Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Rethinking Japanese Feminisms$

Julia C. Bullock, Ayako Kano, and James Welker

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780824866693

Published to Hawaii Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.21313/hawaii/9780824866693.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM HAWAII SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.hawaii.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Hawaii University Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in HSO for personal use.date: 25 June 2022

Seeing Double

Seeing Double

The Feminism of Ambiguity in the Art of Takabatake Kashō

(p.133) Chapter 8 Seeing Double
Rethinking Japanese Feminisms

Leslie Winston

University of Hawai'i Press

Abstract and Keywords

Popular magazine illustrator Takabatake Kashō (1888–1966) was influential in creating images of young women that filled a variety of magazines in the Taishō (1912–1926) and early Shōwa (1926–1989) periods. They are depicted as stylish and self-assured, sexy but not objectified. This chapter argues that Kashō’s work is feminist for two reasons. His female subjects, oftentimes “modern girls,” rebuff the norms of so-called traditional feminine behavior, while his male subjects display so-called feminine behavior through gesture, appearance, etc. Through the hermaphroditic portrayal of his subjects, Kashō challenges the overdetermined link between gender and the body. Secondly, Kashō portrays women as autonomous, in contrast to state ideology that defined women through their roles as daughters, wives, and mothers. Kashō’s collapsing of naturalized divisions between the sexes, as well as his female subjects’ behavior, mark his work as feminist.

Keywords:   Hermaphrodite, Sexology, modern girl, modern boy, ryōsei, chŪsei, sanpaku gan

PAINTER AND MAGAZINE ILLUSTRATOR Takabatake Kashō (1888–1966) wielded great influence on those who followed him. He was enormously popular in the Taishō (1912–1926) and early Shōwa (1926–1989) periods and was pivotal in creating a vision of “Taishō chic.” His name, however, has long been forgotten, except by enthusiastic admirers. One of them, Kano Takumi, opened an art museum dedicated to him in 1984 that flourishes today.1

Beyond personal correspondence, Kashō left behind no writings regarding his influences or motivations. However, it is clear from his cosmopolitan lifestyle and art that his interests lay in freer sexualities than state or sexological discourses would allow. His work testifies to a refusal to be locked into state-sanctioned, rigid definitions of “male” and “female” and the roles prescribed for them.

Meiji and Taishō feminists, whether advocates of suffrage or not, resisted women’s exclusion from the public sphere and consignment to domestic space. Kashō’s female subjects generally reject those precepts encouraging modesty and care of family, children, and the home. Often, they are depicted in the public sphere or engaged in some physical activity. Stylish and sophisticated, they are of a class in possession of at least some discretionary income, with the leisure to play tennis or engage in other pastimes. Kashō’s female subjects evoke the image of moga, (p.134) “modern girls.” Yet in contrast to the stereotype of moga as sexualized or sexually available, they are not depicted as sexual objects. Rather, they own their sexuality; Kashō’s young women are simultaneously demure, sexy, and self-assured. His aesthetic techniques were widely appealing, just as they were provocative in their renderings of the gendered body, challenging norms in a complicated way.

This essay will focus on two reasons why Kashō’s work should be considered feminist. The first is that his female subjects, oftentimes modern girls, rebuff the norms of so-called traditional feminine behavior and also may have a mien of maleness about them. Male subjects, on the other hand, display femininity in gesture and appearance. Kashō’s rendering of both types of subjects liberates them to engage in wider forms of behavior than those fixed by social conventions that presumed that sex determined gendered behavior, desire, and feelings. Through the hermaphroditic portrayal of his subjects, Kashō challenges this causal relation between gender and the body.

In this essay the term “hermaphrodite” refers to “subjects of anatomically double, doubtful, and/or mistaken sex.”2 Some consider the word offensive today.3 However, Japanese words that would be translated as “hermaphrodite” at the time were used to refer to indeterminacy of sex. These include “futanari” (two shapes/appearances), “han’nan’nyō” (half man half woman), “otoko-onna4 (man-woman), and ryōsei guyūsha (person with genitalia of both sexes), among others. These terms may refer to individuals who are ryōsei (both sexes) or chūsei (neutral/in between), as Jennifer Robertson defines them. Chūsei “emphasizes the erasure or nullification of differences.”5 The gender markers, such as clothing, hairstyle, gestures, and so on, of the neutral (chūsei) body are inconsistent with the sex of the body, thereby contravening the belief that biological sex determines behavior.6

The second reason I consider Kashō’s work feminist is that he depicts his female subjects as active, vibrant, and autonomous, in contrast to state ideology that defined women through their roles as daughters, wives, and mothers.7 Kashō’s art is not in the service of a heterosexual male gaze. His subjects suggest a world of fluid possibilities, as the body does not determine behavior, desire, or social roles.

I therefore argue that Kashō’s collapsing of naturalized divisions between male and female and his female subjects’ nonconforming (p.135) behavior mark his work as feminist. I will further demonstrate that Kashō challenges other divisions as well—for instance, those between racial categories or between humans and animals. These efforts all have the effect of eradicating or problematizing restrictive categories of analysis.

