With rings on their fingers and bells on their toes

Scattered troughout the exhibition are rings from the collection of Megan Rose.

These oversized pieces sparkle as the light hits them. There is a profusion of hearts and teacups – both beloved by shojo designers and writers.

Top image: rabbit ring by TokiMeki Gabrielle, lucky dip ring 2016.

Right image: collector’s edition of ‘Card Captor Sakura’ manga volume 1, 2, 3 by CLAMP collection of Emerald L King.
Jewel heart ring by 6% Doki Doki 2013, Tea cup cookie ring by Angelic Pretty 2010 collection of Megan Rose

Left image: ring by Angelic Pretty and Omotsesando La Foret ‘AP x Harajuku Dream Together Project Alice in Wonderland’ teacups 2012, heart ring by Swimmer 2014 Pulip Aoki Misako x Favourite Ribbon’ Baby the Stars Shine Bright Doll 2014 collection of Megan Rose

Eureka ‘Alice’ issue with Higuchi Yuko illustration collection of Lucy Fraser

Shojo Bibliotheca

At the center of our work is the figure of the reading girl. For the UTAS version of our exhibition, we were able to take advantage of our library setting and fill the space with books.

Throughout our work there are a number of texts that we return to again and again.

The following list (in no particular order) is by no means exhaustive but should serve as a starting point for your reading:

  • Shōjo Across Media: Exploring “Girl” Practices in Contemporary Japan (Ed. Jaqueline Berndt, Fusami Ogi, Kazumi Nagaike. Palgrave Macmillan, 2019)
  • Women’s Manga in Asia and Beyond: Uniting Different Cultures and Identities (Ed. Fusami Ogi, Rebecca Suter, Kazumi Nagaike, John. A Lent. Palgrave Macmillan, 2019)
  • Ages of Shojo: The Emergence, Evolution and Power of Japanese Girls Magazine Fiction (Hiromi Tsuchiya Dollase, State University of New York Press, 2020)
  • Passionate Friendship: The Aesthetics of Girls’ Culture in Japan (Deborah Shamoon, University of Hawai’i Press, 2012)  
  • Girl Reading Girl in Japan (Ed. Tomoko Aoyama & Barbara Hartley, Routledge, 2010)
  • Bad Girls of Japan (Ed. Laura Miller & Jan Bardsley, Palgrave Macmillan, 2005)
  • Girls: Feminine Adolescence in Popular Culture and Cultural Theory (Catherine Driscoll, Columbia University Press, 2002).
  • Boys’ Love Manga: Essays on the Sexual Ambiguity and Cross-cultural Fandom of the Genre (Ed. Antonia Levi, Mark McHarry, and Dru Pagliassotti, McFarland, 2010).
  • International Perspectives on Shojo and Shojo Manga: The Influence of Girl Culture (Masami Toku, Routledge, 2015).

Book of early translations of Japanse fairy tales, by Kitkat Photography

As part of the closing events of the physical exhibition in 2021, we invited cosplayers and lovers of Japanese fashion cultures, as well as photographers, to do a photoshoot at the Fryer Library at The University of Queensland.

The staff at the Fryer Library generously opened their special collections to allow cosplayers, Japanese street fashionishtas, and photographers to pose and play with their holdings.

Tea dressed as Barbara from Genshin, by Kitkat Photography: Photoshoot in Fryer Library

Tea (Instagram @te.a.cos) dressed as Barabara from Genshin, by Kitkat Photography (Instagram @ kitkat_photog)

As part of the closing events of the physical exhibition in 2021, we invited cosplayers and lovers of Japanese fashion cultures, as well as photographers, to do a photoshoot at the Fryer Library at The University of Queensland.

Genshin Impact is an open world role-playing game produced by Chinese game developers miHoYo. I find it fascinating that even though the game is developed in China, it is marketed not as 原神 (yuánshén) but with the Japanese reading – perhaps picking up on and exploiting the popularity of Japanese visual culture.


Blythe doll ‘Gillian’s Dream’ 2018
Collection of Megan Rose

In my dreams, I find myself in Ginza. The swan boats, the beautiful restaurants, the glittering lights as I walk down the crowded streets… I find myself nostalgic for the 60’s when I wake from those dreams, so I don my goose coat and make my way to the city.

