Kitazawa Rakuten’s (1876~1955) place in manga history is secure. Yet the two important manga historians of today, Shimizu Isao and Miyamoto Hirohito, diverge considerably in their understandings of what Kitazawa represents in this history. Shimizu sees him in terms of continuity, while Miyamoto sees him in terms of discontinuity. Both of these scholars are in agreement that Kitazawa was Japan’s first modern manga artist and that he was an important figure in early-twentieth century manga development. However, Shimizu considers Kitazawa as an important link in a manga history that connects manga’s present to ancient Japanese past, whereas Miyamoto views him as part of a radical separation from the past that established and popularized a new genre recognizable as manga today.
Here I want to explore these two scholars’ contrasting perspectives on manga history with a focus on Kitazawa whose own thoughts on manga I will take up at the end. As many readers are probably not familiar with this artist, I will firstly sketch out his life and career.
Kitazawa Rakuten was born Kitazawa Yasuji in 1876 , and began the study of art from the age of twelve, initially Western art but later Japanese art. He received some instruction in Western cartooning in the foreign treaty port of Yokohama from Australian cartoonist Frank A. Nankivell who worked at a newspaper there called the Box of Curios between 1892 and 1894. In 1899 Kitazawa was invited to join the major Japanese newspaper Jiji Shinpō when their cartoonist Imaizumi Ippyō (1865-1904) fell ill. Imaizumi had begun to use the word “manga” to label cartoons and comic strips. This term would later be adopted by Kitazawa.
At this newspaper Kitazawa initially drew political cartoons, illustrations and portraits. But he was asked to create American “narrative-style comic strips”, in four to eight panels for the paper’s Sunday edition. As a result, in 1902 he created a black and white comics page called Jiji Manga which would continue until mid-1905. On this page he introduced Japan’s first recurring comics characters, among them: the country bumpkins who have difficulty adjusting to city life Mokubei and Tagosaku; the would-be fashionable man-about-town High-collar Kidorō; and the mischief loving children Dekobō and Chame.
In 1905 Kitazawa Rakuten jumped at the opportunity to create and edit a manga magazine for the publisher Yurakusha. The resultant polychrome Tokyo Puck was loosely modeled after the US magazine Puck but with cartoons and comics on every page. Its popularity made Kitazawa, whose wage was linked to circulation, wealthy and it triggered a number of imitators. It also led to the word “puck” (pakku) becoming for a time a common generic term for comics, cartoons and manga magazines in Japanese.
Kitazawa left Tokyo Puck in 1912 and published two short-lived magazines Katei Puck [Household Puck] and Rakuten Puck, before returning to Jiji Shinpō in 1914. From 1921, his Jiji Manga became a permanent feature again, but this time as a four-page color insert, and over time increasing the participation of other manga artists. In 1932 he retired from Jiji Shinpō, but remained involved in the growing manga industry, training artists at his studios and serving in manga associations.
Kitazawa’s use of the term manga in particular with Jiji Manga, but also at Tokyo Puck, which advertised itself as a “manga” magazine, helped to popularize this word and its contemporary meaning which would enter vernacular Japanese from around 1914 when adopted by the manga artist Okamoto Ippei (1886-1948).
A Word about the Word
Kitazawa’s influence on the spread of the word manga is another point on which historians Shimizu and Miyamoto agree. As can be surmised from the above overview of Kitazawa’s career, he applied the term to both cartoons and multi-panel comic strips. Though as we shall see below Shimizu and Miyamoto perceive its meaning differently. But first, a word here on the slippery nature of this word is in order. How something is defined, as we all know, affects what is included in its history.
Often the two ideographic characters that form the word are, particularly in popular writing on manga, read essentially as meaning whimsical drawings or impromptu sketches, definitions that allow the casting of a very wide historical net indeed. However, the meaning of the word manga is actually arbitrary, and shifts over time and between users.
