics of an individual, nation, or culture, we ascribe certain elements of familiarity towards them to help us better rationalize our thoughts. But breaking these stereotypes are extremely important for us to find a more appropriate understanding of these complexities we find so mysterious. With this in mind, breaking down the various stereotypes that are attributed to Japanese schoolgirls are helpful for many purposes, and the book details the numerous reasons that constitute such stereotypes in the first place. Whether through marketing ventures, social deviancy, and even governmental purposes, the book looks at how the world constantly reshapes the perceived image of what the Japanese schoolgirl is meant to convey. I believe this conceptual approach delivers a very implicit response to how the outsider—in this case, anyone not familiar with Japanese culture—views the Japanese schoolgirl and the book expands upon this notion to deconstruct the stereotypical outlook.

From a Westerner point of view, one will find this to be extremely helpful. Cultural barriers are often times hard to surpass, but by the book dedicating an extensive amount of time towards elements that we can all relate to in some capacity—fashion, technology, love—the door towards a more comprehensive understanding of the subject remains steadily at the forefront. While this certainly doesn’t revolve around the entirety of Japanese society, it does offer a chance for us to more appropriately grasp one facet of it that is highly visible internationally. This in itself offers a crucial step away from the sole notion of the Japanese schoolgirl being the epitome of cute—which would be foolish to deny—but rather exploring the diversity they offer within the culture at large. Given the abundance of information showcased here, the simplicity of explanation is certainly a positive for the uninformed.

This is why Japanese Schoolgirls Confidential is highly valuable as a written discourse on one of Japan’s most valuable exports. Authors Brian Ashcraft and Shoko Ueda do a fantastic job at deconstructing the Japanese schoolgirl and in the process elevating the discourse on the subject. There really hasn’t been an entire book dedicated to such a topic released within the West before this, so it’s certainly a welcomed addition. Those wanting to learn more about the Japanese schoolgirl and why’s she so cool should look no further. Perhaps this is what’s needed because while the cultural barriers still remain, we can still learn from one another, and with some of the most simplistic of concepts—in this case the sailor uniform—we can bridge the divide between entire nations. Now that is cool.

Table of contents

1. Sailor girls (Uniforms)

2. Idol worship (Music)

3. Girls on film (Movies)

4. Material girls (Shopping)

5. Cover girls (Kogals, magazines & books)

6. Artists’ muse (Art)

7. Play girls (Games)

8. Comic genius (Manga & anime)

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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