lifestyle

'Joshi' or 'josei' - At what age does a 'girl' become a 'woman?'

33 Comments
By Philip Kendall

A recent question posted on Japan’s Oshiete! goo, a Q&A site not unlike Yahoo! Answers, asking where we draw the line between “girl” and “woman”, or rather “joshi” and “josei” in Japanese, has sparked quite the debate online, with some proposing that age 40 is the cut-off point while others believe “joshi” ends at 20.

In Japanese, there are numerous words that can be used to refer to a female: 女 onna; 女の子 onna no ko; 女子 joshi; 女性 josei; 女の人 onna no hito, and so on. All contain the kanji character for female (女), but there are subtle differences between the words, and we see them used in different ways according to the situation.

Take the recent Winter Olympic Games, for example. Whereas English speakers would have seen events like “women’s curling” or “ladies’ figure skating” broadcast on their televisions, in Japanese these events are all referred to as joshi plus the name of the sport. But since joshi, written 女子 as we have just seen, contains the kanji character 子 (literally meaning “child”) we could propose that the word conveys an image of a younger women, or a “girl” rather than a mature female, even though most of the athletes taking part in the Olympic Games are clearly fully-grown adults.

Curious about the subtle nuances of joshi and josei herself, Oshiete! goo user jun-tsuboi asked readers: “Until what age can we apply the term ‘joshi’ to someone?” It asked readers to share their thoughts on the matter. One reader proposed the theory that, perhaps thanks to things like sporting events wherein the word joshi is used, the cut-off point should be around age 40.

Many Japanese would argue that, as 20 is considered the age at which one becomes a consenting adult, one is a 女子 joshi until age 19, and becomes a 女性 josei, which most closely translates as “woman” or simply “female”, from then on. But then, as one fellow forum user 510322 suggested, we see joshi all the time in words like 女子会 joshikai (girls’ club/meeting/party) and 女子力 joshiryoku (girl “power”), and many of the women involved in such groups or being described with these words are often well over 40.

“It really depends on how that woman outwardly appears,” one reader writes, “I think we should do women the service of calling them joshi if they want to feel or appear young.”

So it would seem that joshi, rather than simply meaning “girl” is more of a state of mind than a matter of the birthdate stamped in one’s passport? Not according to the online masses…

“I’d say she’s a joshi until she’s 17.”

“Anything below 20 is a joshi.”

“Surely it’s rude to refer to anyone who has reached adulthood as a ‘girl’?”

“We stop [calling them joshi] somewhere between 18 and 25…”

“Surely 40s is middle-aged?”

“Wait, women in their 40s still have joshikai!?

“Up until 20, she’s an onna no ko, until 30 she’s a josei, after 50 she’s obasan.”

It would seem that even native Japanese aren’t quite sure where to draw the line, but what do you think, rocketeers? Should we judge each case on its merits and apply joshi to any woman who, be it through her outward appearance or behaviour, has an air of youthful vigor about her? At what age do you think a girl, like our pal Britney up there, becomes a woman?

Sources: Oshiete! goo, Himajin Sokuho

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- Twitter, Facebook, Line: The people of Japan vote on their favourite social networking services -- ‘Who needs marriage?’ 33 percent of Japanese think marriage is pointless -- Newly married man discovers that his wife is working at a cabaret club, asks the Internet for advice

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33 Comments
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At what age do you think a girl, like our pal Britney up there, becomes a woman?

The day she puts away her fake eyelashes and decides that DIsneyland isn't romantic after all.

11 ( +15 / -5 )

I remember watching a similar survey was conducted in Tantei Knight Scoop. Where should we draw the line between Onecyan and Obacyan and asked several boys whether they thought these women were Onecyan or Obacyan. It seems that we can't draw the line merely by their ages but their appearances.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Biologically speaking, the moment she gets her first period.

5 ( +11 / -6 )

The same sort of thing applies to English, for example we talk about a "Girls' night out" even if the participants are in their 50's. Its all very well saying, "Call them what they want to be called", but unless ladies start wearing little signs saying, "Call me <Joshi/Josei/Obachan/Obaachan>" then I'm going to stick with, Joshi, even if the woman in question has grey hair and a walker.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

Biologically speaking, the moment she gets her first period

You would call a 10-year-old a woman? No more is a menstruating girl a woman, than a boy who gets nightly emissions and a bit of fuzz on his cheeks a man - unless you're planning to sell them off in marriage for breeding purposes, that is.

3 ( +9 / -6 )

Not much different than in English. After all, we talk about a "Boys Night Out" if a group of adult males hit the town together, don't we?

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Joshi does not necessarily mean a girl. The counterpart danshi does not necessarily mean a boy, like danshi isshou no honkai, achievement of a man's life.

The names of Olympic games use joshi for women and danshi for men.

Shi may mean a child but a child may not be a minor.