Shimizu: Kitazawa and Continuity
Shimizu Isao’s overarching histories of manga extend back to premodern, even ancient, times. Within these histories Kitazawa is one of a number of important actors in a continuum of development. Shimizu forwards his own definition of manga as, “pictures drawn in a ‘spirit of humor’ or ‘spirit of satire’.” While occasionally making use of other cartoonesque qualities (simplified line drawings, anthropomorphism, caricature, panels, etc.) and links in cultural practice (manga as commodity, popularity, artists’ contact with each other, etc.), it is mostly this rather broad humor/satire definition that allows him to reach back to a distant past and encompass a variety of forms. In doing this Shimizu builds upon the type of humor focused manga histories that first crystalized with cartoonist Hosokibara Seiki’s A History of Japanese Manga (1924). While more-or-less following the historical surveys by Suyama Keiichi, Miyao Shigeo, Ishiko Jun and others, Shimizu’s accounts vary in focus and form and sometimes shift a little to accommodate newly found material, changing trends in manga culture, or the research of others.
Shimizu’s manga histories indicate multiple start points. In many cases continuity between them is suggested more by their chronological order and the underlying broad definition rather than any detailed account of developmental changes. Shimizu’s histories begin with manga as a hand drawn form dating from eighth-century graffiti and the famous twelfth-century Frolicking Birds and Animals (Chojūgiga) picture scroll. The next start point is the beginning of manga as commodity from early in the eighteenth-century when they were produced for larger audiences using woodblock print technology. This is followed by the beginning of modern manga from the mid-nineteenth century until around 1910. Shimizu sees manga in this period flowering, particularly as satire, and becoming a true mass media form within journalism as state control of media relaxed and new foreign models were introduced. This is the period which appeals most to Shimizu, it is where his histories linger the longest, and where he places Kitazawa.
During this time a new style of manga was introduced labeled ponchi (named after the English humor magazine Punch). While approximating Western cartoons these, according to Shimizu, consisted of Japanese-Western hybrids, initially produced as woodblock prints. Shimizu says these ponchi had lost their vigor and deteriorated in quality by the 1890s, so Imaizumi Ippyō and then Kitazawa Rakuten applied the word manga to differentiate their work. For Shimizu this modern period comes to an end with a 1910 treason incident that led to media self-censorship and decline in satire.
Up to this point, the humor/satire definition is the main source of historical continuity, but moving towards the present this definition becomes less tenable. Here Kitazawa becomes one important link. With his Jiji Manga page and later color supplement as well as Tokyo Puck magazine he is regarded as the start point for newspaper manga inserts, for comics character creation, for children’s comics, for creative editing of comics, and for systemizing the production of manga with studio assistants. His long career, his influence on others like Okamoto Ippei and his fostering of young artists also provide continuity for Shimizu’s narrative well into the middle of the twentieth century.
Miyamoto: Kitazawa and Discontinuity
Miyamoto Hirohito is one of a handful of scholars who have in recent years questioned histories like Shimizu’s. For Miyamoto, Shimizu’s definition of manga as pictures drawn with a humorous or satirical spirit is inadequate. While Miyamoto does not attempt a definition for manga, he detects clear division within the alleged continuity of Shimizu’s modern period. As he has demonstrated, the satirical pictures of the last half of the nineteenth century, which had come to be known as ponchi, and the type of cartoons and multi-panel comic strips which slowly began to appear in newspapers from the 1890s, which Kitazawa helped popularize as manga, were radically different.
For Miyamoto ponchi had changed little in form from the 1870s through into the 1890s, even though many had been given a facelift with newer printing techniques (etching and lithography) and some with the addition of caricature. Produced mainly by the same print houses, writers and artists as earlier woodblock prints, ponchi were text-centric: all spaces around their pictures were filled with script, and this script overflowed with allusions to popular literature, puns, puzzles, and wordplay. Their text was mostly written with a poetic style and meant to be read aloud in groups. In contrast, manga were much more visually orientated; they depicted things more directly, representing moments in time. Unlike ponchi, they were designed to be silently and quickly grasped. Miyamoto has forwarded three main reasons for this change: 1) the new modern education system and new public reading spaces (trains, libraries, etc.); 2) the huge growth in daily newspapers which required information that could be digested quickly by a broader audience; and 3) the growing division of text and image into specialist areas. According to Miyamoto, along with this change, there arose a consciousness that a new genre had developed, leading to the need for a new label. The label adopted was “manga” a then little used word open to fill with new meaning.
