Genius of Play: The World of Ryuichi Yokoyama

Japanese Manga history would not be what it is without this Kouchi-born

"Fukuchan" SeriesOriginal Source: ©︎ 横山隆一記念まんが館

Ryuichi Yokoyama is known as the creator of Fuku-chan, Japan’s beloved cartoon character. Yokoyama was a major influence to manga artists such as Osamu Tezuka and Takashi Yanase. Trace the genius manga artists’ life and creative work at the Yokoyama Memorial Manga Museum, located in Kochi Prefecture, his hometown.

Yokoyama Memorial Manga MuseumOriginal Source: ©︎ 横山隆一記念まんが館

The Father of Kochi - Manga Kingdom

Takashi Yanase, creator of Anpanman; Rieko Nishihara, creator of Bokunchi; Michiharu Kusunoki, creator of Wangan Midnight; Masaya Tokuhiro, creator of Jungle King Tar-Chan…all these manga artists are from Kochi Prefecture. The local communities work to promote manga culture in Kochi. Some Junior-high and high schools offer manga classes as extra-curricular programs. Kochi also hosts a manga championships, a competition to decide Japan’s best high school manga club.

Ryuichi Yokoyama Memorial Manga MuseumOriginal Source: ©︎ 横山隆一記念まんが館

So who was responsible for founding a culture of manga in Kochi? Ryuichi Yokoyama is considered Kochi’s father of manga. Yokoyama, the creator of nationally known cartoon Fuku-chan, made a name for Kochi as the “Manga Kingdom”. Yokoyama was born in Kochi in 1909. His humorous cartoons became popular before the start of the Second World War and remained prominent in post-war Japanese society and publications.
Yokoyama was the son of silk wholesalers. He grew up in Kochi and left for Tokyo after finishing junior-high school. In Tokyo he was an apprentice to a sculptor. Inspired by manga published in magazines such as Shin-seinen, he began to draw manga during his free time. He submitted his work to the magazines and before he knew it he was a regular contributor. Soon he was able to earn a living from drawing illustrations and manga for magazines.

Ryuichi Yokoyama's Early WorksOriginal Source: ©︎ 横山隆一記念まんが館

Yokoyama’s major influence was American cartoonist, John Held Jr. Held Jr’s cartoons were published in Life and JUDGE magazines. Yokoyama was very interested in Held’s use of lines and refined style of cartoons which were comical and easy to read. At the time, most work in Japan were satirical and caricatures of the government and were mostly political cartoons. Yokoyama was the first generation of Japanese manga artists who focused on comedy and humor.

Ryuichi Yokoyama Memorial Manga MuseumOriginal Source: ©︎ 横山隆一記念まんが館

The New Manga Collective

In 1932, Yokoyama started the New Manga Collective. He brought together manga artists who were competing for the same jobs. Together they formed a cooperative office and took on jobs as a group. The system they founded was a new concept. In order “To focus completely on the development of manga. To break down old conventions vigorously and create freely without being tied to traditions…” Yokoyama was ready to challenge the norms with the foundation of his new organization.

Naoko Tadokoro, museum director of the Yokoyama Memorial Manga Museum says “ Yokoyama had a strong desire to create opportunities for young and talented artists of the generation.”

Yokoyama Memorial Manga MuseumOriginal Source: ©︎ 横山隆一記念まんが館

“The leading manga artists at the time were Rakuten Kitazawa and Ippei Okamoto, both were twenty to thirty years older than Yokoyama. Apprenticeship was still very strong in the industry and it was difficult for young artists to find their own opportunities. The general public considered manga as a side job for painters and was not considered as a true artform. However, the younger artists and Yokoyama worked in various mediums to hone their skills. They promoted themselves to work in a more expanded field. They proved that skilled young artists had the ability to work as professionals. Yokoyama’s generation defined what it meant to be a professional manga artist, this was a huge achievement.”

Fukuchan's ScriptOriginal Source: ©︎ 横山隆一記念まんが館

Fuku-chan goes National

Enjoying the snowy mountains, Yokoyama was out on a ski trip for the New Years holiday when he received a telegram from a newspaper. It said “Writing request for regular manga series, return to Tokyo immediately.” Towing his wife who couldn’t ski in a sled, Yokoyama crossed the mountains and returned to Tokyo. He immediately began the series Ken-chan - The Boy from Edo, a manga made of four panels. As the series were published, Fuku-chan, the sidekick, gained popularity and soon became the main character. The Fuku-chan series continued for thirty-five years in various publications. The series began in 1956 and was published 5,534 times in the Mainichi Shimbun.

"Fukuchan" SeriesOriginal Source: ©︎ 横山隆一記念まんが館

Fuku-chan Makes Yokoyama a National Manga Star

Fuku-chan depicts the world from a child’s point of view. The series was adapted for film, television and animation, and became a national favorite. It influenced many manga artists of the next generation including Osamu Tezuka and Takashi Yanase. Tezuka’s drawing of Fuku-chan is displayed at the Yokoyama Memorial Manga Museum.