An Artist for the Taishō Zeitgeist

Takabatake Kōkichi (Kashō) was born in 1888 and raised on the southwestern island of Shikoku, in an isolated area called Uwajima, in Ehime Prefecture. His merchant father Kazusaburō did not care for Kōkichi’s “character and conduct” (seikō),8 perhaps a euphemism for Kashō being “effeminate” (memeshī), another term he used to describe his son.9

Kashō went to study art first in Osaka and then in Kyoto. He was interested in Western-style painting (yōga), but persevered in exercises in Japanese-style painting first to please his mentors. Eventually he settled in Tokyo, where he kept a bevy of handsome male pupils (deshi) and painted in a variety of idioms, though he is best known for his Western, “Taishō chic” style, incorporating extensive knowledge of fashion.

Kashō’s fans, male and female adolescents at the advent of modern-day graphic illustration, were extraordinarily ardent in their devotion to him, to the extent of forming Kashō clubs. His name even appears in the lyrics to a popular song from 1928 called “Ginza March” (Ginza kōshin kyoku): “Kunisada egaku no otome mo yukeba, Kashō gonomi no kimi mo yuku,” that is, “Girls that Kunisada drew stroll [in Ginza], and you, who have the Kashō style, also go.” A latent meaning of the lyric is that girls who look like the ones in the art of Utagawa Kunisada (1786–1864) stroll along Ginza streets. These refer to the “beauties” (bijin) and courtesans who were the frequent subjects of Kunisada’s art. Kunisada, also known as Toyokuni III, was a woodblock print artist of the “floating world” (ukiyo)10 who was extremely popular, prolific, and successful in his day, just as Kashō was in his. The lyric has the girls stroll in Ginza because this area of Tokyo was at the forefront of popular fashion during Kashō’s day.

Kashō’s name symbolized modernism.11 The “you” (kimi) in the lyric refers to a “modern girl,”12 the embodiment of modern female fashion and sensibilities at the time. The lyrics reflect how well known and appreciated he was. Furthermore, his popularity extended beyond the “modern (p.136) girl” and “mobo” (modern boy) who might go “ginbura” (Ginza strolling), to encompass adults as well.13

Kashō’s popularity began early when he was still studying to become an artist. In 1905 he started hand-painting picture postcards of modern young women to supplement his allowance. By the end of the Taishō period, he dominated the new profession of magazine illustration, unrivaled in demand for his work by magazine publishers such as Kōdansha. Kashō illustrated magazine stories, magazine covers, and frontispieces for dozens of magazines, such as Shōjo kurabu (Girls’ club), Shōnen kurabu (Boys’ club), Fujin kurabu (Ladies’ club), Gendai (Modern times), Kōdan kurabu (Storytelling club), Shōjo sekai (Girls’ world), Nihon shōnen (Japanese boys), Fujin sekai (Ladies’ world), and Fujokai (Women’s world), to name a few.

This period during which Kashō was at the top of his profession coincided with a time when sexology was holding sway in its strict bifurcation of the sexes, as well as when women were agitating for suffrage and becoming more involved in public life. Sexology was the study of human sexuality led by Austro-German doctors and other professionals from the mid-nineteenth century into the twentieth. Based on the premise that biological laws were the foundation of sexual behavior and could be understood scientifically, sexology presumed that it was the responsibility of the medical profession to regulate sexual behavior.14 The knowledge about sex promoted by these sexologists ultimately became the hegemonic paradigm, but counter-discourses were myriad. For example, modern girls snubbed norms of so-called traditional feminine behavior, or at least ignored criticism for violations of such norms. Likewise, Kashō’s representations of women flouted conventional gender roles as enshrined in the Meiji Civil Code,15 yet were warmly embraced by his large following. Takabatake Asako, the great-granddaughter of Kametarō, Kashō’s elder brother, notes that sexology informed the strict gender norms promoted by the Taishō-era government. “Kashō did not overtly protest the government, but he created art in which males weren’t male and females weren’t female.”16 This comment supports my argument that Kashō’s art was liberating for both men and women. He maintains sexual possibilities in his art that the government had foreclosed, thereby releasing human behavior from its overdetermined link to the body.

This style in which females were not female and males were not male was not accidental. Manga artist Takemiya Keiko writes that Kashō’s art (p.137) was “characterized by the precision with which he drew the body three-dimensionally. His figures were so well defined that the viewer could sense the bones and around them the flesh. He distinguished the inner part of the feet from the outer part with great detail, and fingertips were particularly beautiful.”17 Therefore, this kind of skill allowed him to draw distinctly male and female figures if he had wanted to do so.