Jillian is going out to the city with her charming goose coat! Her dress is made with a geese printed fabric, smock embroidered with a low collar and gathered at the waist of the skirt. This dress is covered head to toe with an A line silhouette coat featuring the cutest pair of geese leisurely floating in a pond, surrounded by adorable flower appliqués.


looking at the gothic shojo

excerpt from “Girls in Lace Dresses: the Intersections of Gothic in Japanese Youth Fiction and Fashion” by Emerald L King, Lucy Fraser in New Directions in Children’s Gothic (2017)

The well-established aesthetic of the Gothic of an imagined Europe is reiterated especially clearly in Sakuraba Kazuki’s GOSICK young adult novel series. The title itself is a typically free appropriation of foreign text and tradition, playing on the Japanese loanword from the English ‘gothic’, goshikku, which is then rendered in the Roman alphabet as the invented word ‘gosick’. GOSICK is a ‘light novel’ series, a recent format that generally describes a short, easy-to-read novel with illustrations, targeted at teens (Steinburg 2012: 244). In fact, the Sakuraba herself describes this series as her deliberate move to gain popularity through entertaining and digestible work: ‘In entertainment novels for children,’ she says, ‘you can’t write complicated feelings or dark content’ (‘GOSICK Interview’ 2013). Sakuraba notes that she ‘saved up’ darker ideas and themes that did not fit here – these found success in works for adults such as A Lollypop or a Bullet, which brought her recognition in the realm of mainstream fiction (see Fraser 2012).

The success of the series encouraged its development into a mix of media in several languages, so that written and visual aspects all form part of the collective text. The series includes 13 novels published by the Fujimi Shobō mystery label between December 2003 and July 2011, with cover and other illustrations by manga artist Takeda Hinata. The first two

novels were translated into English by Tokyopop in 2008 and 2010 (also available in French and German).x The novel series was adapted to a 24-episode television series of the same title, animated by Bones and aired by TV Tokyo January–July 2011, and officially licensed for simulcast online with English subtitles by Crunchyroll. A manga adaptation with art by Amano Sakuya was also serialised in Monthly Dragon Age from January 2008 to May 2012. GOSICK is set in 1924, in a literally ‘imagined’ Europe: Sauville, an invented small French-speaking country hidden somewhere in the Alps between Switzerland, France, and Italy. Japanese encounters with this imagined West are foregrounded through the character of a Japanese exchange student: the only Asian student at his exclusive school, St Marguerite Academy, Kujō Kazuya is the 15-year-old youngest son of a military family, invited to study in Sauville as part of the country’s post-World War I program of accepting foreign students. The earnest Kazuya plays Watson to an eccentric girl detective, Victorique de Blois. Victorique spends her time in the conservatory of a high tower of a magnificent library building within the school, a bored genius occupying herself with the endless books at her disposal. Her half-brother, the police inspector Grévil de Blois, visits Victorique for her insight into the mysteries that confound him, and Kazuya also gets caught up in the action.

The 1920s is rapidly becoming an appealing time setting for young adult Gothic fiction. In the Japanese imagination, the Roaring 20s, a result of the Taisho period (1910-1926), is something of an odd blip between the rapid modernisation of the Imperial Meiji period, and the nation building, martial years of the early Shōwa period (1926-1989). Governed by an inept Emperor (Yenne 2014: 38), it is a period of rapid social upheaval, political unrest, and natural disasters; all set to a soundtrack of American and Japanese jazz. The period also saw a boom in popular and youth culture, and speculative fiction; it is no coincidence that many of the ‘big names’ of Japanese Gothic were alive during this period. For GOSICK, this means that the series is set in a liminal, imagined European country during an interim time period.

Despite this violence and darkness, the GOSICK novels are streaked with comic and light-hearted moments, and entertaining caricatures. As such the claim of links to Gothic genres might be tenuous if it were not for Sakuraba’s invocation of Japanese imaginings of a mysterious Europe, and through the figure of Victorique. One Gothic element of the novel that Sakuraba herself has highlighted is Victorique in her role of a woman confined to a tower (‘GOSICK Interview’ 2013).[i] An illegitimate child of a noble family, born to a dancer mother who went mad, Victorique was raised in isolation and is now confined to the school library; in Volume 1 she jokingly describes herself as an ‘imprisoned princess’ (292).

