The Single Woman in Tokyo in 1964: You Really Haven’t Come a Long Way, Baby

Cartoon entitled "Onna no Manako: Aki no Yoru wa Nagai",, from the November 11, 1964 issue of Shinfujin
Cartoon entitled “Onna no Manako: Aki no Yoru wa Nagai”,, from the November 11, 1964 issue of Shinfujin

One of my purchases in Jimbocho, the center for old books and magazines in Tokyo, is a copy of a popular woman’s magazine, Shinfujin (新婦人). The term “shinfujin” or “new woman” was a phrase that grew out of a feminist movement in Japan in the early 20th century. As Wikipedia states, shinfujin “denoted women who wore fashionable Western dress, socialized with men in public, and chose their own romantic partners.”

Shinfujin, 11 November1964
Shinfujin, 11 November1964

This particular issue was published a month after the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. In addition to a quick feature on the venues of the Olympic Games, it gives guidance on flower arrangement, fashion and the latest in stereo systems, for example. Towards the end of this issue is a striking cartoon about a single woman’s evening. It is surprisingly dark, with the illustration representing the start of the woman’s evening as the entrance into a snake’s mouth. A date turns into a leche, the train commute home is filled with gropers, and while she dreams of marriage, she cannot escape the nightmare of a snake.

The cartoon is drawn by someone called Inoue Yousuke, which is a man’s name. But I imagine the illustration still captured the unsaid thoughts of many women who read what appears to be a magazine targeting women of refinement.

Has Japan changed in 50 years?

Why does Japan today have train and subway cars that allow only women during rush hour?

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