The Showa Era is a fascinating time in Japanese history. Spanning from 1926 to 1989, the length of the reign of Emperor Hirohito, the period comprises the so-called post-war miracle, when Japanese society modernized and westernized. Japanese people gained access to new technologies and household appliances and fully embraced pop culture.
Going to the movies became popular, as did listening to music and sports on the radio. People began gathering in new restaurants and bars. Japan saw the proliferation of fast-food chains and konbinis, iconic convenience stores like Family Mart and Lawsons, with their shelves packed with consumer goods. Cooking became more efficient at home, too; easy meal options included instant noodles and frozen food.
Born in 1977, artist Rina Yoshioka only lived through the tail end of the Showa Era, but her fascination with the period is such that she made it the overlying theme of her work. Painting on canvas, wooden panels, and paper with acrylic gouache, Yoshioka recreates the Showa zeitgeist in garish illustrations of urban and domestic scenes, all featuring women as central figures.
昭和时代在日本历史中是独特的存在。1926 年至 1989 年裕仁天皇在位期间，日本社会实现了现代化、西化，及战后重建。日本民众开始接触新技术和现代家电，并完全接纳了流行文化的洗礼。
出生于 1977 年的艺术家吉冈里奈（Rina Yoshioka）正好赶上昭和时代末期。她对这一时期极为迷恋，并将其作为主题进行创作。她的作品中，女性被视作主体。她以帆布、木板和丙烯酸水粉纸上，描绘着一幅幅奢淫的都市场景，展示着昭和时代下社会的思潮。
When looking at her work, viewers might feel like her sense of perspective and scale is slightly off. That’s not something intentional but an accidental consequence of her manual process. Whatever the result is, she embraces it. Yoshioka’s work has a low-brow, kitschy style, similar to the iconography of cheap graphic novels and vintage Bollywood posters. “I’ve always liked the coolness of the analog era and the rough atmosphere Japan had during the Showa period,” she says, adding that anything “vivid and fluffy” attracts her.
Something else stands out in the scenes she depicts: her female characters appear objectified, in BDSM roles, as sex workers, strippers, hostesses, or housewives, for instance. They pose to satisfy or entice the male gaze or else they’re involved in sexual adventures, sometimes quite sordid.
在吉冈里奈所描绘的场景中，有一个视觉主题格外引人注目，即被物化的女性。她们或成为 BDSM 对象、性工作者，或是脱衣舞女、歌伎或家庭主妇，纷纷搔首弄姿来满足或吸引男性的目光；有时她们会尝试大胆的性探索，其中一些场面相当露骨。
The Showa years also had their kinky side. It was the boom of brothels, love hotels, adult magazines, and the pinku eiga, a low-budget genre of soft-core porn films also known as pink films. The latter two exhibited high levels of toxic masculinity and the obvious sexploitation of women with romantic, comedic, or sadistic overtones.
Adult magazines were sold openly, often in konbinis, and pink films were commonly screened across erotic cinemas in central locations, despite being an embarrassment to serious Japanese directors. To Yoshioka, there’s an obvious difference in how people perceived sexual themes then and now. “I think the Showa Era was more vulgar and obscene, and there was a much more defined separation between the roles of men and women,” she says.
One of Yoshioka’s favorite personalities of the Showa Era is Naomi Tani, an erotic actor with the matronly appearance of a housewife. Tani was best known for her BDSM roles in pink films. In fact, she had a preference for such parts, and after some progression in her career, she made a condition that she would only work in movies that involved bondage. Tani was also known for being highly dedicated to acting and willing to experiment with even the most extreme sexual kinks.
In many of her illustrations, Yoshioka pays homage to Tani. She even had a solo exhibition called The World of Naomi, for which she named several female characters after the actor. Her Naomis appear in various situations: working in the kitchen or at the tavern, tied with ropes in a kimono, smoking a cigarette in the dead of night, or as a showgirl, to name a few. Many of these illustrations closely resemble the cover art of Tani’s movies and some of her sexual encounters on screen.
谷直美（Naomi Tani，色情演员）是吉冈里奈在昭和时代最喜爱的公众人物之一。最让谷直美闻名遐迩的，是她在桃色电影中的扮演的 BDSM 角色。而这类角色，也成为谷直美演艺生涯中的挚爱之选。她甚至在成名后提出一个条件，只会出演涉及 BDSM 的电影。之后，谷直美因极高的专注度、敢于尝试最极端的性癖而爆红。
Sex workers and showgirls are also recurrent themes in Yoshioka’s work. “I think such professions can express the strength and beauty of women,” she explains. For the Pleasure Rakuten series, she drew inspiration from the tart cards, flyers, and postcards advertising the services of sex workers that could easily be found in some public places, especially in phone booths, until recently.
“I find these leaflets interesting because of their small size and rough design,” Yoshioka says. “They were everywhere in Japan from the Showa Era to the Heisei Era. The times were not yet so strict,” she adds. Once more, her characters take on various roles, from dressing up as nuns and nurses to exotic Hawaiian dancers.
