For Japanese Women, The Past Is The Latest Fad Japan's reki-jo, or "history girls," love learning about shoguns' castles and samurai battles, and they idolize historical figures like rock stars. Some observers believe this is more than just a trend: The reki-jo subculture signals a kind of empowerment.
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For Japanese Women, The Past Is The Latest Fad

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For Japanese Women, The Past Is The Latest Fad

For Japanese Women, The Past Is The Latest Fad

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Tokyo on the rise of the history girls.

ANTHONY KUHN: Reki-jo all have their favorite historical periods and characters. Speaking in a Tokyo cafe, Anne says hers is the Shinsengumi, the elite swordsmen of Japan's last shogun.

ANNE: (Through translator) The Shinsengumi is popular among Japanese girls because its members were all young, in their teens to early-30s. They changed Japan. The interesting part of their era is that we can see some photos of them, so we can imagine them better and feel closer to them. This history gives courage to young people today.

KUHN: In TV dramas, the Shinsengumi are all played by popular, young male actors. The reki-jo history girls idolize these historical figures like rock stars.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KUHN: Ryo Watanabe, no relation to Anne, is one of the media and marketing entrepreneurs who have helped build the reki-jo phenomenon. He created this music, a Web site, TV shows and a bar for reki-jo to congregate. Watanabe explains that history girls populate both virtual and actual worlds.

RYO WATANABE: (Through translator) The virtual ones just play games and follow individual characters. The real ones start with games, but they also do research, read books and visit historical sites. These are the real history girls.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KUHN: Patrick Galbraith is a Ph.D. student at the University of Tokyo and author of "The Otaku Encyclopedia." He says that the reki-jo history girls signal the rise of the female otaku. And what do male otakus do?

PATRICK GALBRAITH: They are really kind of focusing on what types of women they're interested in, and they create this kind of fantasy discourse about the female, and they consume these fetishized fantasy images. And women also have been doing this for a very long time, but it's always been kind of below the surface.

KUHN: People in Japan increasingly define themselves through the media they consume rather than work, family or school ties. Of course, this is true elsewhere, but Galbraith says the 1990s decline of Japanese corporate culture has pushed the country's hobby culture into the mainstream.

GALBRAITH: Now we're seeing more and more people who are making connections through consumption, through shared media, through shared patterns of social existence, and maybe reki-jo is one example of that, because really they are, I think, people who share an interest but almost nothing else.

KUHN: It's Wednesday night, and the reki-jo history girls head down to Ryo Watanabe's bar to talk about warlords, sieges, assassins and the like. In her metal-studded leather attire, Miyuki Miyamoto(ph) is dressed more for a mosh pit than a history seminar. And she's proud of it.

MIYUKI MIYAMOTO: (Through translator) I like to be called reki-jo. Ten years ago, I had a negative image of the serious, isolated girls who like history but has few friends. Now I feel more recognized as one of a group.

KUHN: Anthony Kuhn, NPR News.

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