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
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