Taisho Roman (大正ロマン)

Taisho Roman (often described in the Chinese character '大正浪漫') refers to a trend of thought or cultural events that conveys the atmosphere of the Taisho period. It is said that the phonetic-equivalent character '浪漫' was first used by Soseki NATSUME.

The idealistic trend in hoping for a new era and the liberation of an individual, which were affected by the 'romanticism' of Europe around the 19th century, began to be referred to as 'Taisho Roman.'


Although it lasted only for 15 years between Meiji and Showa periods, Taisho period saw dynamic changes both within and outside of the country. Japan experienced the Meiji Restoration and opening of the country, and enhanced its national strength thanks to the favorable economic situation triggered by its victory in two wars (Japanese-Sino War and Japanese-Russo War). During this period, as a country of imperialism, Japan ranked with the western powers, which invigorated them to join the victorious side in World War I, and the whole nation were thrilled with the enhancement of the national prestige.

The Shinokosho class system of the Edo period (consisting of warrior-rulers, peasants, artisans, and merchants) placed merchants in the lowest ranks; however, this rank was reversed due to the economic liberalization in the Meiji period. The company system learned from the western countries was growing, and private companies, which were only privately-run stores in a system, developed on a large scale and carried out overseas expansion. People called 'the newly rich' owing to the speculative gains also appeared, and the dreams and ambitions for the new era were aroused among ordinary people.

After civilization and enlightenment, the influence of feudalism and national isolation seemed to disappear and modern culture flooded into Japan from Western countries. Although the scenery in the countryside did not change, the foundation of towns and cities came to be formed gradually over 45 years during the Meiji period. The propagation of culture and information was further promoted in this period, which was partially due to the introduction of new media along with the development of technologies in the fields of audio recording, moving-pictures and printing. Taisho democracy' emerged and the social status of ordinary people and women improved. New art, including literature, painting, music and plays, which had been influenced by Western culture, spread. In terms of thoughts also, freedom, liberation and saltation spread and popular culture blossomed mainly in the city areas. Even in rural agricultural communities, which used to be isolated before, the situations in cities were quickly passed around by the movement of people and the increased distribution of goods along with the development of railways and introduction of automobiles.

However, in the latter half of this period, to make matters worse, the depression after World War I and the Great Kanto Earthquake occurred, and the stress from the inability to cope with the extreme ups and downs in the economy or the sudden change of a new era was accumulated at the bottom of the society. As seen in the 'proletarian literature' movement around the end of the Taisho period, in response to the political movement requiring transformation of the society, it was true that the longing and admiration expressed towards the passion to seek freedom by insisting on a person's rights despite the oppression by officials, either in secret, or openly, with the expectation of being punished, left a dramatic impression on the people of that period. Also, many famous people died by such diseases as pulmonary tuberculosis, which had been incurable at that time, as well as incidents resulting from the popular trend in free love. Individualism and idealism won attention among the educated people. The shift to a new era excited people, but caused ambivalent struggles and psychological frictions, which led to social anxiety. It was from this period to the beginning of the Showa period that drugs and suicide became popular among writers and artists.

Due to the spread of tabloids, such news was exaggerated andcirculated, and a kind of atmosphere of degenerate arts and nihilism was created on social anxiety. In part, these incidents gave lyricism and a negative effect on the 'Taisho Roman' which further pulled the people. Behind this, there were the influences from aestheticism and dadaism, both of which emerged in Europe during the late 19th century, or anarchism (a political thought). In the field of art, many works were influenced by fin-de-siècle (end of the century) arts, including art nouveau, art deco, or expressionism.

The term 'Taisho Roman' is thought to mean an early sign of a new era, and sometimes used together with 'Taisho Modern,' derived from modernization. Taisho Modern' and 'Taisho Roman' are two opposite ideas which represents both sides of this period. Due to the death of Emperor Taisho, whose reign was short, this period ends with a sense of economic stagnation during a period of restoration following the great earthquake. The trend of popularization didn't declined, and times moved on to the modern Showa era, starting with the global depression.