Shi also mean a respected person like in Koshi, (Kongzi, Confucius), Roshi (Laozi), *Kan

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Why would one worry about such a thing to begin with?

1 ( +5 / -4 )

The differences between a girl and a women can be explained in many ways. Basically a women is the plural form of woman which is the mature version of a girl. From the childhood stage up to the moment when you are at the point of transitioning to adulthood, you are described as a girl and that would be generally at the age of 18. At this point a girl's physical growth stops meaning that girls are less mature, physically, mentally, and emotionally and are mostly dependent for their everyday needs from the most basic ones etc. On the other hand women are practically adults and most societies would classify that as 18 years and above. Therefore being mature in age implies that women are more mature in other aspects such as the emotional dimension as compared to girls. Of course this is not always true because generally women are better able to handle the pressures of life and are more responsible individuals. They are also prepared to have children, marry, and establish a family.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

When it comes to Japan I never felt age was a factor in determining this. There are women in their 40s who still act like women in their 20s. The opposite is true also.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

You would call a 10-year-old a woman? No more is a menstruating girl a woman, than a boy who gets nightly emissions and a bit of fuzz on his cheeks a man - unless you're planning to sell them off in marriage for breeding purposes, that is.

gurl, that's why he done said 'biologically speaking', and he's correct

2 ( +7 / -5 )

gurl, that's why he done said 'biologically speaking', and he's correct

'gurl' ? Really? You young whippersnappers nowadays don't know which way to put your baggy troos on any more, let alone how to address a faceless stranger.

You and I may approach life from different points in the vast world of vocabulary, sharkeisha, but we both know that 'girl' and 'woman' are not the only 2 words out there, to describe a human being of the female persuasion.

Garthgoyle is wrong to suggest that "the moment" a girl gets her period is when she becomes a woman. It's not a case of either/or, you see.

Starting to bleed is, for a healthy child, the beginning of the end of childhood, as well as the first step of the long journey towards womanhood, but it is not "the moment" a girl becomes a woman.

It is an important event of course - when menses kick in (or rather, seep out) - and needs to be celebrated. Older relatives may use hyperbole of the sort that Garthgoyle has done, because they don't know what else to say in their awkward embarrassment.

"Biologically", a menstruating 10-year-old is not a woman.

Thank you for reading, Garthgoyle. You may go back to your loud music and your other young friends now.

0 ( +6 / -6 )

Depends, is it biologically, emotionally or psychologically? I'm 23 years old: people call me a little girl when I achieve something great (as in: "don't feel too proud, little girl." , but a woman if I do something wrong.: "shame on you! You're a woman now!" soooo I think the different terms are a commodity!

4 ( +5 / -1 )

once I've has a discussion with a colleague about young mothers, and for curiosity we googled the youngest mothers. we had no idea what a shock was awaiting us: girls as young as 5-6 years old are known to give birth! it was stated that some of them entered precocious puberty and menstruation and breastfed the child.

Qamar, you are 23 years old, but a Nigerian girl became grandmother at 17!!

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

@Maria

That comeback was very well done.

Also interesting for us guys who don't know much about the female body. Generally speaking, girls do appear to mature faster than boys, not just physically but instinctively? As in looking after those around them more and noticing boys would not. Both genders go a little whacky in the teens but I guess that's hormone affecting good sense.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

Answer: When she chooses to.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Garthgoyle. You may go back to your loud music and your other young friends now.

Sorry Maria, you got me lost there.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Hahahaha, with us when she's done the deed!

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

@Garthgoyle - Sorry, I got the names mixed up. I meant that condescending bit at the end there to be for sharkeisha.

@Reformed Basher - thank you.

It is worrying when people think (which they do all the time) that physical maturity - menstruation, breasts, hips - in a girl equate emotional maturity. That's no more true than boys suddenly becoming men because their voice has broken, their balls have dropped, and all the rest of it.

These changes are an unnerving, mysterious and sweaty surprise to most youngsters, but it's perhaps more of a problem for girls because, well, blood; and more of a danger because women's bodies are so sexualised.

It angers me no end when people respond to some news article about a teenage schoolgirl and some older guy by saying she egged him on, she knew what she was doing, she's as much to blame... It seems to me that such commentators want girls to be ready for that kind of behaviour at a young age. Why else would they say have such idiotic opinions?

Generally speaking, girls do appear to mature faster than boys, not just physically but instinctively?

Girls are (in a traditional household and in society generally) expected to nurture and be more mature. Girls are given much less leeway than boys when it comes to acting the fool, messing about, horsing around, not helping out. Girls are simply not encouraged to go wild and climb trees and otherwise be rambunctious, or just play outside and get grass stains:"Go help Mummy" etc etc.

What may be partly instinct is still mostly social training.

No wonder people think girls mature faster - they're not allowed to muck about as much as boys are.

