Theses Doctoral

Literary Dependents: The Child and Publishing Culture in Modern Japan

Choi, Hyoseak

Literary Dependents focuses on diverse discourses on childhood that informed and impacted Japanese literature and society in the modern era. Through an analysis of magazines, literary works, and related media, this dissertation traces the ways childhood has been constructed and utilized in literary, social, political, and cultural discourse from the late nineteenth century to the present.

As Japan strove to establish itself as a modern nation in the late nineteenth century, children and youth became a focal point of development as future citizens and leaders of the nation. Hence, images of children in print media were directly tied to Japan’s national identity in the modern world. The development did not stop in the twentieth century, and the concept of childhood underwent many shifts and changes. Taishō Democracy, the Second World War, the Allied Occupation, and the economic boom all brought about changes in the meaning and value of childhood to society, and in each period, new depictions of childhood abounded in print media. By exploring these developments, Literary Dependents seeks to understand how modern Japanese society has represented and utilized childhood as a way of shaping its visions and ideals regarding gender, family, life, art, and the future.

The materials covered in Literary Dependents are publications that were intended for both children and adults, in which complex relationships between children and adults played out. The first chapter analyzes the Meiji period (1868-1912) women’s magazine Jogaku zasshi (Women’s Education Magazine, 1885-1904), showing how notions of the wise mother, hardworking wife, as well as a model language for women were constructed through its reading material for children. Chapter 2 centers around the translation of the American children’s novel Little Lord Fauntleroy (1885-1886) by Wakamatsu Shizuko, serialized from 1890 to 1892 in Jogaku zasshi, which provided an idealized image of the child, mother, and family, and was meant to show young women, rather than children, how to be mothers and how to create an ideal family. Chapter 3 discusses the literary space shared by children and adults in the children’s magazine Akai tori (Red Bird, 1918-1936), in which about one fifth of the pages were allotted to writings in prose and verse by children from across the empire. This chapter discusses the unique kind of authorship that arose from the collaboration between adults and children as the child writers themselves strove to fit the standards established by Akai tori. Chapter 4 further explores the issue of child authorship through the example of Toyoda Masako (1922-2010), whose elementary school compositions were repeatedly published in Akai tori, and in 1937, were published in a book titled Tsuzurikata kyōshitsu (Composition Class). This chapter rereads Toyoda’s writing in Tsuzurikata kyōshitsu intertextually, juxtaposing her own expressions with the critique and interpretations by educators and literary writers, as well as referencing her autobiographical writings from the postwar period. The juxtaposition elucidates the arbitrariness of the ideals that were attributed to children’s writing in 1920s and 30s Japan.

Chapter 5 deals with the depiction of children with disabilities during the Second World War through an analysis of Kawabata Yasunari’s Utsukushii tabi (A Beautiful Journey), serialized in Shōjo no tomo (Girls’ Friend, 1908-1955) from 1939 to 1942. The serialization took place during a time of significant political change, which impacted the contents of Shōjo no tomo and the novel. The difficulty of continuing to write about a deaf-blind girl at such a time is evident in the abrupt turns in direction that the novel took during this time, moving away from depicting the disabled child and ultimately expressing colonialist and nationalist ideals. The sixth and last chapter explores the role of children in systems of distribution and consumption. In the immediate post-WWII period, reading material for children were scarce, not only because it was a general time of lack even for food, but also because strong nationalist/militarist sentiments found in wartime publications needed to be eliminated, or at least repackaged to fit the new environment. Yoshino Genzaburō’s Kimitachi wa dō ikiru ka (How Will You Guys Live?, 1937) was one text that underwent multiple “repackagings” in the postwar period. This chapter examines the different ways an “ethics” book was promoted under the changing historical conditions of post-WWII Japan.

Although the materials covered in Literary Dependents center around those published in Japan, they are inextricably tied to other cultures and traverse national boundaries, not only through translation and adaptation, but also through intercultural interaction, collaboration, or travel. Furthermore, the dissertation connects childhood to other identities of gender, sexuality, disability, race, and class. Publications for children are often a coalescence of society’s myriad of networks as well as its most pressing issues, packaged and issued to an imagined child reader, which is itself an idealized image of the members of that society. The child and all of the ways it is imagined in print media can provide a unique window onto society and history. Hence, this dissertation explores the topic of the child in publishing culture, not to arrive at some definition of the child, but to better understand history through it. As much as children are dependent on adults and encounter publications through the mediation of adults, many aspects of the publishing industry are also dependent on children as readers, writers, consumers, images in marketing, or ideological figures. Literary Dependents is an investigation of mutual dependencies between the child and adult, publishing and literature, and print media and society.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
East Asian Languages and Cultures
Thesis Advisors
Suzuki, Tomi
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 3, 2024