Showa-modern (昭和モダン) (昭和モダン)

Showa-modern is a term referring to a modern civil culture that flourished in the early Showa period merging Japanese and Western styles. The current definition of the term includes a culture named Taisho-roman which thrived toward the end of the Taisho period (the interwar period).


The Showa period began (in 1926) soon after the major disaster, namely, the Great Kanto Earthquake (1923). The occurrence of events such as the May 15 Incident (1932) and the February 26 Incident (1936) indicated that the shadow of war was creeping over the Japanese society of those days.

After World War I

On the other hand, new styles such as art nouveau and art deco, which combined functionality with beauty and flourished in Europe in around 1910, entered and spread through Japan. Popular music such as French chansons, jazz music and Charleston which were in fashion in the USA and Argentinian tangos sung by Carlos Gardel became popular in Japan with the spread of gramophones and the start of radio broadcasting. The film making industry in Hollywood was in the early days of its development, and the movies starring the comedians such as Charles Chaplin and Buster Keaton and actresses including Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich were put on the screen and entertained people. Charles Chaplin visited Japan around this time. While the mass culture was blooming as stated above, a number of musicians - conductors, composers, pianists and singers such as Arturo Toscanini, Sergei Rachmaninov, Alfred Cortot, Enrico Caruso and Tino Rossi - took a lively part in the classical music field and increasingly gained popularity in Japan as well. In his later years, Kosaku YAMADA gave a welcome to Rachmaninov when the latter visited Japan.

Domestic culture

While the sophisticated Western culture as described above was brought to and accepted by Japanese people, a culture unique to Japan was fostered at the same time.

Bijinga (pictures portraying beautiful women) of Yumeji TAKEHISA and illustrations drawn by Kasho TAKABATAKE attained popularity. Lyric poems such as of Hakushu KITAHARA and Yaso SAIJO were keenly read. In addition, a number of magazines including "Kaizo", "King" and "Bungei Shunju" were published together with Iwanami bunko series and en-pon (one-yen books - inexpensive books published in the second half of the 1920s and sold for one yen apiece). The literature which emerged also during this period include that of the neo-sensualists such as Yasunari KAWABATA and Riichi YOKOMITSU, the esthetic literature of Junichiro TANIZAKI and the popular literature of authors such as Eiji YOSHIKAWA and Kaizan NAKAZATO. Included among those actively involved in other cultural fields in this period are film actors in historical plays such as Kanjuro ARASHI, Denjiro OKOCHI and Tsumasaburo BANDO, composers such as Ryoichi HATTORI, Masao KOGA and Shinpei NAKAYAMA and singers including Noriko AWAYA, Ichiro FUJIYAMA and Taro SHOJI.

New life style

Significant changes occurred in the lifestyle of people as well; acts such as wearing Western clothing instead of kimonos, cutting hair short and having hats on became common to some working women, and new types of jobs for female workers emerged along with the increasing social participation by women, including a female bus conductor named a 'bus girl' in those days and a waitress (called a 'jokyu' then). Women wearing the most fashionable dresses at the time were called 'modern girls' or 'mo-ga' in short (モガ: an abbreviation for モダンガール [modern girl]). It also began in the early Showa period that railways extended their network as citizen's methods of transportation and developed the land along the railroad lines, where houses were built and people went out shopping on holidays at department stores at railway terminals, and that such a lifestyle became common among people.

It was also around this time that people like businessmen who came back from trips to Western countries opened Western style restaurants successfully in the midtown area. Coffee shops or cafés as called in those days attracted great popularity, mainly among men, for their modernity. Well known examples of the land development along the railroads mentioned earlier include the case of Tobu Railway led by Kaichiro NEZU (the founder) and that of Hankyu Railway under the lead of Ichizo KOBAYASHI. The Takarazuka Grand Theater and the Hanshin Koshien Stadium were constructed around this time (Hanshin-kan Modernism: Modernism between Osaka and Kobe).

End of Showa-modern

In the latter half of 1930s, after the ascendancy of the military and the end of the party politics following the Incident of February 26 and the Incident of May 15, the Sino-Japanese War intensified and the international tensions ran high, which led to the promulgation of the National Mobilization Law, and, against such a background, the culture described so far was criticized as being 'weak and wasteful' and 'against the "new order",' and Showa-modern was terminated.

[Original Japanese]