In the latter half of the Showa period after the World War II and the Heisei period, when looking back on the history of the Taisho period, the cultural events at the time were often picked up and reevaluated since people who cherished the lost past looked for the atmosphere of the Taisho Roman as 'good old days' as a retroaction to the overwhelmingly dynamic development of the modern civilization and the progress of time.

Historical incidents and cultural events which characteristic of 'Taisho Roman.'

1911: Passage of the Universal Manhood Suffrage Act at the House of Representatives, Xinhai Revolution in China
Completion of the 'Teikoku-Gekijo Theatre,' the first publication of a literature magazine 'Seito,' and the publication of 'A Study of Good' by Kitaro NISHIDA

1912: Japan's first participation in the Olympic games (in Stockholm), Sinking of the passenger boat 'Titanic'
Establishment of a moving-picture (movie) company 'Nikkatsu,' establishment of 'Yoshimoto Kogyo Co., Ltd.,' formation of an art organization 'Koufu-kai,' opening of Kyoto City Streetcars, establishment of Japan Travel Bureau Foundation (JTB), introduction of the limited express trains with observation cars in Tokaido and Sanyo line, opening of 'Tsutenkaku Tower' in Osaka, and introduction of taxis in Yurakucho

1913: The first constitution protection movement
Formation of a drama group 'Geijutsuza,' great hit of a song 'Kachusha no uta' (Katyusha song), start of a serial novel 'Great Bodhisattva Pass' of Kaizan NAKAZATO, release of films including 'Nanso Satomi Hakkenden' (The Chronicles of the Eight Dog Heroes of the Satomi Clan of Nanso) and 'Chushingura' (The treasury of Loyal Retainers), start of Takarazuka Gala Fireworks Festival, the on-site sale exhibition of Japan-made cosmetics in Mitsukoshi kimono fabrics shop, and promulgation of Elementary School Act

1914: Outbreak of World War I, Japan's proclamation of war against Germany
Opening of the 'Tokyo Station,' first performance of 'Takarazuka Shojo Kagekidan' (Takarazuka Girls Revue Company), popularity of perms among women, launching of 'Morinaga's milk caramel' by Morinaga & Co., Ltd, inauguration of an art organization 'Nika Association,' release of the first feature-length color motion picture film 'Yoshitsune Senbonzakura' (Yoshitsune and One Thousand Cherry Trees), establishment of 'Tokyo Golf Club,' and advertisement of Brazilian coffee at the 'Taisho Exposition' held in Ueno.

1915: Twenty-one Demands by Japan against China
Holding of the first 'national junior-high school baseball tournament' (later high-school baseball), establishment of 'Nihon Manga Kai' (Japan Manga Association), opening of 'Tennoji Zoo' in Osaka, and opening of the 'Tokyo Station Hotel'

The first publication of 'Fujinkoron,' great hit of 'Gondora no uta' (Gondola song), the production of the gramophone starts in Japan, the release of the first animation 'Saru to kani no kassen' (The Quarrel of the Monkey and the Crab) (production by Nikkatsu), and the opening of the 'Tokyo Driving School'

1917: Outbreak of the Russian Revolution and the publication of 'relativistic cosmology' by Albert EINSTEIN
The first publication of 'Shicho' (thought of the times) and 'Shufu no tomo' (Friend of housewives), the beginning of the 'Asakusa Opera' times, the prosecution of nude portraits in various exhibitions, and the establishment of 'Nakajima airplane Co., Ltd.'

