Nobuko Yoshiya

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Nobuko Yoshiya
Yoshiya Nobuko.jpg
Nobuko Yoshiya
Born (1896-01-12)12 January 1896
Niigata, Japan
Died 11 July 1973(1973-07-11) (aged 77)[1]
Kamakura, Kanagawa, Japan
Occupation Novelist

Nobuko Yoshiya (吉屋信子, Yoshiya Nobuko, 12 January 1896 – 11 July 1973) was a Japanese novelist active in Taishō and Showa period Japan. She was one of modern Japan's most commercially successful and prolific writers, specializing in serialized romance novels and adolescent girls' fiction, as well as a pioneer in Japanese lesbian literature, including the Class S genre. Several of her stories have been made into films.

Personal life[edit]

Yoshiya was born in Niigata prefecture, but grew up in Mooka and Tochigi cities in Tochigi prefecture. Her father was first a police officer and then became a local county government official, so her family relocated often to accommodate his transfers.[1][2] She was the only daughter and youngest of five children in her family.[3] Both her mother and her father came from samurai families.[1][4] Her middle-class, culturally conservative parents trained her for the "good wife, wise mother" role expected of women in Meiji Japan.[5] Her literary career began when she was in her teens, although prior to this she had developed a love for writing which sapped her time for learning domestic skills from her mother.[2]

In 1915 she moved to Tokyo, where she began to diverge from Japan's career and gender expectations.[5] Yoshiya often dressed in an androgynous style, including in magazine photo sessions.[6] She was one of the first Japanese women to emulate Western fashion in the 1920s by cutting her hair short.[5] Yoshiya defied expectations in other ways. She was one of the first Japanese women to own a car, she designed her own house, and was the first Japanese women to own a racehorse, which (along with golf) would become a passion of hers.

Yoshiya lived in Kamakura, Kanagawa prefecture during and after World War II. In 1962 she built a traditional wooden house with Japanese-style garden in a quiet setting, which she willed to the city of Kamakura on her death, to be used to promote women's cultural and educational activities. She died at age 77 of colon cancer. Her house is now the Yoshiya Nobuko Memorial Museum, and preserves the study as she left it, with items such as handwritten manuscripts and favorite objects are on display. However, the museum is open only twice a year, in early May and November, for three days each time. Her grave is at the temple of Kōtoku-in in Kamakura, behind the famous Kamakura Daibutsu.

Relationship with Monma Chiyo[edit]

On January 1923, Yoshiya met Monma Chiyo, a mathematics teacher at girls' school in Tokyo.[5] They would go on to have a same-sex relationship for over 50 years.[7] Unlike many Japanese public persona, she was not reticent about revealing details of her personal life through photographs, personal essays and magazine interviews. In 1926, they established a collaborative working relationship of author and secretary.[8] In 1957, Yoshiya adopted Monma as her daughter, the only legal way for lesbians to share property and make medical decisions for each other.[5] They both traveled together to Manchuria, the Soviet Union, stayed for a year in Paris and then returned via the United States to Japan from 1927-1928. In the late 1930s, they also visited the Netherlands East Indies and French Indochina.

Literary career[edit]

One of her early works, Hana monogatari ( 花物語 "Flower Tales", 1916–1924), a series of fifty-two tales of romantic friendships, became popular among female students. Most of the relationships presented in Flower Tales are those of longing from afar, unrequited love, or an unhappy ending.[9] These stories often depict female-female desire in an almost narcissistic way by employing a dreamy writing style.[10][11]

Yaneura no nishojo ( 屋根裏の二處女 "Two Virgins in the Attic", 1919) is thought to be semi-autobiographical, and describes a female-female love experience with her dormmate. In the last scene, the two girls decide to live together as a couple.[12] This work, in attacking male-oriented society, and showing two women as a couple after they have finished secondary education presents a strong feminist attitude, and also reveals Yoshiya's own lesbian sexual orientation.

Her Chi no hate made ("To the Ends of the Earth", 1920), won a literary prize by the Osaka Asahi Shimbun, and reflects some Christian influence.

In 1925, Yoshiya began her own magazine, Kuroshoubi (Black Rose), which she discontinued after eight months.[10] After Black Rose, Yoshiya began presenting adult same-sex love as being akin to 'sisterhood' and complementary to heterosexuality, becoming more mainstream in her works.[13]

Yoshiya's other major works include Onna no yujo ("Women's Friendship", 1933–1934), Otto no Teiso ( 良人の貞操 "A Husband's Chastity", 1936–1937), Onibi (鬼火 "Demon Fire", 1951), Atakake no hitobito ( 安宅家の人々 "The Ataka Family", 1964–1965), Tokugawa no fujintachi ( 徳川の夫人たち "Tokugawa Women", 1966) and Nyonin Heike ( 女人平家 "Ladies of the Heike", 1971)

Literary style[edit]

Yoshiya explored two main themes throughout her work: friendship between women and the idea of the "ideal" male.[1] Her works are keenly aware of contemporary sexology.[10]

Although not all of Yoshiya's works depict same-sex romance between girls, even in plots with heterosexual domestic melodrama, her novels tended to avoid depictions of marriage. Her writing style was marked by onomatopoeia, exclamation points and other unusual diacritical marks, which were considered aesthetically appealing by her female readers, and were part of a movement to introduce realistic dialogue into stories. Her use of imagery, especially in setting scenes in unexpected locations, such as an attic or veranda, aided in creating a melodramatic atmosphere.