Regarding the androgyny of Kashō’s subjects, Takemiya writes:

I think the boys in Kashō’s pictures are sexier than the girls because of the boys’ expression of uncertainty. When it comes to his drawing skills, precisely because Kashō is someone who can clearly distinguish male figures from females, he depicts the masculinity in the females when drawing adolescent girls, and the femininity within adolescent males when drawing beautiful adolescent males. One may wonder if this is why Kashō’s males appear to look sexier than females. … The figure of the beautiful boys that Kashō drew was feminine but the detail was masculine. … The attraction of Kashō’s pictures is that while he distinguishes between male and female figures through differences in detail, the qualities of both sexes (ryōsei) in the subject spill over onto the canvas.18

Uno Akira concurs: “The boys, in fact, can be like girls, and the girls, in fact, can look like boys impersonating girls.” No such sexual illusion or unorthodoxy exists in Takehisa Yumeji’s (1884–1934) lyrical (jojō) artwork, by contrast.19 Perhaps it is the very innocence of Yumeji’s female subjects, or the fact that they more often conform to traditional roles and behavior that makes his images more iconic of the Taishō era. Today Yumeji’s name is better known than Kashō’s, though the work of both dominated prewar imagery of young women.

Artists familiar with Kashō, especially manga artists, take it for granted that Kashō’s subjects contain pronounced elements of the “opposite sex.” The figure of the hermaphrodite, literal and figurative, boldly emerges in one of the cornerstones of today’s Japanese popular culture, manga. Fujimoto Yukari’s statement that contemporary shōjo manga (girl comics) started with hermaphroditism, therefore, is hardly surprising. In her critique of shōjo manga, in a chapter entitled “Transgender: Female Hermaphrodites, Male Hermaphrodites,” Fujimoto attributes (p.138) the origins of shōjo manga to the Takarazuka Revue, the all-female theater troupe founded in 1913. She explains that Tezuka Osamu, celebrated manga artist and creator of the classic series Princess Knight (Ribon no kishi, 1953–1955), intended to reproduce in shōjo manga the world of the Takarazuka theater, in which both male and female parts are played by women.20 Kashō’s work emerged in this period of Takarazuka’s growing popularity, when counter-discourses to dimorphic sex were numerous. One could say that Kashō offered a visual art version of the Takarazuka Revue.

Takemiya, one of the most popular shōjo manga artists of the 1970s and 1980s, who creates hermaphroditic characters herself, was impressed by Kashō’s oeuvre from early on, writing that she had the sense that she had seen it a long time before she became even a novice artist.21 It is worth noting here that while Yumeji’s lyrical images (jojōga) were part of the shared imagination in Japan,22 Kashō’s androgynous images, too, imprinted themselves on the consciousness of many, just as the gender-crossing of Takarazuka had done on Tezuka.

Perhaps the sexual ambiguity of his subjects played a role in Kashō’s strong influence on manga artists, just as it figured significantly in its appeal to Taishō-era youth. At the very least, a mien of sensuality emanates from his work. Takabatake Asako suggests that his avid young fans were excited by some sort of eroticism they sensed in his work. “For that very reason, his popularity derived not simply from the splendid fashion [of his subjects] or because they were pretty or stylish. … Rather, in technical terms it’s called hermaphroditic (ryōseiguyū) … that sort of, that hermaphroditic, well, androgynous (chūseiteki) charm, I would say.”23 Perhaps it is this subliminal sexual appeal burgeoning at the right historical moment that accounts for Kashō’s allure. Donald Roden writes in his frequently cited “Taishō Culture and the Problem of Gender Ambivalence”24 that Japanese during the 1920s were enthralled by gender ambivalence. Furthermore, he observes that in addition to Tokyo, Berlin, Paris, New York, and London all witnessed this fascination in middlebrow and high cultures. A complex of factors, including the titillation of non-normative sex, energized perhaps by the growth of sexology, along with avant-garde art, contributed to this embrace of androgyny. In the following section, I explore how Kashō pushes the fascination with blurred lines of sex to other realms.

(p.139) Collapsing Boundaries in Sexuality and in Race

Later in the same interview mentioned above, Takabatake Asako remarked, Kashō “chipped away at sexual difference and in the end, well, the subject is male and also female but is not [entirely] one or the other. Well, the subject is neither Japanese nor foreign. In that way, the categorization gradually disappears.” By breaking down walls in categories of sex, race, and more, Kashō calls into question naturalized assumptions about these lenses through which people are seen.

Regarding sex, the blurring of boundaries can be alluring and mysterious. That Kashō obscured other lines of difference is also intriguing. “When Kashō wanted to draw a Westerner, he could certainly draw a very Western-looking person … but, consciously he did not draw that way.” This comment, as well as “chipping away at sexual difference,” reiterates Kashō’s blurring of distinctions by drawing out the female in the male and the male in the female. This dismantling of categories gets to the heart of Kashō’s art, which portrays subjects behaving in ways that do not adhere to the norms of their sex. With the categories obscured or removed, so too are the rules of conduct. Humans are freed to behave more in accordance with their inclinations.