Miyamoto’s theory of the change in phenomenon from ponchi to manga which took place roughly between 1890 and 1910, places Kitazawa within this transition period, making him a marker of discontinuity from longer traditions. Miyamoto’s historical perspective is also a point in discontinuity with established manga histories from Hosokibara to Shimizu. As distinct from these, Miyamoto’s theory applies to all manga, regardless of whether humorous, single panel or multi-panel narratives. Unfortunately, however, complex historical research either by Miyamoto or others building on this theory to connect it to the following periods has yet to be done.
The most important public demonstration of the change described in Miyamoto’s theory, was in the 2003 Newspark exhibition curated by him and Tokunaga Yasuhiko, bringing together ample historical materials displayed specifically to highlight the ponchi to manga shift. However the historical view of manga developing out of a premodern tradition holds popular appeal and persists in many forms in and outside of Japan. One recent example is the Manga Chronicle exhibit (curated by Shimizu) at the 2013 Milano Manga Festival which presented a two hundred year history of manga highlighting the “DNA” it inherited from traditional woodblock prints particularly Hokusai’s.
Kitazawa Rakuten’s Final Word
The lack of historical research building on Shimizu’s material and Miyamoto’s critical arguments also means that there are very few studies of Kitazawa Rakuten. Here I would like to touch on Kitazawa’s own writing briefly to consider the positions of the historians introduced above.
Between the 1920s and 1950s Kitazawa wrote a handful of essays looking back on his career occasionally elaborating on his conception of manga. In these he regularly stressed his efforts to “wipe out ponchi.” As noted above Shimizu indicated that Kitazawa had wanted to separate himself from ponchi because he felt they had dropped in quality. But there was more to his disapproval. He considered them also old fashioned, overly wordy, and incapable of direct expression. Kitazawa indeed asserts that manga should ideally have a minimal amount of words, and cartoonists “should endeavor to make the pictures speak”. For him this applied equally to single-panel cartoons and multi-panel comic strips: he opined that comic strips that make the reader “perceive the story without explanation are best”. Kitazawa also reasoned that unlike older times when political discourse was strictly controlled, press laws had become much more tolerant “so there was no need to say things in a roundabout manner”, and he was critical of artists continuing to use old-style methods of hiding satire “behind words, mostly in the form of wordplay”. Kitazawa’s disapproval here of excessive words, indirect expression and wordplay supports Miyamoto’s theory.
Kitazawa also perceived manga as something not Japanese, but something universal, and considered the rapid rise of “manga” since the turn-of-the-century as the “natural consequence” of becoming a matured society. His rejection of ponchi along with his implied feeling that “manga” was something not particularly traditional to Japan confirms Miyamoto’s theory and Kitazawa’s manga as part of a discontinuity.
Feeling the way expressed above, if Rakuten today were alive to walk into an exhibition that featured his manga as part of a longer tradition including ponchi and woodblock prints he would probably be left somewhat angry and confused.
——— 2008. “Considering Manga Discourse: Location, Ambiguity, Historicity,” in M. MacWilliams ed. Japanese Visual Culture: Explorations in the World of Manga and Anime, Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, pp.295-334
——— 2009. “Manga and ‘Manga’: Contemporary Japanese Comics and their Dis/similarities with Hokusai Manga,” in Jablonski, A. & S. Meyer, K. Morita, eds, Civilisation of Evolution, Civilisation of Revolution, Metamorphoses in Japan 1900-2000, Kraków: manggha/Museum of Japanese Art and Technology, pp. 210-222.
