By Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry
Unknown artist, a part of "Chōjū Giga" first screen Kosanji, Kyoto
Are the Chōjū Giga manga or not?
Whether one can actually call the Chōjū Giga “manga” differs depending on how one looks at the history of what is expressed. If we define the term manga in a certain way and then regard everything that fits our definition as manga, then we can go ahead and call the Chōjū Giga manga as well. However, if we instead argue that the art was a product of the times and focus on how the people back then regarded it, then the Chōjū Giga are not an example of manga. In fact, the word manga itself did not even exist in Japan back then.
Japan’s only national treasure in the field of caricature
In 1905, the "Chōjū Giga" were designated a national treasure as a four-volume set of ink drawing caricatures on paper. In "Kōhon Nihon Teikoku Bijutsu Ryakushi" [A Brief History of the Art of Imperial Japan], a Tokyo Imperial Household Museum compilation published in 1916, these works were entitled the Chōjū Giga, and they were praised as “a cunning example of humor full of hidden satire.” These works are the only example of artwork corresponding to the caricatures of western countries being designated as a national treasure. This designation is thought to have added support to the idea that these picture scrolls represent the beginning of the history of Japanese manga.
"Kōhon Nihon Teikoku Bijutsu Ryakushi",Compilation by Tokyo Imperial Household Museum, Ryūbunkan Tosho, between p.172-173 (1916)Original Source: collection of the National Diet Library, Japan
In "Nihon Mangashi" [History of Manga], which was written by Seiki Hosokibara in 1924, the theory that “the Chōjū Giga are the oldest example of Japanese manga” was already prevalent, and it’s not clear who was the first person to say this.
The word "manga" became synonymous with caricature starting in the Meiji period
The first example of the word manga being used to refer to caricatures in the western sense of the word was in the newspaper "Jiji Shinpō" [Current Events], which was started by Yukichi Fukuzawa. More specifically, the first example we know of was the issue of the paper dated February 6, 1890. Ippyō Imaizumi—who learned about caricatures in the United States before returning to Japan and subsequently worked at the paper—titled the collection of works released in 1895 "Ippyō Mangashu Shohen" [Ippyō Manga Collection: Volume 1].
eisen Terayama, a journalist for "Jiji Shinpō", provided a preface for Ippyō Mangashu Shohen, in which he wrote the following regarding the history of Japanese art: “Japanese artists have not really mastered the secrets of humorous satirical pictures, but the Chōjū Giga are a notable exception. The manga works of Ippyō, who has learned about western caricatures, are likely to bridge a gap in the history of our art.”
According to Terayama’s way of thinking, it can’t really be argued that the history of Japanese manga dates all the back to ancient times, but the Chōjū Giga are the one exception to this. During the Edo period—particularly near the end—many ukiyo-e (pictures of the floating world) were produced, some of which included hidden satirical meanings, but such works were not mentioned in the preface.
Ippyō Imaizumi "Ippyō Mangashu Shohen [Ippyō Manga Collection: Volume 1]", Kōin Shinshisha (1895)Original Source: Fukuzawa Memorial Center for Modern Japanese Studies
The origins of the word "manga"
The Sino-Japanese word "manga" originally referred to a type of bird called a spoonbill, and there are examples of such usage in Japan starting in the early 18th century. At the time, the word was pronounced "mankaku, not "manga". Starting around the end of the 18th century, we started to see examples of the word being used to mean free-spirited drawings, but the term still didn’t mean humorous caricatures. The word manga in the "Hokusai Manga" [Hokusai’s Sketches], a series of works by the ukiyo-e artist Hokusai Katsushika, is an example of this earlier usage.
Why did Hokusai choose the word "manga"?
There are two theories on the meaning of manga as it is used in the title "Hokusai Manga": one is that it refers to the free-spirited nature of the drawings, and the second is that—like the spoonbill, which tirelessly hunts all day long in search of food—the drawings cover a diverse range of subjects and are depicted using a diverse range of techniques. Assuming the latter theory is true, one could argue that Hokusai preempted the thinking of Shōtarō Ishinomori, a later manga artist who used the term "manga" (with a character meaning all or various) in an attempt to emphasize that manga can depict a diverse range of events.
Hokusai Katsushika "(Denshin kaishu) Hokusai manga", vol. 10 (1819)Original Source: © The Trustees of the British Museum
Comparing the present and the past
It was only during the Meiji period that both artists and readers became aware of manga as a genre and that it became possible to trace the history of manga as a continuous series of inherited techniques and styles. It was also during this time that people started writing "manga" in various ways, including the use of both katakana and hiragana.At the same time, finding things among various past expressions that fit the definition of a "caricature" as "humorous satire" or that of "comics" as stories told through pictures, words, and frames has nothing to do with what the people of the time were thinking. If we remain cognizant of this and the fact that this is something we’re only doing now, it might lead to creative discoveries.
Fumiyo Kouno "Giga Town", p.10 (2015)Original Source: Asahi Shimbun Publications
"Giga Town"—a work by Fumiyo Kouno that uses the animals of the Chōjū Giga to consider contemporary manga techniques—helps us consider the differences between the Chōjū Giga and today’s Japanese manga.
Text: Hirohito Miyamoto（Meiji University）
Edit: Nanami Kikuchi, Natsuko Fukushima＋Yuka Miyazaki（BIJUTSU SHUPPAN-SHA CO., LTD.)
Supervisor: Hirohito Miyamoto（Meiji University）
Production: BIJUTSU SHUPPAN-SHA CO., LTD.
Written in 2020.