His Sea’s Illusion (Umi no gensō, 1926)25 and Young Sailor (Wakaki funabito, 1926) (figure 8.1) provide other instances of this in-betweenness, in species and sex. Sea’s Illusion, used as the frontispiece for an issue of Shōjo gahō (Girls’ illustrated), is a fairly typical depiction of a mermaid, with the upper body that of a female and the lower body that of a large fish tail. Kashō drew Young Sailor not for a magazine but for use in writing paper. The fingers and hands of the sailor, and the way they are positioned, are the same as those of the mermaid, as well as those of many of Kashō’s subjects. What is interesting here is the movement of the bodies in both works and the positioning of shoulders and backs. The sashaying of the sailor is apparent not only in the folds of the sailor suit (pullover and bell-bottomed trousers) but in the kick of the back foot, the flying flap of the pullover, and the dancing tally dangling from the flat white hat. The flow and dynamism of their bodies mitigate the stasis implicit in the rigidly polarized male and female bodies that the government implicitly promoted. The breaking waves, rushing water, the flying hair on the mermaid’s head, and flapping tail accomplish this movement (p.140) similarly in Sea’s Illusion. In addition, the sailor maneuvers his shoulder to dip and arch his back, while the mermaid raises her shoulder and twists her torso. The sailor has the same face as the mermaid but is playful and flirtatious. The mermaid is overtly sexual and alluring. The sailor could easily be female; the mermaid seems quite human. The dynamism of these in-between bodies speaks to possibility born of the subversion of categorical absolutes that bind the subject to prescribed bodies, behaviors, and desires.

Seeing DoubleThe Feminism of Ambiguity in the Art of Takabatake Kashō

Figure 8.1 Takabatake Kashō, Young Sailor (Wakaki funabito, 1926).

Copyright Yayoi Museum.

(p.141) In addition to illustrating the permeability of borders of sex and species in the examples above, Kashō has diminished, if not subtly erased, analytical categories of race or culture in his portrayals of pairs of young women. In some cases, one is in Japanese clothing and the other in Western; in some cases they both wear Western dress. In a compelling article on Kashō’s female subjects providing a model for female consumers, Barbara Hartley elaborates on the topic of Kashō’s subjects embracing both Western and Japanese traditions in magazine illustrations from 1925 to 1937. Hartley invokes Miriam Silverberg’s powerful reading of Japanese modern life in the 1920s not as the West replacing Japanese cultural ideals but as a “recod[ing] of Western institutions and practices for indigenous Japanese consumption.”26 Clearly, this “re-coding” and “assimilation” is deployed in Kashō’s work, in which Hartley discerns Western images in Japanese contexts.

While maintaining Hartley’s reading as a reasonable possibility, I, however, see a delicate operation in which, as Takabatake Asako says, Kashō renders the subject as neither Japanese nor foreign. Of course, the settings may contain clear markers of Japan and the West in hairstyle and clothing and more, but Kashō blurs the definitive identity of faces and body language. He collapses the boundaries into a hybridity of female and male, Japanese and Western, human and animal, and for that matter, Nihonga (Japanese-style painting) and yōga (Western-style painting) as well.

Deborah Shamoon writes that Kashō’s great work Changing Styles (Utsuriyuku sugata, 1935)27 “celebrates the mastery of the foreign by the Japanese female body.”28 Japanese, Chinese, and Western dress of various styles and fashions, uniforms, sports attire, and more, spanning periods and seasons, adorn the sixty figures in this giant opus. In contrast to a “mastery of the foreign,” Silverberg (and Hartley) offer the more nuanced and incisive interpretation that Kashō actually recodes the non-Japanese dress. And as Silverberg effectively demonstrates, the Japanese “modern girl” could represent a variety of identities in the collective imagination—Japanese, European, cosmopolitan. Rather than a nationally and racially specific and embodied subject, the “modern girl” was a sketch, a reduction, a symbol upon which critics projected their fears and desires.29 This is no less true of Kashō’s modern girls. By effectively erasing borders, he creates subjects who defy categorical definitions.

(p.142) In describing the zeitgeist in which Kashō began his career and in which it ascended, Takabatake Asako remarks, “In short, a new consciousness sprouted among the general populace. They wanted to accept new things, not passively but proactively, and also, selectively, without considering Western things different. And because there was this sociopsychological transformation, Kashō was supported with wild enthusiasm.”30 In other words, Kashō enjoyed popularity for the very reason that he embraced and expressed the spirit of the new age of Taishō (consumer) culture. In this new consciousness, the focus was not on material objects, let alone material bodies, as Western versus Japanese, certainly not in his images. Kashō’s art represents this hybridity, transformation, and flux. Moreover, images of Japanese women in Western dress and short hair were not unusual in his work or in that of other artists.