"Fukuchan" by Osamu TezukaOriginal Source: ©︎ 横山隆一記念まんが館

“During the Second World War, Fuku-chan was depicted in propaganda leaflets made by the US military without Yokoyama’s permission. It really shows Fuku-chan was representative of the Showa era (1926 - 1989) in Japan. After the war ended, Yokoyama sent an invoice to the US Embassy charging them a usage fee for Fuku-chan, however it was ignored. In 1994 Yokoyama was recognized as a Person of Cultural Merit by the Japanese government. As a joke his colleagues billed the US Embassy again. The embassy responded with humor and agreed to pay the amount but in the currency rate at the time of usage, so Yokoyama received ¥180.”

Original Picture by Ryuichi YokoyamaOriginal Source: ©︎ 横山隆一記念まんが館

Yokoyama’s Lesser Known Work

Critic and commentator, Tomofusa Kure writes “Besides the famous Fuku-chan, Yokoyama drew many other humorous stories that were comedic masterpieces.” in the memoir Hyaku-baka Kessaku Purasu Fuku-chan - 100 Stupid Masterpieces Plus Fuku-Chan, published by Jitsugyo no Nihonsha. Yokoyama left many pieces of work along with Fuku-chan that mark a place in the history of manga.

Ryuichi Yokoyama "Hyakubaka" | Publisher: Kisoutengai CompanyOriginal Source: ©︎ 横山隆一記念まんが館


These cartoons are Yokoyama’s masterpieces. Each one lovingly depicted human folly and absurdities and show off Yokoyama’s unique humanistic approach. They were published in a weekly magazine Shukan Manga Sunday from 1986 - 1970. Yukio Sugiura, a member of the New Manga Collective says “Hyaku-Baka was Yokoyama’s best work.”

Ryuichi Yokoyama's Original Picture "Yuuki"Original Source: ©︎ 横山隆一記念まんが館


This drawing is absent of words. This composition reflects Yokoyama’s philosophy on manga. “Manga artists converse by turning words into pictures. We are not meant to be agitators who provide enlightenment from a high position, if readers nod in response, it’s a sure sign to return to the drawing table…” said Yokoyama.

Original Picture by Ryuichi YokoyamaOriginal Source: ©︎ 横山隆一記念まんが館

Picture Books

Yokoyama had a passion for combining children’s fables and drawings. He produced several picture books for children. The books are full of beautiful illustrations in color. Kuwantara-bune is the story of a ship that never sinks, even in a typhoon, it was published as a picture book in 1972.

Yokoyama Memorial Manga MuseumOriginal Source: ©︎ 横山隆一記念まんが館

Japan’s First Television Animation Series

What was the first animation series on TV in Japan? Many people may recall Astro Boy, created by Osamu Tezuka. However in 1961, two years before Astro Boy started, Instant History created by Yokoyama began broadcast on TV as Japan’s first animation series.

Yokoyama always held on to his dream of producing animation. When he was forty-six years old, he built his own animation production studio in his garden, it was named Otogi Productions. Here they created stories full of imagination and fantasy, such as Fukusuke, a story of a young frog that can fly because it’s light headed. These animated works lead the early stages of Japan’s animation industry.

A Look at OtogiproOriginal Source: ©︎ 横山隆一記念まんが館

According to museum director Tadokoro, “They worked on the entire process themselves from writing scenarios, making the original drawings, editing and recording. It was an immense amount of work and time and the return for the labor was very small. It is said that Yokoyama invested money he made from his manga into producing animation.”

Recreation of Ryuichi Yokoyama's Home BarOriginal Source: ©︎ 横山隆一記念まんが館

Always Serious about Play

Manga, animation, illustrations and picture books, Yokoyama was vigorous in all aspects of his work, but he never forgot to play. He opened a private bar in his home, showcasing drink coasters and liquor bottles which he collected from around the world. He was a huge train model hobbyist and built a giant diorama for his trains to run. During the hot summers at the animation studio, him and his staff dug a pool in the garden. No matter how busy things got, Yokoyama made time to play.

Ryuichi Yokoyama's Odd Collection "Kawabata Yasunari no Tanseki"Original Source: ©︎ 横山隆一記念まんが館

Yokoyama was also an avid collector of interesting objects. A piece of wall from Tokiwa-sou, the mecca of manga; gallstone of Nobel laureate Yasunari Kawabata; these are just a few items from his collection of over 700 objects. A portion of this collection is on display at the Yokoyama Memorial Manga Museum. Various items were given to Yokoyama from his many friends and relations from a variety of backgrounds. Some items may seem like junk, but to Yokoyama they were his treasures.

Yokoyama Memorial Manga MuseumOriginal Source: ©︎ 横山隆一記念まんが館

Yokoyama passed away at age ninety-two, right before the opening of the Yokoyama Memorial Manga Museum in 2001. “In order to laugh, we need to affirm and accept our lives and being human.” Yokoyama affirmed playfulness, impulse, human folly and error as part of being human. He refined his observations into comedy and laughter and brought joy to many people.

During his life Yokoyama mentioned “It’s most fun to play when you are very busy”. Questions about sincerity and living are a part of modern life, to review Yokoyama’s way of life and work full of play and laughter seems to be very appropriate today.

Credits: Story

This article was produced in June 2020, based on the interview conducted at the time.
Cooperation with:
Yokoyama Memorial Manga Museum
Kochi City Foundation for Cultural Activity

Photos: Yuri Nanasaki
Edit & Text: Masaya Yamawaka
Edit: Saori Hayashida
Production: Skyrocket Corporation

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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