此外，性工作者和歌舞伎也是吉冈里奈作品中反复出现的人物。她说：“这些职业可以表达女性力量和美丽的另一面。”她所创作的系列《快乐天国》（Pleasure Rakuten ），其灵感就来自于印有性服务广告的卡片、传单和明信片，这些广告曾在公共场所，尤其是电话亭里随处可见。
Frequently, Yoshioka establishes an interesting parallel between a man’s desire for women and his appetite. Her women appear associated with food and drinks, like sake sets, sushi, and, perhaps implying a housewife role, vegetables, and packaged food—several times these women are involved in food play.
Occasionally, they are the food, or so it seems from Yoshioka’s depictions. In a few instances, they stick their heads out of sake cups or literally bathe in curry bowls as if ready to (gladly) be devoured. Regarding this association, Yoshioka simply says she “enjoys drawing food as much as she enjoys drawing a woman’s naked body” and that “the sexiness of a woman’s body and food go well together.”
Yoshioka admits her depictions of life and culture during the Showa period are not necessarily accurate. She doesn’t engage in in-depth research and is not interested in the period from a historical perspective. Instead, her inspiration comes from movies and posters, sex advertisements, and other elements that evoke the Showa mood. The rest she paints with her imagination. Sometimes she even inadvertently includes anachronic elements in her illustrations and only finds out when someone points them out.
Yoshioka’s chosen aesthetic is undeniably linked to the sense of escapism from contemporary life. Still, perhaps, her work also bares a sense of reverie that takes her away from her own world and personality. “When I was a student, I was quiet and restrained. I felt inferior. Since painting gives you the freedom to do as you wish, I like to draw pretty girls that are different from me. I think there’s also a longing for and a crush on these pretty girls,” she says about her work.
Yoshioka grew up and is still based in Kawasaki, one of the main cities of the Greater Tokyo Area. She always enjoyed drawing and began attending painting classes when she was three. Creative fields were always her thing, and she later graduated from Tama Art University, majoring in film and photography.
During her studies, she developed a parallel interest in Indian culture, especially religious paintings of deities. After she graduated, she worked part time in an Indian restaurant and eventually embarked on a trip to the country. Amidst local frenzy, one thing caught her eye: “I was overwhelmed by the power of hand-painted movie signboards,” she says. That’s what prompted her to go back to drawing and towards her specific style.
Yoshioka also mentions the work of Tadanori Yokoo as an influence on her work. Yokoo is a prominent graphic designer and a representative artist of the Japanese counterculture. He began his career creating posters and flyers for theater productions. With time, though, he became interested in mystical and psychedelic themes, doing his own travels through India in search of inspiration. His work is pop and colorful, composed mainly of nonsensical collages that make a satirical commentary on Japanese society.
Similarly, Yoshioka’s art can also be seen as a comical critique of Japanese society, notably the place of women in Japan’s patriarchal society and the shufu culture that dictates they have to become housewives and submit to their fathers, husbands, and sons. In her illustrations, Yoshioka playfully twists the power balance in sexual role-playing. Her male characters appear pathetically gawked, lost in perversion and lust, and with the appearance of overworked middle-aged men.
On the other hand, her female characters are exuberant and in control, using their seductiveness to manipulate their male counterparts and get what they want. “It seems humorous that men try to stand on top of women socially, even though they are not as attractive as women. That’s why I always draw attractive women,” she says. Yoshioka sees women’s attractiveness as something powerful and hypnotic—something men lack in nature.
Eroticism in Japanese art precedes the Showa Era by centuries, and it was a part of daily life. During the Edo period, from 1603 to 1867, shunga, a sexually explicit art form printed in hand scrolls, was widely available and appreciated across society. Like the pink films, these erotic depictions represented the sexual relations of ordinary people and were replete with lust, drama, and comedy.
Jump a few centuries, and much has changed. As Japan modernized, sexual repression grew at the same speed. Discussing sex and private matters can now represent huge cultural taboos. In some ways, by illustrating a completely different Japan, Yoshioka also criticizes the fact that Japanese society seems to have gone passionless and repressed.
Yoshioka doesn’t like to define her work. Still, she says it relates to how “people’s feelings and desires were more disclosed in the past than they are today” and that her illustrations are a way to cast light “on feelings of melancholy and desire,” as well as the “strangeness of human beings.”
It’s almost as if Yoshioka is musing on anemoia, or the nostalgia we can feel for a time we barely experienced, to draw a shameless Showa, partly accurate, partly imagined, based on her own interpretation of a bygone era when things were more loose and exciting and when human emotions were more exposed.
日本艺术中情色元素的出现要早于昭和时代几个世纪，情色艺术一度甚至是日本人日常生活的一部分。在江户时代（1603 年至 1867 年），春画（shunga），一种印刷在手卷上的、赤裸裸表现性爱的艺术形式，在社会上被广为传播和欣赏。像桃色电影一样，这些情色作品描绘普通人的性关系，其中充满了欲望、戏剧性和喜剧元素。