Dressing for Work and Play in Jazz-Age Tokyo

Freedman translation

Modernism and Fashion: Dressing for Work and Play in Jazz-Age Tokyo

My talk examines how women’s fashion defined Jazz-Age Tokyo, representing larger social desires and fears about rapid national modernization. In the 1920s and 1930s, Tokyo emerged as a modern metropolis, filled with mass transportation, imposing architecture, and crowds at work and play in bustling business and entertainment districts. Although Tokyo’s development had begun earlier, a conjuncture of historical forces made the speed and extent of change more dramatic than ever before. Concurrently, interwar Japan was wracked with economic recessions, control by the police state, and militarization—all apparent in Tokyo. The increasing sight of new kimono designs and Western clothing made visible employment and educational opportunities for women in the city. Clothing also showed the failed promises of consumer capitalism and symbolized how urban interactions posed threats to ideals of motherhood that were being promoted as Japan mobilized for war. These notions are clear in discussions about how women should dress for work and play in Tokyo. I will show an array of visual and literary sources, including advertisements, film, popular fiction, and journalism, to provide a composite portrait of clothing’s significance in the Japanese city. In the global imagination, Tokyo is still characterized by its unique street fashion.

Presenter Profile: Alisa Freedman, Associate Professor, Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures

Alisa Freedman (photo by Jack Liu)

Alisa Freedman, Associate Professor, UO Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures, has taught Japanese Literature and Film at the University of Oregon since 2005. Much of her work investigates how the urban experience has shaped human subjectivity and cultural production. She strives to show how literature and visual media can provide a deeper understanding of society, politics, and economics. Her book Tokyo in Transit: Japanese Culture on the Rails and Road, published by Stanford University Press in 2010, explores fictional and artistic depictions of the ways increased use of mass transportation changed Tokyo’s social fabric. Her edited volume Modern Girls on the Go: Gender, Mobility, and Labor in Japan is due out soon from Stanford University Press. In addition, Alisa is engaged in many literary translation projects, especially experimental modernist prose and stories by contemporary women writers. Her annotated translation of Nobel Prize-winner Kawabata Yasunari’s The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa (Asakusa kurenaidan) was published by the University of California Press in 2005 and was favorably reviewed in such mass-circulation periodicals as the New York Review of Books, Village Voice, and Japan Times newspaper and in major academic journals, including Japan Forum and Japanese Studies. The Library Journal gave the book a starred review.