From Punch Pictures to Manga

By Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry

Kiyochika Kobayashi "Asian Seafood", October 10, 1885, Marumaru Chinbun issue 513, Marumarusha

In Japan, western-style caricatures were referred to using the word “punch” from the late Edo period until the Meiji period. But how did these widely loved “punch pictures” becoming “manga”?

Western Satirical Punch Picture Figures published by "Kōko Shinbun" on April 3, 1868 (Kōko Zappō Shokyoku, kept at the Mainichi Newspapers Co. Araya Bunko) (1868)Original Source: National Institute of Japanese Literature

Where did so-called "punch pictures" come from?

 Ippyō Imaizumi was the first person to start using the word "manga" to refer to the caricatures of western countries, but western-style caricatures themselves were introduced to Japan starting in the late Edo period. Starting with the release of "Seiyō Giga Ponchi no Zu" [Western Satirical Punch Picture Figures], western-style caricatures were referred to using the word punch or punch pictures. This was actually a reference to "PUNCH", the title of a major UK satirical magazine, and the word "punch" (pronounced “ponchi” in Japanese) was interpreted as referring to caricatures in general.

Kuniyoshi Utagawa "Curious Good Doctor Treating Difficult Patients" (1850)Original Source: Waseda University Library

Satirical ukiyo-e (pictures of the floating world) from the late Edo period

 There were many ukiyo-e with hidden satirical meanings produced during the late Edo period, and the margins around these pictures were filled with words thought to have been written by popular authors. These sorts of pictures were also seen in kusazōshi, illustrated reading material that was actively produced during the Edo period.

Written by Sanba Shikitei, drawn by Toyokuni Utagawa "A Device for Peeping into the Human Heart" (1794)Original Source: Waseda University Library

Kinkichirō Honda "Yatsuto Makashiyo Satsukorasa", October 20, 1877, Marumaru Chinbun issue 31, Marumarusha (1877)Original Source: National Institute of Japanese Literature

Fusion with western culture

 During the early Meiji period, many newspapers and magazines were started as new media, taking after their counterparts in western countries. These included many punch pictures. These pictures inherited the style of satirical ukiyo-e from the late Edo period as well as the Edo "kusazōshi" style, and the spaces between the artists’ drawings were filled with words written by popular authors. One could even say that "punch pictures" were the result of applying a conventional style to caricatures that were published in new media such as newspapers and magazines.

Kinkichirō Honda "Bon Memorial Service", July 27, 1878, Marumaru Chinbun issue 71, Marumarusha (1878)Original Source: -

 The words written around many "punch pictures" often included words written in seven-and-five syllable meter as well as word play referred to as jiguchi puns, and they were intended to sound amusing when reading aloud.

Kiyochika Kobayashi "Asian Seafood", October 10, 1885, Marumaru Chinbun issue 513, Marumarusha (1885)Original Source: -

 The word play in the text often extended to the drawings themselves. For example, the Japanese word for the National Diet (kokkai) was written as the word for a black shell (kuroi kai = kokukai), and the name of Prime Minister Kiyotaka Kuroda was expressed as "Kurodako" (black octopus). The only way to figure out what was actually being expressed was to convert the things that were drawn into spoken language, which was a somewhat riddle-like gimmick. 

Misei Kosugi "Insects army and our soldier", September 1, 1904, Senji Gaho issue 20 (1904)Original Source: -

The line between "manga" and "punch pictures"

 Ippyō Imaizumi displayed his works in an exhibition of the "Hakuba-kai" (White Horse Society), a group formed by Seiki Kuroda—a well-known western-style painter—and others. Ippyō was apparently trying to establish "manga" as a form of art, specifically a genre of paintings. In actuality, from around 1897 to the Taisho period, Misei Kosugi, Takeshirō Kanokogi, and a number of other painters were involved in "manga". They inherited the belief that, unlike "punch pictures"—which were only considered complete works in combination with the prose of popular authors—a painting done by a painter alone could be considered manga. 

鹿子木孟郎《山縣大山の二侯爵》1904(明治37)年5月20日発行『時事漫画 非美術画報』第2巻より、山田芸艸堂 (1904)Original Source: Kawasaki City Museum

Beisaku Taguchi "Falling Between Two Stools", April 11, 1896, Marumaru Chinbun issue 1055, Marumarusha (1896)Original Source: -

The changing nature of "punch pictures"

 The "punch pictures" published in newspapers and magazines also started changing in the second half of the Meiji period. Although their name remained the same, the amount of text and proportion of word play in them decreased. This was apparently a result of newspapers and magazines finding it increasingly necessary to report fast, which led to a greater emphasis on the efficiency of information communication and a need for content for which the hidden meaning could be visually perceived at a glance as opposed to word play that had to be read aloud and riddle-like drawings to be leisurely enjoyed.

April 1, 1899, "Jiji Shinpō [Current Events]", the first manga drawn by Rakuten Kitazawa for the newspaper (1899)Original Source: -

"Manga" that matched the times

 Due to both the purist artistic view that, as a painting, "manga" should be able to express its ideas without relying on words and the situation of the media, for which more efficient information communication was demanded, "manga" transformed into caricatures that replaced "punch pictures" and were more suitable for modern times. After Ippyō, Rakuten Kitazawa—who was in charge of manga for "Jiji Shinpō" [Current Events] and gained popularity through the "Jiji Manga" column—was the first person to succeed with manga.

Rakuten Kitazawa "Jiji Manga", January 12, 1902, Jiji Shinpō [Current Events] (1902)Original Source: -

August 3, 1895, Marumaru Chinbun issue 1022, Marumarusha (1895)Original Source: -

"Manga" had either one or multiple frames

 It’s especially interesting that, as the proportion of words used with "punch pictures" decreased, newspapers and magazines started publishing "punch pictures" that incorporated multiple frames to express things in humorous ways. Therefore, once Ippyō started using the word "manga" to refer to the name of a genre, the term already included both one-frame and multiple-frame works.

"Mokuyou Giga [Thursday's satirical cartoons]", August 24, 1899, Yomiuri Shimbun (1899)Original Source: The Yomiuri Shinbun

"Manga (Excerpt from a Foreign Newspaper)", April 27, 1891, Jiji Shinpō [Current Events], No. 3002 (1891)Original Source: -

Ippei Okamoto "Manga-style Forecast of 1915", January 5, 1915, Tokyo Asahi Shimbun (1915)Original Source: The Asahi Shimbun Company

The potential of "manga"

 Once the word "manga" was used in Japan, the term already encompassed caricatures, cartoons, and comics. In addition, as shown by the popularity of the "manga" prose created by Ippei Okamoto—which incorporated both pictures and words—manga was a sort of “impure” format from which words could not be completely excluded. It was this very impurity that would result in "manga" growing to become a genre of such formidable expressive power.

Ippei Okamoto "Watching Yachiyo Tondaya", March 16, 1915, Tokyo Asahi Shimbun (1915)Original Source: The Asahi Shimbun Company

Credits: Story

Text: Hirohito Miyamoto(Meiji University)
Edit: Nanami Kikuchi, Natsuko Fukushima+Yuka Miyazaki(BIJUTSU SHUPPAN-SHA CO., LTD.)
Supervisor: Hirohito Miyamoto(Meiji University)
Written in 2020

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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