@sharkeisha: Thank you for reading - you may now go back to playing your violent video games and piercings.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Joshi Kohkoh (Girls High School) Joshi Daigaku (Ladies College). Joshi until you get out from school? If one could not attend HS, then after Jr HS, she will no longer be Joshi? Onna for every female? Josei is politer than Onna.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

There does seem to be a phase between childhood and adulthood where it is hard to consider someone as either an adolescent or an adult. This lies somewhere between 18 and 25, when kidulthood is a better term. People in this bracket could be behaving like teenagers or some of them behaving far more grown up.

Personally I was a big kid until I was 24. My wife says I still am.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@timeon - Indeed! Till now the only pressure I have is that of getting married not to wed my daughter :P I personally think I'm not mature enough to even have children.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

start with figuring out when to use 男子 before choosing the harder one.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

When she has her first period. That means she can get pregnant and give birth. In present day terms though, I would say when she turns 16. At 16, most girls are fully developed - body wise. In Canada, the age of consent is 16. It used to be 14, but they raised it a few years ago.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

I would say when the "girl" is capable to make her own decisions and is able to live by herself or landing a husband who supports her then, she is a woman...

I still call some women of 30-40 "girl" but that's only because the term in Spanish "Mujer" always sounded harsh to me... and girls in Spanish is "niña"

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Some talk about biologically here. Much confusion about the biology of our species.

One thing so consider, two facts to remember. First, facts:

Menarche, the first menstrual cycle for females, DOES NOT equal ovulation." In postmenarchal girls, about 80% of the cycles were anovulatory in the first year after menarche, 50% in the third and 10% in the sixth year." -- source Wiki, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menarche#cite_note-Apter_D_1980_107.E2.80.9320-9

Meaning, the onset of the menstrual cyle is just that: an onset, and for the vast majority, it takes a year before they are capable of pregnancy, and for half up to three years.

Breast size and hip-widening, and takes from one to three years in the same way as ovulation.

If a pubescent female gets pregnant at first opportunity, her body will be unable to feed the infant, and at a great risk of not being able to get out of the vaginal canal.

The thing to consider:

Biologically, the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood is NOT a light=switch. It can takes, biologically, three years to complete the transformation.

Thhe young do switch to be

3 ( +4 / -1 )

@Maria

when menses kick in (or rather, seep out) - and needs to be celebrated.

I don't think I recall celebrating much the first time, nor every month in the last 30+ years since!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@Kittychosen - me neither!and I didn't really know what was happening at all, so when I first saw the spots of blood I chose to ignore them... Then when they happened again, I showed my mum my knickers, and she was really taken aback. There was a flurry of towel acquisition, but nothing was explained to me at all! I was 10 or 11 years old.

That's why I think parents should be prepared, prepare their daughter, not be embarrassed, and make a bit of a special deal around it, make the girl feel less confused.

After years of battle (irregularity, appalling PMS which would attack in the form of either paranoia or soreness) I am quite attached to my periods now, and shall really miss them when they go. I shall have a ceremonial melting of the Mooncup and several swift ones...

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Legally speaking: Anywhere from ages 18-25 depending on the country.

Biologically speaking: After her first menstrual cycle.

Realistically: Whenever she is able to cope maturely with the responsibilities of adulthood.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Thanks agin Maria.

Restricted behaviour might account for a lot as you say.

I was hiking the other day and stood to one side to let a family pass. The son was in a world of his own and didn't notice me but his sister did. I'm wondering whether lack of the boy's discipline (conditioning?) was the cause or because, as is have heard, girls are more aware of there immediate surroundings. (In the wild, female animals are supposedly this way in order to protect their young. Female elephants are a good example as they practice protecting the herd early on, the males play-fight with each other as a prelude to real fighting for dominance later. Maybe we simians are similar?)

0 ( +3 / -3 )

They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, why not youth? Thus, joshi or josei does not apply to the woman spoken to, but the person speaking to her. A wise person would investigate what the woman would like to be called, does she want to look young? Joshi. Does she want to be seen as an adult? Josei. I would say that young girls should be called josei and older women to be called josei, stroking their respective egos.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Many Japanese would argue that, as 20 is considered the age at which one becomes a consenting adult,

The key word missing from that sentence is "legally". In other words, some crusty old lawmakers who never met these people made a decision when became able to consent to various things.

But legal age of marriage remains 16 for females and 18 for males so long as there is parental consent.

as 20 is considered the age at which one becomes a consenting adult,

I never heard a Japanese assign a reason like that. Its more like they would argue that because its the status quo, and nothing to do with consent. Its westerners that go on and on about consent, and they do so without proper understanding of what it means to consent. And that is shown by omission of key words, such as "legally".

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I never heard a Japanese assign a reason like that. Its more like they would argue that because its the status quo, and nothing to do with consent.

I agree. Changing the status quo would play bloody hell with Japan's "Coming of Age" celebration. SOMEBODY (i.e. all the 19 year-olds) might get SKIPPED if the age of adulthood was changed to 18!! OH! The HORROR!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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