We can view this hybridity from another angle by considering a French drawing and a Japanese one that emulated it. Appearing in the French magazine Les feuillets d’arts (The arts folio) in 1919, George Lepape’s Le miroir rouge (Red mirror) is strikingly Orientalist in its extreme features of an Asian face that resembles a nō mask. It is a caricature of the quintessential Japanese face, as if one existed. Takehisa Yumeji turns this exoticized figure on its head by adapting it to a Japanese context for the cover of the October 1924 issue of Fujin gurafu (Ladies’ graph), entitled Autumn Makeup (Keshō no aki).31 Yumeji’s female subjects typically appear in mostly traditional clothing, in traditional settings, roles, and situations. Faces are wan; the expressions on them are innocent. In this picture, a rather Western-looking Japanese young lady peers into a mirror as she applies her makeup. The expression is simple and direct. The hand holding the mirror and the hand applying the powder are in the exact same positions as in Lepape’s picture. However, Lepape’s colors are saturated. His subject’s lacquered nails are redder, her hair blacker. The tiny pupils of the Orientalized female’s eyes can be seen just beneath slanting eyelids, while the relatively larger eyes of Yumeji’s subject look blankly at the mirror. She evokes the bland, quotidian act of the toilet. Yumeji’s subject here looks like most of his other “beauties” (bijin). The contrast of a hybrid Western/Japanese figure with Lepape’s highly sexualized and Orientalized subject is stunning.

In two renderings of women peering into mirrors by Kashō, Scarlet Camellia (Beni tsubaki, 1926)32 and Gossamer (Keira, 1926),33 the subjects have the same face as most others in his oeuvre, which is the same (p.143) as his male faces. The field in each contains the woman from head to toe, holding a mirror out in front of her. In Lepape’s and Yumeji’s drawings, we see faces and mirrors fairly close up. Kashō chooses not to use closeups in these images. Nonetheless, the viewer can see large eyes and lush eyelashes. The lips are pursed. In both cases the subjects each bend a leg and swivel their hips while fixing and admiring their hair in the mirror. Panache and sexiness emanate from the figures.

In comparing Lepape’s and Yumeji’s drawings to each other and then to Kashō’s, I wish to emphasize two points. One is that an iconic image of Taishō chic features a delicate, sometimes wistful “beauty” in commonplace scenes by Yumeji. Sexuality plays no role here, let alone sexual ambiguity. In contrast, Kashō’s female subjects are suffused with a dynamic energy and sometimes a sexual energy held in check, as they engage in somewhat uncommon activities, such as painting a picture, playing tennis, skiing, dancing, swimming, or speaking on a telephone. Secondly, while French and other Western artists relish Japonisme in sometimes racist articulations, Kashō and, at least in the case of Autumn Makeup, Yumeji as well, move beyond a Western–Japanese divide to a new sort of woman with a new consciousness that has already transcended a Japanese-versus-Western binary opposition.

Unfettered by the rigidity of tradition, Kashō created a new idiom that not simply combined different elements but allowed these elements to organically emerge in each other. The Western and Japanese amalgam is one example of this; representation of sex is another. It cannot go unremarked that Kashō began to develop this style in the same period that the famous writer Tanizaki Jun’ichirō wrote of the beauty of the protagonist’s in-between sex in his stories “The Golden Death” (“Konjiki no shi,” 1914) and in “Until Abandoned” (“Suterareru made,” 1914),34 with its female-in-male protagonist, to paraphrase Takemiya, above.35 By that I suggest not an influence by Tanizaki but a spirit of the age.

Kashō’s Sexual (In)Difference

The suggestion that Kashō’s fans sensed something different, something sexual, in his art, coincides with notions of the spectacle, in which the subject in the artwork is separated from the viewer.36 In most cases Kashō’s hermaphroditic subjects are usually portrayed alone, such as in Song of the Bandits (Bazoku no uta, 1929) (figure 8.2), originally used (p.144) as a frontispiece in Nihon shōnen; Autumn in Kurama (Kurama no aki, 1926),37 another frontispiece from Nihon shōnen; Young Sailor (figure 8.1); and in the cover of an untitled stationery set (figure 8.3), discussed below. His oeuvre is rife with similar examples, but I mention these because the subjects are boldly conspicuous in their sexual ambiguity. In defying conventional norms of gender, thereby forcing the viewer to look more closely, the subjects prompt the viewer to reconsider those norms.

Kashō individuates and separates such subjects even beyond their sexual difference. An instance of Kashō’s technique of directing the gaze in order to isolate the subject would be in Atelier (Atorie, 1926),38 in which

Seeing DoubleThe Feminism of Ambiguity in the Art of Takabatake Kashō

Figure 8.2. Takabatake Kashō, Song of the Bandits (Bazoku no uta, 1929).

Copyright Yayoi Museum.

(p.145) a young woman paints another young woman, who has material draped over her nakedness. The viewer can see the two subjects, as well as the intervening picture that the artist is working on. This meta-view of art in the making, a mise en abyme, directs our attention to the model, since the artist in the picture is studying her, and the picture between them is a representation of her. At the same time, through its self-reflexivity, the artwork also implicates the viewer because we become aware that we are outside of the event, watching a process. The self-reflexivity highlights the process of art and the subject of art as constructed.

