Class S (genre)

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Class S (クラスS, Kurasu Esu), or "S kankei",[1] abbreviated either as S or Esu (エス), is an early twentieth-century Japanese wasei-eigo term used to refer to romantic friendships between girls.[2] The term is also used to designate a genre of girl's fiction (少女小説, shōjo shōsetsu) which tells stories about the same, typically focused on senpai and kōhai relationships wherein one girl is senior in age or position to the other.[3] The "S" is an abbreviation that can stand for "sister", "shōjo" (少女, lit. young girl), "sex",[3] "schön" (German: beautiful), and "escape".[2]

Although Class S can broadly be described as a form of love between girls,[4] it is distinct from a romantic relationship or romance fiction in that it is used specifically to describe platonic relationships based on strong emotional bonds and very close friendship, rather than sex or sexual attraction.[5]



The western novels Little Women and A Little Princess were translated into Japanese in 1906 and 1910, respectively, in order to educate the girls to become "good wives, wise mothers". These works also helped introduce the concepts of laotong, sisterhood, sentimentalism, and romance to young female audiences in Japan, with Jo of Little Women in particular becoming a prominent example of a tomboy character.[6]

Class S was also influenced by the Takarazuka Revue,[3] an all-women theater troupe established in 1914.[6] The revue featured female actresses playing both male and female roles, with male characters romancing women.[7] Around this time, the term dōseiai (同性愛, "same sex/gender love") was coined to describe butch and femme relationships (also called ome), as well as relationships between two femmes.[8] It was suggested in the popular media of the time that the Takarazuka otokoyaku (the woman playing the masculine role) caused women in Class S relationships to become ome and persist in homosexual relationships long after it was acceptable.[3] Jennifer Robertson argues that "many females are attracted to the Takarazuka otokoyaku because she represents an exemplary female who can negotiate successfully both genders and their attendant roles and domains."[9]

The rapid creation of all-girls' schools during this period is also regarded as having contributed to Class S: by 1913, there were 213 such schools.[6]


In 1936, Class S literature was banned by the Japanese government.[10] As co-educational schools became more prominent, Class S relationships became more discreet.[1]

Influence and legacy[edit]

A 1911 article in Fujin Kōron claimed that between seven and eight women out of ten had experienced Class S relationships.[10]

Class S relationships were typically regarded as a fleeting, "lesbian until graduation" period of experimentation, rather than a genuine expression of same-sex attraction.[6] So long as these relationships remained confined to adolescence they were regarded as normal, even spiritual.[2] This attitude would later inform contemporary perspectives on lesbianism in Japan: a tolerance towards non-sexual intimacy between girls, and the widespread belief that female homosexuality is a "phase."[11]

Class S had a significant impact on the Japanese literary tradition of depicting friendship between girls, the development of Japanese lesbian literature, and the creation of the anime and manga genre yuri.[11][5]

Notable figures and works[edit]

Nobuko Yoshiya, a lesbian Japanese novelist active in the Bluestocking feminist movement, is regarded as a pioneer of Class S literature.[12]

The 1998 yuri light novel series Maria-sama ga Miteru is credited with reviving the Class S genre, and is considered to be a modern equivalent to Yoshiya's Hana Monogatari.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Shamoon, Deborah (January 1, 2009). "The Second Coming of Shôjo". Heso Magazine.
  2. ^ a b c Robertson, Jennifer. Takarazuka. p. 68. Citing:
    • Hattori, Kakō; Uehara, Michikō (1925). Atarashii Kotoba no Jibiki [Dictionary of New Words] (in Japanese). Tokyo: Jitsugyō no Nihonsha. pp. 83–84.
    • Kabashima, Tadao; Hida, Yoshifumi; Yonekawa, Akihiko (1984). Meiji Taishō Shingo Zokugo Jiten [Dictionary of New Words and Colloquialisms in the Meiji and Taishō Periods] (in Japanese). Tokyo: Tōkyōdō Shuppan. p. 41. OCLC 14078498.
  3. ^ a b c d Robertson, Jennifer (August 1992). "The Politics of Androgyny in Japan: Sexuality and Subversion in the Theater and Beyond". American Ethnologist (3 ed.). 19 (3): 427. doi:10.1525/ae.1992.19.3.02a00010. JSTOR 645194.
  4. ^ "Proto-Yuri Novel: Otome no Minato (乙女の港) – Part 1, Introduction and Synopsis". Okazu. Retrieved January 15, 2019.
  5. ^ a b "Why Is It Always Catholic Schoolgirls in Yuri". Okazu. December 18, 2018. Retrieved January 15, 2019.
  6. ^ a b c d Dollase, Hiromi (2003). "Early Twentieth Century Japanese Girls' Magazine Stories: Examining Shōjo Voice in Hanamonogatari (Flower Tales)". The Journal of Popular Culture. 36 (4): 724–755. doi:10.1111/1540-5931.00043. OCLC 1754751.
  7. ^ Randall, Bill (May 15, 2003). "Three by Moto Hagio". The Comics Journal. Retrieved 2008-01-23.
  8. ^ Robertson, Jennifer (1999). "Dying to tell: Sexuality and suicide in Imperial Japan". Signs. 25 (1): 1–35. doi:10.1086/495412.
  9. ^ Robertson, Jennifer. Takarazuka. p. 82.
  10. ^ a b McHarry, Mark (November 2003). "Yaoi: Redrawing Male Love". The Guide. Archived from the original on April 17, 2008.
  11. ^ a b "Women-loving Women in Modern Japan". Okazu. September 22, 2014. Retrieved January 15, 2019.
  12. ^ Suzuki, Michiko (August 2006). "Writing Same-Sex Love: Sexology and Literary Representation in Yoshiya Nobuko's Early Fiction". The Journal of Asian Studies. 65 (3): 575. doi:10.1017/S0021911806001148. Retrieved 2008-01-23.
  13. ^ "Esu toiu kankei". Bishōjo gaippai! Wakamono ga hamaru Marimite world no himitsu (in Japanese). Excite. Archived from the original on 2008-02-21. Retrieved 2008-03-05.