Clothing the GOSICK heroine

Victorique’s appearance and dress make important contributions to the Gothic nature of the novels and their related products. Her anachronistic gowns may be seen as an oversight or the result of a lack of familiarity with European dress, but, like the designers of Gothic Lolita street fashion designers whose garments Victorique’s so closely resemble, ‘Japanese designers have strategically referenced certain aspects of historical European dress, producing something new’ (Monden 2013: 170). After all, as Takahara points out, the Gothic aesthetic is ‘essentially a variation on the heritage of the past. However, this is a fabulous past which has never actually existed’ (2004: 1; trans. cited Mackie 2009).

The manga and anime adaptations build on Takeda’s original drawings published as part of the Gosick light novels. A key part of the look of the manga, Victorique’s elaborate dresses and gowns spill over the borders of the comic panels she appears in. Although set in the early 1920s, many characters seem to be clad in anachronistic costumes. The blouses and long skirts worn by the staff and female students of St Marguerite Academy seem to refer back to the shirtwaist blouses and long skirts of the early 1900s Gibson Girl rather than the tubular silhouette that the 20s is better known for. This does make some sense, as uniforms, for both staff and students of any institution, tend to be conservative and slow to change (Brunsma 2004: 3). Kujō too, is most often seen in his school uniform, which consists of dark, narrow fitting trousers, a black blazer with an epaulette-like design on the shoulders, a black tie, grey vest, and a white shirt with small wing-tip collars. When not in his uniform, Kujō is shown wearing an informal green jacket with wide black colours and cuffs, teamed with a pair of trousers (possibly even lederhosen given the distinctive chest strap on the suspenders he wears and the location of the school somewhere in the Alps), calf length brown boots and a somewhat battered looking fedora hat.[ii] Kujō’s school uniform, lederhosen, and fedora are timeless garments that could be worn any time from the late 1800s onwards. Victorique’s garments, however, make little sense for a young woman in the rapidly modernising world of the 1920s, referring as they do to Victorian styles that would have been popular decades earlier. In A Geography of Victorian Gothic Fiction,Robert Mighall claims that ‘defining feature of Gothic is its concern with the “vestigial”’ (cited Spooner 2004: 15). If we consider this in terms of fashion, then Gothic clothing is, more than black velvet and lace, vinyl and leather, ‘the vestigial remains’ of fashions past, particularly if they ‘fill us with horror’ (Spooner 2014: 16). Reading them in this manner then, Victorique’s gowns are Gothic, not only because of the links with Victorian Gothic, but because of their vestigial nature in the novel’s setting of the early 1920s.

The GOSICK media mix is not limited solely to print media. The series boasts a 2011 collaboration with Gothic and Lolita brand, Innocent World, which comprised of a two coloured ‘one piece’ dress (OP) trimmed with rows of ribbons and lace and featuring bell-shaped ‘princess sleeves,’ a longer ‘tiered’ OP, optional lace sleeves, a pair of knee length socks striped with roses and abstract fleur de lis, pointed boots with bow details, a bonnet, a flat head dress and lace gloves (Lolibrary n.d.). All of these items were produced in three colour ways – Beige, Brown x Beige, and Wine/Bordeux. Innocent World describe the pieces as ‘delicately arranged lace’ with ‘bold colours’ that make for a ‘classical style dress’.