Kashō’s subjects are often physically individuated but also distanced from the world of a binary sexual economy. Martin Jay’s ideas on perspective are constructive here. He borrows Christian Metz’s term “scopic regime” in identifying three visual subcultures, or “scopic regimes of modernity.”39 Two offer alternatives to the hegemony of the Cartesian tradition, which refers to a singular, eternal, scientific, and disembodied point of view. Kashō also offers an alternative to Cartesian perspectivalism in his visual order of sexual (in)difference. This economy is not in the service of a heterosexual male gaze or the dualism inherent in the Cartesian view. The subjects are outside of this economy in that they are both sexes and neither; consequently, the body that ought to determine gendered behavior, psychology, and emotion frustrates expectations. Kashō’s scopic regime is fraught with possibility. It is flowing and sensual. Rich, deep colors resonate. The use of fabric is suggestive of the body beneath. His subjects, all with the same sexy eyes, murmur quietly to the viewer about a world of fluid sexualities.

The mise-en-scène focuses the gaze on the subject, in its entirety but also part by part. The movement of lines guides the gaze to the individuated parts of the body. For instance, in the cover of an untitled collection of stationery (figure 8.3) and in Autumn in Kurama (discussed above), the viewer focuses on feet, legs, arms, and the curve of the hip, one at a time. Conventionally feminine features, including tapered, slender fingers, small, red mouths, and soft, rosy flesh, surface in Kashō’s bishōnen (beautiful young men). In this cover of an untitled collection of writing paper (figure 8.3), the subject lies on his side on a patch of grass, with his head propped up on one hand. A scarf covers most of his hair. One bird perches on his shoulder, another on his arm. His shorts and one sleeve are curiously torn. He gazes through large, heavy eyes beyond the frame (p.146)

Seeing DoubleThe Feminism of Ambiguity in the Art of Takabatake Kashō

Figure 8.3. Takabatake Kashō, untitled image used as cover of stationery set, 1930.

Copyright Yayoi Museum.

of the picture. The subject’s double-sexed sensuality paired with the torn clothing disrupts the pastoral setting, leaving a highly charged impression of sexuality.

Other stationery covers, such as White Bush Clover (Shirahagi, 1926)40 and Young Sailor (discussed above), replicate the beautiful young men with feminine hands and gestures. Such embellishments may be small or subtle, but they augment the sensuality of the image. Kashō’s typically androgynous face induces the viewer to scrutinize the subject more closely. For example, the bowtie and short hair in an image in the Kashō Lyrical Collection (Kashō jojō gashū, 1928) (figure 8.4) indicate maleness, but the subject could just as easily be a Takarazuka otokoyaku (female actor of men’s roles). Or, in the case of Modern Boy (Modan bōi, 1928) (figure 8.5), the subject could be a “modern girl” dressed in a men’s double-breasted suit (a ringlet of hair caresses the cheek of this “boy” instead of a sideburn). Little distinguishes male from female in these and myriad other drawings, save costuming and context.

Among body parts, the eyes are characteristic of Kashō’s work and signify deeply in the total figure. Kashō usually draws eyes as sanpaku (p.147)

Seeing DoubleThe Feminism of Ambiguity in the Art of Takabatake Kashō

Figure 8.4. Takabatake Kashō, untitled image, 1928.

Copyright Yayoi Museum.

gan (three-white eyes), in which the sclera (white of the eye) is visible in three areas around the iris: on both sides and below. Sanpaku eyes have a cultural association with sexiness or salaciousness that lends itself to Kashō’s figures. Naturalist writer Ikuta Kizan uses the term sanpaku gan in his story “The City” (“Tokai,” 1908), which was found to be “injurious to public morals” (fūzoku kairan) and banned.41 In the work, sanpaku gan highlights the sexual appeal of the young wife, whom Jay Rubin describes as “voluptuous.”42 Kashō’s rendering of the irises in his subjects’ eyes in a non-normative fashion certainly contributes to the sexual mien (p.148)

Seeing DoubleThe Feminism of Ambiguity in the Art of Takabatake Kashō

Figure 8.5. Takabatake Kashō, Modern Boy (Modan bōi, 1928).

Copyright Yayoi Museum.

of the subjects, to which Takabatake Asako alludes. The sexiness of the eyes enhances the prancing of the eponymous sailor in Young Sailor, or the draped material covering the nakedness of a young woman posing for another young woman painting her in Atelier. These gestures and attitudes (both disposition and posture) complete a picture of erotic sensibility. Yet, as mentioned earlier, these subjects own their sexuality, as they manifest self-confidence. They appear comfortable, sophisticated, and graceful, as well as sexy.

(p.149) Representing Women Making Their Own Choices

In addition to the eroticism and sexual ambiguity that unchains the body from predetermined behavior and gender roles, young women in Kashō’s works are portrayed outside of familial relationships and maternal roles. Most often they are at leisure, alone or with friends, perhaps engaged in a sport or pastime. The government ideology that dictated the gendered roles of imperial subjects of their class, for example, women at home taking care of family, is generally ignored. In fact, Meiji government prescriptions for gendered responsibilities were varied,43 but I refer here to middle-class women, who are neither at home taking care of the family, nor in occupations newly accessible in the interwar years.44

Moreover, Kashō’s female subjects are not only depicted outside of the domestic sphere, but they are active and sporty. The cover of an issue of Shōjo gahō from around 1928 shows a young lady bent over, fastening her skis. She is poised and self-assured. In Light (Hikari, ca. 1927)45 a young lady in a trendy sailor suit sits with one arm akimbo. In the background, in front of Ueno subway station46 stands a large building with a clock on it that reads “subway” and “store.” This self-confident, stylish woman has probably engaged in shopping and traveling around town today.