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International and Cultural Section, Planning Departmant, City of Omiya ed. 1991. Kitazawa Rakuten “Founder of the Modern Japanese Cartoon.” (Japanese and English text) Planning Department, City of Omiya.
Ishiko, Jun. 1979. Nihon manga-shi [A history of Japanese Manga] (2 volumes), Tokyo: Tokuma Shoten.
Jo, En. (Xu Yuan)
——— 2008. “Meiji ni okeru Kitazawa Rakuten no ‘Dekobō’ manga no arikata / A Study of Dekobou Comic by Rakuten Kitazawa (sic) in Meiji Era.” Manga kenkyū [Manga Studies]. Vol.13: 76-86.
——— 2013. Nihon ni okeru shinbun rensai kodomo manga no senzen shi [The pre-war history of serialized children’s manga]. Tokyo: Nihonbashi-hōsha.
Kawasaki-shi Shimin Myūjiamu [Kawasaki City Museum] ed. 1996. Nihon no manga 300-nen [Japanese manga’s three-hundred years]. Kawasaki, Japan: Kawasaki-shi Shimin Myūjiamu
——— 1902, January 12. Manga-shi [Manga-editor]. “Jiji manga nōkaki” [Jiji manga efficacy statement]. Jiji Shinpō, p. 10.
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Stewart, Ronald. “Manga as Schism: Kitazawa Rakuten’s Resistance to ‘Old-Fashioned’ Japan.” in Jaqueline Berndt and Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer eds. Manga’s Cultural Crossroads. New York: Routledge, 2013. pp.27-49
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Ronald Stewart is an associate professor at the Prefectural University of Hiroshima. He completed his Ph.D cultural history at Nagoya University. His research focuses on manga history, cartoons and representation, and has published essays, reviews and academic papers in both Japanese and English on these and broader comics related subjects.
 – He gave himself the artist name Rakuten, the name he is commonly referred to in Japan, in 1903.
 – Kitazawa 1952, p.91
 – For research highlighting this see Uryū 1998 and Miyamoto 2003.
 – Shimizu 1985, 16
 – See Shimizu 2009, his history of four panel comic strips from Hokusai’s nineteenth century woodblock prints through to recent fan service and fan art (moe).
 – Representative are Shimizu 1985, 1991 and 2007b. For shorter overviews in English see Shimizu 2007a and 2013.
 – Shimizu 1985, 103; Shimizu 2001, 58-59.
 – Shimizu 2001, 60-68, Shimizu 1999b
 – Shimizu 1985, 103; Shimizu 1991, 110-117; Shimizu 1999a, 35-36, 52; Shimizu 1999b, 70-72, 100-101; Shimizu 2000
 – Others include Kure Tomofusa and Jaqueline Berndt.
 – The most concise summaries of Miyamoto’s argument can be found in Miyamoto 2003b and Miyamoto 2005. In English see Miyamoto 2002.
 – See catalogue Newspark ed. 2003
 – Milano Manga Festival Manga Chronicle exhibit: http://www.milanomangafestival.it/2013/e/exhibition.html
 – Recently Chinese scholar Xu Yuan (or Jo En in Japanese) has looked at Kitazawa’s Dekobō and Chame comic strips as part of her research on the development of children’s comics, and Ōtsuka Eiji has touched very briefly on the same comic strips in search of early character development. Fortunately a large body of Kitazawa’s work is still accessible in some larger Japanese libraries, Jiji Manga in the microfilm edition of Jiji Shinpō, facsimile editions of Tokyo Puck, and some collected in Shimizu’s books.
 – Kitazawa 1936. While in reality Kitazawa’s complete abandonment of the word ponchi was not immediate, the sentiments in his essays are reflective of his consistent rejection of the form ponchi from the beginning of his career.
 – Kitazawa 1934.
 – Kitazawa 1928, p.130
 – Kitazawa 1936
 – For a more detailed examination of Kitazawa’s writing on manga and his use of the word in his work see Stewart 2013.
[Editor's note: This article was updated on 15/06/2014 to correct some minor errors.]
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