Japanese Children’s Magazines, 1888–1949


A Review of Tales for Tarō: A Study of Japanese Children’s Magazines, 1888–1949, by NONA L. CARTER.

In Tales for Tarō: A Study of Japanese Children’s Magazines, 1888–1949, Nona Carter narrates the history of children’s magazines in Japan from their inception in the 1880s to their decline in the late 1950s. The main theme of the dissertation is that children’s magazines played an important role in the construction of the modern Japanese nation-state. Publishers and government bureaus aimed to orient young minds towards nation-building, but their prescriptions changed with the changing political climate. The first four out of five chapters of the dissertation include a sub-section on censorship, which Carter uses as an indicator of government manipulation of reading materials for children.

To date, English-language researchers of Japanese studies have been slow to respond to the emerging field of the history of childhood. They tend to ignore Japanese children’s literature, except when it serves to illustrate trends in education, such as nationalism in the school system. Sporadic references to children’s magazines do appear in works on other topics. For instance, the late Japanese-American scholar Mikiso Hane  (cited in Carter’s dissertation) comments on Boys’ Club (Shōnen kurabu) in his book on interwar political rebels, Peasants, Rebels, and Outcastes: the Underside of Modern Japan (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1982). Mark Jones references Red Bird (Akai tori) and similar children’s magazines, in his discussion of the middle-class notion of the “childlike child” in Children as Treasures: Childhood and the Middle Class in Early Twentieth Century Japan (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010).

Yet, for a comprehensive treatment of Japanese children’s magazines per se, there is little outside of Japan besides Britta Woldering’s German-language study of Red Bird, Akai tori in den Jahren 1918/1919: Die Entstehung einer modernen japanischen Kinderzeitschrift (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1998). Thus, Nona Carter’s dissertation fills an important gap. It makes available in one locus an overview of Japanese children’s magazines. Carter’s narrative is also in conversation with secondary scholarship by Japanese literary scholars, such as Maeda Ai, Karatani Kōjin, Satō Michimasa, Torigoe Shin, Kan Tadamichi, Hasegawa Ushio, and others. Karatani Kōjin and Maeda Ai’s work have been translated into English, but the other scholars remain largely unknown outside of Japan. By introducing the research of Japanese scholars to the English-speaking world, Carter benefits those who are interested in comparative literature and cross-cultural studies but who are unable to read Japanese.

In addition to summarizing the history of Japanese children’s magazines, Carter also presents the reader with Torigoe Shin’s analysis of various versions of the Momotarō folk tale to show how they reflect the changing political mood of the times. For instance, Eguchi Kan, a writer during the liberal Taishō period (1918–1926), uses the Momotarō story to poke fun at Japanese nationalism and to elicit sympathy for the ogres that Momotarō conquers (p. 90). In contrast, during wartime Japan, poet Momota Sōji in 1944 sends Momotarō off to fight the ogres bravely, but with little hope of returning alive (p. 178). In the appendix, Carter provides her own translations of three representative Momotarō stories.

In Chapter One, Carter introduces a disagreement among Japanese scholars over what constitutes “modern” children’s literature before Ōgawa Mimei’s widely accepted Red Ship (Akai fune, 1911). Carter suggests that nationalism is a good indicator of modern thinking. Until the 1890s, children’s magazines were not clearly gendered or age specific. The term shōjo (young girl) emerged as a category distinct from shōnen (youth) partly in response to a new interest in girls’ education under Minister of Education Mori Arinori, who believed in educating women to become “good wives and wise mothers.”

Chapter Two connects the proliferation of children’s magazines to the mass publishing boom of the first two decades of the twentieth century, up until the disastrous Great Kanto Earthquake of 1922. Two trends emerge in children’s publishing: a child-centered literary movement surrounding the magazine Red Bird, and the more consumerist and popular Boys Club (Shōnen kurabu). Carter presents Kan Tadamichi’s definition of the “child’s mind” movement (dōshin-shugi) underlying the success of Red Bird, and the “canonization” of certain children’s stories. During this period, the proletarian literary movement appeared as a voice of dissent against government policies, producing its own vision of communistic children’s literature that is often overlooked by Japanese scholars.

Chapter Three discusses developments during the war years (1937–1945). Here Carter relates the intellectual shift to political militarism that occurred after the Communist party was suppressed in 1933. The “child’s mind” literature of the liberal era declined with the demise of Red Bird in 1936, partly because of increased government-led censorship, as well as internalized self-censorship on the part of writers and publishers. In its place, war stories for “junior warriors” on the home front were encouraged. Fantasy was replaced by “realism.” Interestingly, as magazine stories and illustrations emphasized martial and masculine qualities for boys, girls were likewise portrayed in illustrations as physically robust help-mates.

Chapter Four concentrates on the contradictions inherent in the censorship of children’s media by GHQ, the general headquarters of the Supreme Military Commander of the Allied Powers (SCAP). It aimed to remove vestiges of militarist thinking, and promote democratic ideals, while nevertheless preventing criticism of the American Occupation. On the one hand, magazine illustrations portrayed children more individualistically. On the other hand, topics such as the atomic bombs were banned from children’s literature. Carter cites Nakagawa Hiromi’s argument that the fantasy literature of the pre-war Taishō period reemerged in girls’ magazines during the early postwar period. Meanwhile, a movement for “conscientious” literature produced new children’s magazines, but could not last long in the Cold War era because of its identification with left-wing politics. Instead, the growth of manga as a visual form of children’s literature is an early sign of future commercialism in children’s media. One legacy of the Occupation period is an increase in the use of rōmaji (Roman script) in children’s magazines. Carter suggests that there was also a conflict between renewed interest in children’s education for a successful nation and “disgust” with the large numbers of street urchins left orphaned by the war, who were engaging in petty crime (p. 216).

Chapter Five posits that the post-Occupation period leading into the 1960s was a time of “stagnation,” when television replaced children’s magazines as the driving force of popular culture for children. Nevertheless, there were some new developments. The Children’s Literature Club at Waseda University promoted the idea of writing full-length novels for children. Even though it was fashionable to portray girls as cute and shallow, in Carter’s words, “girls were often portrayed as smart and clever or somehow better than the boy characters for the first time in children’s literary history” (p. 245).

Carter concludes that it is necessary to study Japanese children’s literature “in order to fully understand this period of transformation in Japan” (p. 251). Her dissertation is a highly useful resource for those looking for a snapshot of modern Japanese children’s literature and its main vehicle, the children’s magazine. Carter’s writing style is crystal clear and easy to read. She cites her sources methodically, and her translated quotes are careful and accurate. The Appendix includes illustrations and photographs.

L. Halliday Piel
Assistant Professor
Humanities Department
Lasell College
1844 Commonwealth Avenue, Newton, MA 02466


Primary Sources

Children’s magazines in the Hisayo Murakami Memorial Children’s Book Collection of the Gordon W. Prange Collection (University of Maryland Libraries)

Dissertation Information

University of Pennsylvania, 2009. 312 pp. Adviser: Ayako Kano.

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