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Aesthetic Life

Aesthetic Life

Beauty and Art in Modern Japan

Miya Elise Mizuta Lippit

ISBN 9780674975163

Publication date: 01/21/2019

This study of modern Japan engages the fields of art history, literature, and cultural studies, seeking to understand how the “beautiful woman” (bijin) emerged as a symbol of Japanese culture during the Meiji period (1868–1912). With origins in the formative period of modern Japanese art and aesthetics, the figure of the bijin appeared across a broad range of visual and textual media: photographs, illustrations, prints, and literary works, as well as fictional, critical, and journalistic writing. It eventually constituted a genre of painting called bijinga (paintings of beauties).

Aesthetic Life examines the contributions of writers, artists, scholars, critics, journalists, and politicians to the discussion of the bijin and to the production of a national discourse on standards of Japanese beauty and art. As Japan worked to establish its place in the world, it actively presented itself as an artistic nation based on these ideals of feminine beauty. The book explores this exemplary figure for modern Japanese aesthetics and analyzes how the deceptively ordinary image of the beautiful Japanese woman—an iconic image that persists to this day—was cultivated as a “national treasure,” synonymous with Japanese culture.


  • Possibly the most conceptually innovative and ambitious book on Meiji aesthetics and art to have been published in English in recent years…Without doubt, a major scholarly contribution to the understanding of Meiji culture. It sets a high benchmark for all future studies on the subject of modern Japanese aesthetics…Lippit has reenergized the subject of beauty as an important topic that has far-reaching cultural, social, and even political implications.

    —Noriko Murai, Monumenta Nipponica


  • Miya Elise Mizuta Lippit is Adjunct Associate Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures and Art History at the University of Southern California.

Book Details

  • 332 pages
  • 0-7/8 x 7 x 10 inches
  • Harvard University Asia Center