Embodying Japan: Cultures of Sport, Beauty, and Medicine 2017

Shoujo and Doll-Like Beauty

            I am unsure what discussion of beauty in Japanese music and fashion would be complete without some mention of the shoujo and doll-like aesthetics in Japan, which become integral parts of manga as well as Lolita fashion (discussed on the next page.) Shoujo is a difficult phrase to define, but it essentially means “little girl”, and can be seen as something empowering or demeaning, depending on your viewpoint. For some women, particularly in the West, the idea of being a shoujo is synonymous with being an object of the predatory sexual desires of older men, while for others, such as my Lolita informants in the next section, it simply refers to the youthful innocence of girlhood. Because this youthful innocence is “lost” to the cyclic nature of work and school that comes with adulthood, maintaining shoujo beauty becomes the focus of many Japanese street fashions, among them dolly kei and Lolita. On this page, I provide a very brief synopsis of the shoujo, doll-like beauty aesthetic in illustration and how it manifests in accessories.
          Beginning with the shoujo beauty ideal, early examples of the aesthetic date back to magazines of the prewar period of the 1910s to the 1920s, which Mizuki Takahashi references in his chapter “Opening the Closed World of Shōjo Manga”. These early magazines featured illustrations, like those of popular artist Yumeji Takehisa, of “thin, frail-looking models with pale faces[...]” (Takahashi 117). These shoujo could be compared to dolls in that their faces were pale and their eyes fairly dull. Later illustrators of the 40s and 50s, like Junichi Nakahara, updated this image. As Takahashi notes, “The shōjo in Nakahara’s illustrations have stick-like bodies without musculature... What distinguishes them from [earlier] depictions are their extremely enlarged slanting eyes, thick black eyelids, and thick eyebrows. However, whereas before the war these girls had gazed contemplatively upward, unconscious of those viewing them, in the 1950s they began to address the viewer directly—as illustrated by means of the light shining in their clear black eyes... Nakahara’s achievement was to use this light to animate the previously doll-like shōjo” (Takahashi 120).

            The way that this aesthetic from the past manifests itself in the world of contemporary Japanese fashion is via interesting accessories like ball-joint tights and circle lenses, both of which give Japanese youths the appearance of a Yumeji Takehisa or Junichi Nakahara illustration. These kinds of accessories also form the foundation of the fashion dolly kei, which is itself based on a slightly different fashion called mori kei that incorporates long, flowing fabrics and forest motifs for a woodland-girl-in-the-city aesthetic. By contrast, dolly kei, while occasionally implementing such themes, mainly uses doll-like accessories (such as the ball-joint tights) combined with Gypsy-esque accents like tassels to create a unique look that is all at once Western in conception and Japanese in implementation: while the accessories are borrowed from Victorian porcelain dolls, the OTT (over-the-top) coordinates (outfits) are certainly the product of Japanese contemporary street fashions. (In the next page, Lolita fashion will be explored in more depth. Lolita, like dolly kei, also incorporates the shoujo aesthetic exemplified by illustrators Takehisa and Nakahara.)
           As a final note, it is worth mentioning that Grimoire, a store located in the Shibuya district of Tokyo, is particularly well-known online for its vintage accessories befitting a dolly kei wardrobe, although in recent years (based on my experience having been to two of its locations in Shibuya last summer) the doll or doll head motif has become less common, as the focus shifts to less OTT styles (such as women wearing vintage dresses with more subdued accessories like pearl necklaces and earrings.) After spending the better part of an hour searching for the second store location (called Grimoire Almadel) with no luck, I finally ran into two very kind strangers who perceived my unease and helped me find the place very quickly. Inside, I was shocked by how small the store was, and the shop model was surprised by my insistence that images of the Grimoire stores online were very different from how they appear in-person, in that there were little to no doll accessories (particularly “creepy” ones, such as head pendants or other parts turned into necklaces or earrings). The model then explained to me that they had undergone recent remodeling and rebranding, and that the online pictures were likely outdated by about 5 years. Hence, it is important to note that while the information presented on this page about the shoujo beauty aesthetic is accurate and certainly visible to some extent in the Tokyo street fashion scene, it is by no means ubiquitous or as common as something like idol beauty (see section 2.)


Takahashi, Mizuki. "Opening the Closed World of Shōjo Manga." Ed. Mark W. MacWilliams. Japanese Visual Culture. New York: M.E. Sharpe, 2008. 114-36. Google Books. Web. 25 Mar. 2017.

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