1918: Siberian Intervention, rice riots, promulgation of University Act (Daigaku Rei), and the Spanish flu pandemic
The first publication of a children's magazine 'Akai-tori' (red bird), great hit of a song 'Yoimachi-gusa,' death of Hougetsu SHIMAMURA (the Spanish flu), and holding of the first national football tournament

1919: the Paris Peace Conference, deployment of Kwantung Army (Japanese armed forces in Manchukuo), and the formation of Falange by Benito MUSSOLINI
The follow-up suicide by Sumako MATSUI, the first publication of 'Minponshugi' (democracy), the start of sales of CALPIS, inauguration of the 'Imperial Art Academy' and holding of 'Exhibition of the Imperial Fine Arts Academy' (present The Japan Fine Arts Exhibition), the first publication of 'Kinema Junpo,' accouchement of the 'Road Act' (the act of road and street structures and the regulation law of automobiles), and promulgation of 'Building Standard Law' and 'City Planning Act'

1920: Establishment of the League of Nations (Empire of Japan' participation as a permanent member), Treaty of Versailles, the stock plunge and the post war depression
Formation of 'Shin fujin kyokai' (the New Women's Association), the first publication of a magazine 'Shinseinen' (new youth), the first May Day in Japan, formation of 'Japan Socialist League,' establishment of moving-picture companies 'Shochiku Co., Ltd.' and 'Teikoku kinema' (Imperial Cinema Entertainment Co. Ltd.), completion of the 'Shin (new) Kokugikan' in Ryogoku, the first 'bus girl' (conductress) appeared in Tokyo City Tram, approval for the establishment of private universities of Keio Gijuku and Waseda, establishment of 'Shochiku Kamata Studio,' and the first 'national census'

1921: Assassination of the prime minister Takashi HARA at Tokyo Station, the Washington Conference (1922) (conclusion of the Four-Power Treaty by Japan, England, France and the United States), Adolf Hitler's becoming the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party, the first congress of the Chinese Communist Party
Release of an expressionism movie 'Come Back, Dr. Caligari,' proclamation of 'Land Lease and House Lease Act' and of the metric system, foundation of 'Dainihon Shukyu Kyokai' (Japan Football Association) (present Japan Football Association), and 'Ashio Copper Mine Mineral Pollution Incident'

1922: Foundation of the Soviet Union, formation of the Japanese Communist Party, Dr. Albert EINSTEIN's visit to Japan
Peace Commemoration Tokyo Exposition' in Ueno, the first publication of 'Shukan Asahi' and 'Sunday Mainichi,' the first publication of 'learning magazine' by Shogakukan Inc., the foundation of 'Ezaki Glico Co., Ltd.,' beauty lessons given by 'Shiseido Co., Ltd.,' shortcut hair in fashion among women, and the foundation of Zenkoku Suihei-sha

1923: The Great Kanto Earthquake, Amakasu Incident
The first publication of 'Bungei Shunju' magazine, start of the series of 'Kurama Tengu' by Jiro OSANAGI, a strip cartoon 'Adventures of Sho-chan' (the first comic with balloons), completion of the 'Shinbashi Enbujo theatre,' completion of the 'Imperial Hotel, Tokyo' (older building), completion of the 'Marunouchi Building,' foundation of 'Shozo MAKINO,' establishment of Suntory whisky plant, and the first publication of 'Asahi Graph'
1924: The second constitution protection movement, wedding of Prince Hirohito (later Emperor Showa)
Announcement that the number of issues of 'Osaka Mainichi Shimbun' and 'Osaka Asahi Shinbun' both exceeding one million, foundation of the 'Tsukiji Small Theater,' completion of Hanshin Railways Koshien Grand Ball Park (present 'Hanshin Koshien Stadium),' completion of the 'Meiji Shrine Outer Park Stadium,' and enforcement of the 'metric system'

1925: The official proclamation of Public Peace Preservation Act and Universal Manhood Suffrage Act
The first publication of the popular entertainment magazine 'King' (by Kodansha Ltd.), start of radio broadcast, inauguration of 'the Tokyo Big6 Baseball League,' the foundation of 'Dainihon Sumo Kyokai (Japan Sumo Association),' opening of the operation of the loop line 'Yamanote Line,' and start of the construction of subway between Ueno and Asakusa (opened in 1927)