2011 also saw a collaboration between GOSICK with high-end doll-maker Volks under their Super Dollfie line. Dolls, Takahara writes, are becoming ideal material for the expression of a gothic consciousness (Takahara 2004: 172). Takahara notes that he refers to dolls as objet, such as creations by Hans Bellmer or, in Japan, Yotsuya Shimōn/Simone: these dolls have a sense of the artistic, or the erotic, without being sex toys; as ball-jointed, moveable items they are marked as dolls rather than statues of human figures that they resemble; and ‘their ability to be detached or reassembled makes them represent a human body in an unreal condition’ (172-173). There is a clear link between GOSICK and the doll, beyond it being just another product tie-in. In the light novels, Victorique is frequently depicted, as in the title to Chapter 3, as a ‘blonde fairy’, a ‘broken doll’ (285), and the first line of the manga is simply ‘doll’ (ningyō). The three panel page shows Kujō walking through an airy, plant-filled room. He looks up to see a seated figure holding a pipe and wearing a black ruffled dress (1). The coloured frontispiece of the second volume of the manga shows Victorique, in white Victorian underwear embracing a life-size doll doppelganger that is dressed in complementary black, acknowledging the doll as an uncanny mirror or reverse image. Volks offers Victorique in her iconic black and grey dress – that features on both the Volume 1 covers of the light novels, and the manga – and Kujō in his school uniform. The creation of dolls conveys a sense of innocence, yet the uncanny darkness invites an erotic gaze that complicates this. Through these two collaborations, fans of GOSICK can choose to express their ‘admiration for innocence’ (Takahara 2007: 9), an act that Takahara claims is part of the ‘Gothic spirit’, through either taking care of the Volks dolls – each doll is each issued with either a ‘birth certificate’ or an ‘owners’ certificate – or by taking on the guise of the doll by wearing the Innocent World collection.

Victorique, as a Gothic heroine, is in a unique position. In many Japanese Gothic narratives, women are relegated to the status of victim (Hughes 2000: 71). Furthermore, in Tanizaki’s work, for example, there are only two options for women: idealised figure of the mother/Madonna or the reviled, yet sexually alluring figure of the harlot (McCarthy 1982: 2-3). Victorique is a non-woman: a girl in a shōnen title; a doll; a fairy.Yet while women in Japanese Gothic are relatively powerless, their spirits ‘are capable of powerful revenge’ (Hughes 2000: 71). Victorique, as a non-woman and clad in Gothic and Lolita style fashion, is able to draw on this occult power. In her work on representation of Gothic and Lolita fashion in Japanese television series, Akiko Sugawa suggests that the dual nature of the fashion’s name ‘deftly symbolises the binary features of shōjo: Goth denoting girls’ occultist [power] and loli signifying girls’ romantic cuteness’ (Sugawa-Shimada 2013: 200).

On the one hand, Victorique’s very name points to the feminine Victorian sensibilities that define and often restrict her; from her mode of dressing, to the tower in the library to which she is confined. On the other hand, the genius detective Victorique – and her name is in fact a man’s name[iii] – is also allotted some of the powers of the Victorian period’s most famous consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes. As noted above, Kujō takes on the role of her sometimes reluctant Watson, while her half-brother Grévil de Blois corresponds to a composite of Inspectors Lestrade (whose first name starts with a G)[iv] and Gregson. The most obvious link, after her detective work, is Victorique’s pipe. While Sherlock is most commonly associated with a great Calabash pipe,[v] in Conan Doyle’s texts he was depicted using clay, briar, and cherry pipes. Like Sherlock, Victorique favours a white clay pipe which she uses when thinking through a case. However, so pervasive is the Calabash that it features on the Kadokawa Bunko release of the GOSICK light novel series which saw the removal of the distinctive light novel cover. In this edition, Takeda’s original illustrations were replaced with silhouettes of Victorique in frilled dresses surrounded by various mystery and Gothic accoutrements. Volume 1 of this reissue features a calabash pipe as well as two rabbits, a pistol and a dagger. Furthermore, the monstrous dog of the prologue of the first GOSICK book, as well as the murderous ‘hunting dog’ on board the ship (which appears in the light novel, manga and anime versions), echo the enormous hound of Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902). Written during the late-Victorian era, The Hound of the Baskervilles illustrates how the ‘modern detective story emerges almost simultaneously with the late-Victorian revival of the Gothic tale’ (Clausson 2005: 63-64). The horror and mystery elements present in GOSICK, Conan Doyle’s Sherlock tales, as well as in the work of Kurahashi Yumiko, Edogawa Ranpo, and Tanizaki Jun’ichirō, operate ‘both to create mystery and then to give the illusion – but only the illusion – of solving it’ (Clausson 2005: 78).

[i]               A figure also seen, as the author herself points out, in Sakuraba’s entertaining historical-supernatural novel, Fuse: A Counterfeit Legend of Eight Dogs of the Satomi Clan (2010).

