Deco Japan

Art deco style originated in the 1920s and 1930s following the First World War and the Great Depression. It is synonymous with jazz music and flappers, bold colours and geometric patterns, and influenced the architecture, fashions, and visual arts of the time. I had always assumed it only appeared in Europe and the United States, so I'm fascinated to learn that it also appeared in Japan as well.

The Deco Japan: Shaping Art and Culture: 1920–1945 exhibition at the Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens reveals the widespread impact of Art Deco on Japanese culture. It's a stunning exhibition and I highly recommend visiting it if you're local to D.C.

I particularly loved the depictions of the modern girl, known in Japan as the modan gaaru or moga, for short. With short hair, bright lips, and Western clothes or kimono, she was a ubiquitous figure during the 1920s and 1930s, appearing almost everywhere, from paintings exhibited in salons to nationwide advertisements. She epitomized the vibrant new culture while engaging in such “modern” activities as smoking, drinking and dancing.

SONGBOOK FOR “SONG OF THE MILKY WAY” (GINGA NO UTA) FROM THE FILM MILKY WAY (GINGA), 1931, PRINTED BY NOGUCHI TSURUKICHI, PUBLISHED BY SHŌCHIKU KINEMA GAKUFU SHUPPANSHA, COLOR LITHOGRAPH, INKS AND COLOR ON PAPER, 10 7/16 X 7 1/2 IN.

SONGBOOK FOR “SONG OF THE MILKY WAY” (GINGA NO UTA) FROM THE FILM MILKY WAY (GINGA), 1931, PRINTED BY NOGUCHI TSURUKICHI, PUBLISHED BY SHŌCHIKU KINEMA GAKUFU SHUPPANSHA, COLOR LITHOGRAPH, INKS AND COLOR ON PAPER, 10 7/16 X 7 1/2 IN.

“TEN QUALIFICATIONS FOR BEING A MOGA”

  1. Strength, the "enemy" of conventional femininity

  2. Conspicuous consumption of Western food and drink

  3. Devotion to jazz records, dancing, and smoking Golden Bat cigarettes from a metal cigarette holder

  4. Knowledge of the types of Western liquor and a willingness to flirt to get them for free

  5. Devotion to fashion from Paris and Hollywood as seen in foreign fashion magazines

  6. Devotion to cinema

  7. Real or feigned interest in dancehalls as a way to show off one's ostensible decadence to mobo (modern boys)

  8. Strolling inthe Ginza every Saturday and Sunday night

  9. Pawning things to get money to buy new clothes for each season

  10. Offering one's lips to any man who is useful, even if he is bald or ugly, but keeping one's chastity because "infringement of chastity" lawsuits are out of style

–by the leading illustrator Takabatake Kashō for the magazine Fujin sekai (1929)

Saitō Kazō (1887–1955), Songbook for “Heart of the Modern Girl” (Kindai otome gokoro), 1930, color lithograph, inks on paper, 20 x 16 inches. Levenson Collection.

Saitō Kazō (1887–1955), Songbook for “Heart of the Modern Girl” (Kindai otome gokoro), 1930, color lithograph, inks on paper, 20 x 16 inches. Levenson Collection.

SONGBOOK FOR "THE MODERN SONG" (MODAN BUSHI), 1930, K. KOTANI, JAPANESE, INK ON PAPER, 16 X 20 IN.

SONGBOOK FOR "THE MODERN SONG" (MODAN BUSHI), 1930, K. KOTANI, JAPANESE, INK ON PAPER, 16 X 20 IN.

SONGBOOK FOR "SONG OF THE ERA OF EROTIC FEELINGS" (EROKAN JIDAI NO UTA), 1930, SAITŌ KAZŌ, JAPANESE, 1887–1955, INKS ON PAPER, 16 X 20 IN.

SONGBOOK FOR "SONG OF THE ERA OF EROTIC FEELINGS" (EROKAN JIDAI NO UTA), 1930, SAITŌ KAZŌ, JAPANESE, 1887–1955, INKS ON PAPER, 16 X 20 IN.

KIRIN ORNAMENTS (KIRIN OKIMONO), CA. 1930, SAKAIDA KAKIEMON XII, JAPANESE, 1878-1963, PORCELAIN WITH TRANSPARENT GLAZE, 13 X 12 1/2 X 7 3/4 IN.

KIRIN ORNAMENTS (KIRIN OKIMONO), CA. 1930, SAKAIDA KAKIEMON XII, JAPANESE, 1878-1963, PORCELAIN WITH TRANSPARENT GLAZE, 13 X 12 1/2 X 7 3/4 IN.

SMOKING SET WITH LACQUER TRAY, 1931, YAMAKAWA KŌJI, JAPANESE, 1884 - 1938, LACQUERED WOOD, SHIBUICHI, SILVER, SHAKUDŌ, 1 1/2 X 13 5/8 X 9 5/8 IN.

SMOKING SET WITH LACQUER TRAY, 1931, YAMAKAWA KŌJI, JAPANESE, 1884 - 1938, LACQUERED WOOD, SHIBUICHI, SILVER, SHAKUDŌ, 1 1/2 X 13 5/8 X 9 5/8 IN.

VASE WITH FLYING FISH DESIGN, CA. 1930S, ISOZAKI YOSHITSUGU (BIA), JAPANESE, 1884–1949, SILVER WITH GILDING, 12 X 8 5/16 IN.

VASE WITH FLYING FISH DESIGN, CA. 1930S, ISOZAKI YOSHITSUGU (BIA), JAPANESE, 1884–1949, SILVER WITH GILDING, 12 X 8 5/16 IN.

DANCER, OR "CURVED LINE OF THE INSTANT" (DANSĀ, OR SETSUNA NO KYOKUSEN), 1932, KOBAYAKAWA KIYOSHI, JAPANESE, 1899 - 1948, INK AND COLOR ON PAPER, 24 X 20 IN.

DANCER, OR "CURVED LINE OF THE INSTANT" (DANSĀ, OR SETSUNA NO KYOKUSEN), 1932, KOBAYAKAWA KIYOSHI, JAPANESE, 1899 - 1948, INK AND COLOR ON PAPER, 24 X 20 IN.