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This article is about the Japanese word for young girl. For other uses, see Shojo (disambiguation).

Cover of one of the earliest shōjo magazines, Shōjo Sekai, published July 1, 1908 by Hakubunkan.

Shōjo, shojo or shoujo (少女 shōjo?) is a Japanese word originally derived from a Chinese expression written with the same characters.[nb 1] The Chinese characters ( and ) literally mean young/little and woman respectively.[1] In Japanese, these kanji refer specifically to a young woman approximately 7–18 years old.[2] Shōjo can often be translated with the English word girl.[3]


Like most kanji compounds, the term shōjo is borrowed from Classical Chinese characters. The term 少女 is pronounced shào nǚ in Mandarin (pinyin romanization), so nyŏ in Korean (McCune-Reischauer romanization), and shōjo in Japanese (Hepburn romanization), although, as noted above, it can also be pronounced otome in Japanese.

The earliest surviving written record of the term 少女 is on the Book of the Later Han, published in China in the 5th century, in Chapter 86, The myth of Yao, referring to young girls.[4]

盤瓠種,昔帝嚳時患犬戎入寇, 乃訪募天下,有能得犬戎之將吳將軍頭者,購黃金千鎰,邑萬家,又妻以少女[5].

Translation: The myth of Yao: the country is being invaded by barbarians, the king is looking for warriors who are capable of taking the head of the general of the invading army, and for this the king will award (a) thousand Yi [6] of gold, (a) myriad of houses and young girl(s) as their wife/wives.

In the 7th century, the word was introduced into the Japanese language through the adoption of the Chinese-style Ritsuryō legal system, where it referred to females between the ages of 17 and 20.[2][7]

Modern usage

In legal settings, shōjo is a subset of shōnen (meaning "minor") and refers to any female juvenile who has not reached the age of 20.[8]

In Japan, the word shōjo has many applications outside of the law. It refers to anything of, for, or about school-age girls.[9] Examples include shōjo manga, shōjo culture,[10] shōjo novels, shōjo hobbies, and shōjo fashions, among others.

See also

  • Bishōjo
  • Josei
  • Lolicon
  • Lolita
  • Shōjo manga, a Japanese manga demographic
  • Shoujocon, a former anime convention held annually from 2000–2003
  • Shōnen, shōjo's male counterpart, includes legal definition of shōnen and shōjo
  • Women in Japan
  • Yaoi
  • Yuri
  • Yamato Nadeshiko

Other works

  • Binetsu Shōjo, a shōjo manga series by Kaho Miyasaka
  • Shōjo Sect, a Japanese adult manga series written and illustrated by manga author Ken Kurogane.


  1. Because of the difficulty of inputting macrons on many computers, "shôjo" and "shöjo" are also common and acceptable renderings, although "shōjo" is preferred.)


  1. Yuen Ren Chao and Lien Sheng Yong. 1962. Concise Dictionary of Spoken Chinese. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. (No ISBN). 少 is radical #42, page 64. 女 is radical #38, page 54, meaning woman or female. 女 can be used as either a noun or an adjective.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Shogakukan Daijisen Editorial Staff (1998), Daijisen (大辞泉?) (Dictionary of the Japanese language), Revised Edition. Tokyo: Shogakukan. ISBN 978-4-09-501212-4.
  3. The word girl in English has complex meanings, and care is needed in its use. See Francoeur, R.T., Martha Cornog, Timothy Perper, and Norman A. Scherzer 1995 The Complete Dictionary of Sexology, New Expanded Edition. New York: Continuum.
  4. Chinese Dictionary, Department of Education of Republic of China
  5. 後漢書 南蠻西南夷傳 Department of Asian History, Nagoya University Accessed 2008-09-14
  6. 1 Yi (鎰) equals 315 gram Chinese dictionary online
  7. 清水民子『女の子はどう育つか : 少女期その世界と発達』新日本出版社、1989年4月、ISBN 4-406-01723-2
  8. Public Prosecutors Office, Japan.
  9. Shogakukan Dictionary Editorial Staff (2003), Tsukaikata no wakaru ruigo reikai jiten (使い方の分かる類語例解辞典?) ("A Dictionary of Synonyms in Japanese"), New Edition. Tokyo: Shogakukan. ISBN 978-4-09-505522-0.
  10. 山崎まどか『オードリーとフランソワーズ-乙女カルチャー入門』(晶文社、ISBN 4-7949-6518-4、2002年