Yoshiya's stories were considered "respectable" texts, suitable for consumption by girls and women of all ages, as the lesbian attachments are depicted as emotionally intense yet platonic relationships, destined to be curtailed by graduation from school, marriage, and/or death. This can be explained in part by the contemporary understanding that same-sex love was a transitory and "normal" part of female development leading into heterosexuality and motherhood.[11]

Her stories of dosei-ai (same-sex love) and of female friendships had a direct influence on later Shōjo manga.[3][14] In particular, her works often fall in line with the Class S genre, which depict lesbian attachments as emotionally intense yet platonic relationships, destined to be curtailed by marriage, school, or death.

Political views[edit]

Though an ardent feminist, Yoshiya mistrusted political parties and never became active in the organized Japanese feminist movement.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Kumiko Fujimura-Fanselow (1 April 2011). Transforming Japan: How Feminism and Diversity Are Making a Difference. Feminist Press at CUNY. pp. 105–13. ISBN 978-1-55861-699-8. Retrieved 28 December 2012. 
  2. ^ a b Schierbeck, Sachiko Shibata; Edelstein, Marlene R. (1994). Japanese women novelists in the 20th century: 104 biographies, 1900-1993. Museum Tusculanum Press. pp. 88–91. ISBN 978-87-7289-268-9. 
  3. ^ a b Bonnie Zimmerman (2000). Lesbian Histories and Cultures: An Encyclopedia. Taylor & Francis. p. 824. ISBN 978-0-8153-1920-7. Retrieved 28 December 2012. 
  4. ^ Robertson, Jennifer (2002) "Yoshiya Nobuko Out and Outspoken in Practice and Prose" in Anne Wathall e.d. The Human Tradition in Modern Japan pp. 155-174 ISBN 0-8420-2912-5
  5. ^ a b c d e f Craig A. Lockard (1 January 2010). Societies, Networks, and Transitions: A Global History: Since 1750. Cengage Learning. p. 670. ISBN 978-1-4390-8534-9. Retrieved 28 December 2012. 
  6. ^ Sarah Frederick (2006). Turning Pages: Reading And Writing Women's Magazines in Interwar Japan. University of Hawaii Press. p. 135. ISBN 978-0-8248-2997-1. Retrieved 28 December 2012. 
  7. ^ City University of New York. Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies (1997). A Queer World: The Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader. NYU Press. pp. 51–2. ISBN 978-0-8147-1875-9. Retrieved 28 December 2012. 
  8. ^ Marou Izumo; Claire Maree (2000). Love Upon the Chopping Board. Spinifex Press. pp. 82–4. ISBN 978-1-875559-82-4. Retrieved 28 December 2012. 
  9. ^ Yoshiya Nobuko, "Yellow Rose" (黄薔薇). Translated by Sarah Frederick. Expanded Editions, 2015. English translation of "Yellow Rose" (Kibara) from Flower Stories (Hanamonogatari)
  10. ^ a b c 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. OCLC 1754751. doi:10.1111/1540-5931.00043. 
  11. ^ a b 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. 
  12. ^ Tsuchiya, Hiromi (March 9–12, 2000). "Yoshiya Nobuko's Yaneura no nishojo (Two Virgins in the Attic): Female-Female Desire and Feminism". Homosexual/Homosocial Subtexts in Early 20th-Century Japanese Culture. San Diego, CA: Abstracts of the 2000 AAS Annual Meeting. Retrieved 2008-02-24. 
  13. ^ Suzuki, Michiko (2009). Becoming Modern Women: Love and Female Identity in Prewar Japanese Literature and Culture. Stanford University Press. ISBN 978-0-8047-6198-7. 
  14. ^ Mark W MacWilliams (2008). Japanese Visual Culture: Explorations in the World of Manga and Anime. M.E. Sharpe. pp. 144–150. ISBN 978-0-7656-1602-9. Retrieved 28 December 2012. 
  • Frederick, Sarah. "Women of the Setting Sun and Men from the Moon: Yoshiya Nobuko's Ataka Family as Postwar Romance."U.S. - Japan Women's Journal, English Supplement 23. 2003.
  • Frederick, Sarah. "Not that Innocent: Yoshiya Nobuko's Good Girls in Jan Bardsley and Laura Miller eds. Bad Girls of Japan. Palgrave, 2005.
  • Mackie, Vera. Feminism in Modern Japan: Citizenship, Embodiment and Sexuality. Cambridge University Press (2003) ISBN 0-521-52719-8

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