1926: Formation of the 'Labour-Farmer Party' and the death of Emperor Taisho
The first publication of the 'complete collection of modern Japanese literature' by Kaizo-sha, opening of 'Takarazuka Hotel,' the foundation of the 'Japan Broadcasting Corporation,' the foundation of 'The New Symphony Orchestra' (later NHK Symphony Orchestra), and the first publication of 'Asahi Camera'

The end of Taisho and the beginning of Showa
Great hits of 'Mobo & Moga' (modern boy and modern girl), introduction of manzai (a comic dialogue) (Entatsu YOKOYAMA and Achako HANABISHI were the first persons who appeared on a storyteller theater stage wearing European clothes)

People of culture who represent 'Taisho Roman'

It is hard to name people who were only active during the Taisho period due to its short time frame. However, the following persons lived through the transitory period between Meiji and Showa, and produced various art works and new thoughts that added color to this period.

Yumeji TAKEHISA, Kasho TAKABATAKE, Yaso SAIJO, Ujo NOGUCHI, Hakushu KITAHARA, Shinpei NAKAYAMA, Kosaku YAMADA, Hougetsu SHIMAMURA, Sumako MATSUI, Kaoru OSANAI, Hyakuzo KURATA, Mantaro KUBOTA, Saisei MUROO, Sakutaro HAGIWARA, Ryunosuke AKUTAGAWA, Saneatsu MUSHANOKOJI, Naoya SHIGA, Takeo ARISHIMA, Kan KIKUCHI, Sanjugo NAOKI, Junichiro TANIZAKI, Kaizan NAKAZATO, Jiro ABE, Sakuzo YOSHINO, Nyozekan HASEGAWA, Gaikotsu MIYATAKE, Sakae OSUGI, Noe ITO, Raicho HIRATSUKA and others.

Especially, in the case of Yumeji TAKEHISA, he was active in the Taisho period in particular, so the ups and downs of the period were synchronized with those of his thoughts, acts and works.
He was a person who lived within period and was often quoted as being a representative of the 'Taisho Roman.'

Taisho Roman' also tends to be interpreted in the aspects of mass or folk culture. When it comes to people classified in 'Shirakaba School', 'Taisho Roman' is seldom associated with them directly, but it seems to play an important role in its liberal ideas and aestheticism, and the romanticism after the Meiji period.

Kaizan NAKAZATO began writing a series of novel 'Great Bodhisattva Pass' in 1913 and continued writing even through the Showa period, but ended unfinished. This is considered to be the start point of popular entertainment novels, which gave a significant impact on the creation of subculture along with the start of a series of novel 'Kurama Tengu' by Jiro OSANAGI in 1923.

In 1913 Hougetsu SHIMAMURA and Sumako MATSUI set up together a theatrical company 'Geijutsuza,' but their relationship, which led to the death of Hogetsu from disease after several years (in 1918) and the follow-up suicide of Sumako in the end (in 1919), stirred the masses to be inquisitive about the political oppression against them and the fact that the relationship was ruined in a short period of time, especially because the theatrical company and their performances were highly praised. This triggered people to dream about becoming an entertainer and produced a trend of free love, along with the hit single sung by Sumako, 'Inochi mijikashi, Koiseyo otome' (Life is short, fall in love girls) (Gondora no uta).

Affairs bewseen the thinker Sakae OSUGI and a feminist activist Noe ITO were kept being reported during the period from the Hikage Chaya Incident in 1916 to the Amakasu Incident in 1923. These scandals of famous people drew the attention of people. Meanwhile, they suggested the tragic ending of freedom in an uncertain mood.

The Kawabata Art School (Kawabata ga gakko), a private art school established in Koishikawa, Tokyo in 1909, gathered young people who admired art from all over Japan even after the death of the founder Gyokusho KAWABATA in 1913, and turned out many talented people as well as painters until its abolishment during the Greater East Asia War.

[Original Japanese]