Many images of young female subjects are tinged with an awakening sexuality in settings of nature. The young female figure in Shore (Nagisa, 1927)47 is uninhibited and at ease in her swimsuit with a frock draped over one shoulder. She gazes beyond the frame with the same large, heavy-lidded, sexy eyes characteristic of Kashō’s work. The subject in Autumn Leaves (Kōyō),48 the cover for the November 1929 issue of Shōjo gahō, looks directly at the viewer with her head slightly tilted, holding the stem of a leaf between her coy lips. Her large, heavy eyes seem slightly closed. The “butterfly” in Dancing Butterfly (Maeru kochō),49 used as a cover illustration for the April 1926 issue of Shōjo gahō, is depicted as a young female figure with butterfly wings. In high spirits with blushed cheeks, she playfully revels in the pure joy of dance. All are unabashed and at ease in their bodies, whatever the pose or activity.

Numerous other images, including one called Dance (Dansu, 1930),50 portray women in the society of each other, locking arms, holding hands, embracing, and touching in some way. They are intimate friends, (p.150) representing the kind of female camaraderie and community found in girls’ higher schools. Erotic expressions on their faces or mouths are alluring but not sexualized. The overall impression of these young ladies is self-determination and self-assurance. And when in a group, the bonds of solidarity among them are strong. Kashō’s images of these female subjects contrast sharply with images of schoolgirls in prose fiction and print media from the 1890s into the early 1900s, when they were objects of criticism and derision.

The body has consistently been a contested site in feminism, from female subjection to male authority as head of household under the Meiji Civil Code, to reproductive rights. In Kashō’s art, female bodies are liberated from government demands for reproduction and motherhood. They circulate in a world outside of male rule. Kashō imagines the body beyond binaries with their prescribed norms of behavior and expectations. Moreover, his subjects are masters of their sexuality. For their part, modern boys are given the freedom to assume sexualities also forbidden by state ideology and sexological discourse. Kashō assumes a feminist position by representing autonomous subjects, whose behavior and attitudes are freed from the bounds of the body, implicitly supporting equality among people of all sexes.


(1) Information about Kano’s Yayoi Museum can be found at “Museum Overview” (Kan no gaiyō), http://www.yayoi-yumeji-museum.jp/yayoi/outline.html, last accessed September 16, 2014.

(2) Alice Domurat Dreger, Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998), 30.

(3) Emi Koyama, “From ‘Intersex’ to ‘DSD’: Toward a Queer Disability Politics of Gender” (keynote speech delivered at the Translating Identity conference, University of Vermont, Burlington, February 2006); Alice Dreger et al., “Changing the Nomenclature/Taxonomy for Intersex: A Scientific and Clinical Rationale,” Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology & Metabolism 18 (2005): 732.

(4) Miyatake Gaikotsu, Han’nan’nyokō (1922), in Miyatake Gaikotsu chosakushū, vol. 5, ed. Tanizawa Eiichi and Yoshino Takao (Tokyo: Kawade shobō shinsha, 1986), 26.

(5) Jennifer Robertson, Takarazuka: Sexual Politics and Popular Culture in Modern Japan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), 50.

(p.151) (6) For more on confusion of terms, see Leslie Winston, “The Trope of the Hermaphrodite in Modern Japan,” Harvard Asia Quarterly 16, no. 3 (2014).

(7) The Meiji Civil Code, enacted in 1898, recreated the family system by rejecting female succession (anekatoku), by restricting married women from contracting loans or investing capital without permission of their husbands, and by other such provisions that manifested inequality between the sexes. See Kurt Steiner, “The Revision of the Civil Code of Japan: Provisions Affecting the Family,” The Far Eastern Quarterly 9 (1950): 179–180. The expression that epitomized such delimitation of women was “ryōsai kenbo” (good wife, wise mother), a neologism coined by Nakamura Masanao during the first decade of the Meiji period, and disseminated by the Education Ministry in 1899. The ministry initiated policy in which women were to be educated in caregiving to children, husband, and parents. In her Flowers in Salt: The Beginnings of Feminist Consciousness in Modern Japan (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1983), Sharon L. Sievers notes that “The ‘special qualities’ women’s education now assumed had more to do with making up any gap that might exist in the repressive socialization of Japanese women than with developing intellect” (pp. 112–113). Yet, women played an important role, averred the Home Ministry, through managing the home frugally, educating children, and supporting the entire family and thereby, the nation; see Sharon H. Nolte and Sally Ann Hastings, “The Meiji State’s Policy Toward Women, 1890–1910,” in Recreating Japanese Women, 1600–1945, ed. Gail Lee Bernstein (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991). By the early 1920s, however, women’s unrest, family disputes, and other factors threatened family-state ideology; see Miriam Silverberg, Erotic Grotesque Nonsense: The Mass Culture of Japanese Modern Times (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006), 145–146.

