The shôjo (girl) aesthetic in Japanese illustrated and picture books
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Japanese picture books (ehon) are internationally recognized as artistically innovative, beautifully produced, and amongst the most outstanding in the world. Like Japanese art and culture, they are richly intertextual, heavily influenced by international philosophies, literature and art. Drawing on early twentieth century artistic experiments and new liberalist ideas introduced from the west, these books blend traditional Japanese and European aesthetics. Many Japanese picture books thus instantiate and deconstruct complex intercultural ideologies and subjectivities. The motif of the "girl" (shôjo), for instance, recurs throughout modern Japanese illustrated books, and often subverts gendered constructions in ways that are not always well understood outside (or inside) Japan. The "girl" is often unfairly criticized as childish or "cute" (kawaii). Although often found in manga, anime and "girls' novels" (shôjo shôsetsu) in Japan and internationally, the girl motif has rarely been associated with picture books (Kilpatrick 2010: 149; 2012), and remains an under-examined aspect of illustrated Japanese books.