[ii]              It may even be Kujō is sporting that most Edwardian of hats – a homburg.

[iii]             In the Japanese, Vikutorika, noted by Kujō Kazuya to be a male name in Vol. 1 (29).

[iv]             This is revealed by Arthur Conan Doyle in ‘The Adventure of the Cardboard Box’ (1892).

[v]              This pipe has been favoured by actors depicting Sherlock Holmes since William Gillette (1853-1937). Gillette is also responsible for the deerstalker hat and the phrase ‘elementary my dear Watson’ (de Castella 2015: n.p.).

Like a teatray in the sky

The walls of the University of Queensland version of Maidens Sans Frontiers were papered with a collection of postcards, fliers, and photocopies that I have collected and plastered my office spaces with since I was an exchange student in the wilds of Niigata in northern Japan in 1999.

Let me share a secret with you – I cannot abide white walls. For whatever reason my brain refuses to function in white clad spaces. I am sitting in my new office at the University of Tasmania with a wall of bookcases at my back and a white wall at my front. One of the jobs I have set for myself for the first few weeks of 2022 is to correct this.

I started my first job as an academic in 2013 as a member of the Japanese department at Victoria University of Wellington. This was my office after the first few hours of inhabiting it. By the time I left the postcards and fliers and other ephemera had spread to cover that entire wall and cover the walls and window adjacent to it.

The images in this collection illustrate the full range of what I think of when I think of shojo – frilly dresses, delicate flowers, glistening sweets and treats, bloody guns, dark desires, beautiful kimono silks, and cats. Lots of cats.

Emerald L King

The featured image shows our currator Emily Wakeling in front of the exhibition at UQ in September 2021

What is shojo? 箪笥 장화, 홍련 

What is shojo? 箪笥 장화, 홍련 

In one of our exit survey responses (https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/2TWK6S9 we will pass your feedback on to our sponsors – The Japan Foundation Sydney, The University of Queensland and the University of Tasmania) one of our gallery attendees queried why there was a poster of A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) included in the exhibition.

Is this appropriation?
Is it ignorance?

I want to thank whoever queried my inclusion of this poster and to talk a little bit about both the film, my poster and flier collection, and to start thinking about 少女 and 소녀 (shojo and sonyeo).

A Tale of Two Sisters is a South Korean film initially released as 장화, 홍련 (Rose Flower, Red Lotus) during the start of what we now recognise as the first hallyu or Korean Wave in 2003. There is a 2009 US remake, The Uninvited which I haven’t seen but which has apparently suffered from comparisons to other Asian horror remakes.

At that time I was a student at university in Japan. I saw this film (released as 箪笥 a large trunk or chest of drawers) late one rainy summer night in a small art cinema in the middle of nowhere. The tale of sisters, step mothers, death, and betrayal is straight out of a Grimm Brother’s tale – and indeed, the film is loosely based on a tale that dates back to the Joseon era (1392-1897). There are some distinct crossovers here between early versions of Cinderella and Two Sisters – namely to do with mothers, clothing chests, and untimely deaths caused by daughters …

In some ways, the inclusion of the A Tale of Two Sisters poster is a link to the ideal of girl culture crossing borders and boundaries.

However, as we will see in my next post, my 箪笥 poster reflects my habit of lining my working spaces in ephemera and beautiful things that inspire me in my day to day work and research.

Emerald L King

Image shows a Tale of Two Sisters Japan release flyer, a post card for retro/1930s kimono brand ‘Furifu,’ a reproduction of a Meiji period advert for Mitsukoshi department, a flyer from the Okayama Yumeji muesuem circa 2010.

Karrie (Instagram @ tangled.larper) in Lolita fashion brand Mary Magdalene, by Kitkat Photography (Instagram @ kitkat_photog)

As part of the closing events of the physical exhibition in 2021, we invited cosplayers and lovers of Japanese fashion cultures, as well as photographers, to do a photoshoot at the Fryer Library at The University of Queensland.

This joyful image captures the importance of books and reading in shōjo (girl) culture.

The research volume Girl Reading Girl in Japan (ed. Tomoko Aoyama and Barbara Hartley) explores “reading girls” in depth.

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