(8) Takabatake Kakō, Gaka no shōzō: Takabatake Kashō no denki to sakuhin (Tokyo: Kōdansha Shuppan, 1971), 24.

(9) Takabatake Asako, Kashō kara no tegami (Matsuyama: Ehime-ken Bunka Shinkō Zaidan, 1997), 131.

(10) Ukiyo-e are a genre of painting and prints that thrived from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century, depicting kabuki actors, beautiful women, landscapes, and more.

(12) Matsumoto Shinako, ed., Takabatake Kashō: Taishō, Shōwa, retoro byūtī (Tokyo: Kawade Shobō Shinsha, 2004), 8, 10.

(13) Ozaki Hideki, “Takabatake Kashō no jojōga,” in Takabatake Kashō meiga taishū, ed. Takabatake Kakō (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1976), 152.

(p.152) (14) Gregory Pflugfelder, Cartographies of Desire: Male-Male Sexuality in Japanese Discourse, 1600–1950 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 244.

(16) Takabatake Asako, interview, October 27, 2008, Takabatake Kashō Taishō Roman Kan museum, Tōon, Ehime Prefecture, Japan.

(17) Takemiya Keiko, “Danjo ryōmensei no miryoku,” in Takabatake Kashō: Bishōnen zukan, ed. Korona Bukkusu Henshūbu (Tokyo: Heibonsha, 2001), 44.

(18) Ibid., 46–47.

(19) Uno Akira, “Watashi no Kashō,” in Takabatake Kashō meiga taishū, ed. Takabatake Kakō (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1976).

(20) Tezuka Osamu, Ribon no kishi (1953–1955; Tokyo: Kōdansha Manga Bunko, 1999); Fujimoto Yukari, Watashi no ibasho wa doko ni aru no? Shōjo manga ga utsusu kokoro no katachi (Tokyo: Gakuyō Shobō, 1998), 132.

(23) Takabatake, interview.

(24) Donald Roden, “Taishō Culture and the Problem of Gender Ambivalence,” in Culture and Identity: Japanese Intellectuals during the Interwar Years, ed. Thomas Rimer (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990).

(25) This image is reproduced in Takabatake Kashō Taishō Roman Kan, ed., Takabatake Kashō Taishō Roman Kan zuroku (Shigenobu-chō, Japan: Taishō Roman Kan, 2004), 105.

(26) Quoted in Barbara Hartley, “Performing the Nation: Magazine Images of Women and Girls in the Illustrations of Takabatake Kashō, 1925–1937,” Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific 16 (2008), http://intersections.anu.edu.au/issue16/hartley.htm.

(27) Reproduced in Takabatake Kashō, Takabatake Kashō meisaku gashū (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1967), 10–13.

(28) Deborah Shamoon, Passionate Friendship: The Aesthetics of Girls’ Culture in Japan (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2012), 68. Shamoon mistakenly dates Utsuriyuku sugata to 1921.

(29) Silverberg also finds one critic who claimed that the modern girl was anti-motherhood. Erotic Grotesque Nonsense, 57.

(31) These two images are juxtaposed in the exhibition catalog Tōkyō-to Teien Bijutsukan, ed., 1930-nendai Tōkyō: Āru deko no yakata (Asakanomiyatei) ga umareta jidai/Tokyo in the 1930s and the Birth of Prince Asaka’s Art (p.153) Deco Residence (Tokyo: Tōkyō-to Rekishi Bunka Zaidan and Tōkyō-to Teien Bijutsukan, 2008), 90.

(34) Tanizaki Jun’ichirō, “Suterareru made,” in his Tanizaki Jun’ichirō zenshū, vol. 2 (Tokyo: Chūō Kōron Sha, 1981), and “Konjiki no shi,” in ibid.

(35) I am referring here to Takemiya’s depiction, cited above, of “femininity within adolescent males,” as well as to Tanizaki’s stories in which males are described in such terms.

(36) Hal Foster, The Return of the Real: The Avant-Garde at the End of the Century (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1996), 220.

(39) Martin Jay, “Scopic Regimes of Modernity,” in Vision and Visuality, ed. Hal Foster (Seattle: Bay Press, 1988).

(41) Jay Rubin discusses the famous trial of Ikuta and Ishibashi Shian, the editor and publisher of Bungei kurabu, in which the story was first published in February 1908. See Jay Rubin, Injurious to Public Morals: Writers and the Meiji State (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1984), 83–89.

(42) Ibid., 87.

(44) Elise K. Tipton, “Moving Up and Out: The ‘Shop Girl’ in Interwar Japan,” in Modern Girls on the Go: Gender, Mobility, and Labor in Japan (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2013).

(45) Reproduced in Murobushi Tetsurō, ed., “Takabatake Kashō,” special feature, Purintsu 21: 21st Century Prints 19, no. 3 (Autumn 2008), 13.

(48) Reproduced in ibid., 101.

(49) Reproduced in ibid., 107.

(50) This image was used on the cover of a writing paper collection and is reproduced in Murobushi, “Takabatake Kashō,” 12.