Tōkaidō Manga Scroll Background

The Fifty Three Stations of the Tōkaidō Manga Scroll

This Tōkaidō manga scroll was created by 18 members of the Tokyo Manga Association during a trip approximating the route of the old Tōkaidō in 1921. The scroll was probably produced shortly thereafter.  The group was led by Okamoto Ippei, one of the most popular manga artists of his day, and the group made the tour by automobile.  The purpose of this drawing tour was probably to increase the social standing of manga artists, who were looked down on at the time, by indirectly comparing themselves to one of Japan’s most famous artists, Utagawa Hiroshige, whose works were and are so highly regarded within Japan and internationally.

The term “manga” is often translated as comics or cartoons.  However, the drawings in the scroll presented here certainly do not conform to either of the English language definitions of these words.  In 1921, the term referred to something between “spontaneous drawings” and “caricature.”  The literal meaning of the Sino-Japanese word 漫画 is “random drawings.”

Almost all eighteen of the artists on this 1921 journey made topical drawings for major urban newspapers in Japan.  In addition to creating these “manga,” most of the artists were caricaturists or actual cartoonists, and some of these men also aspired to be considered as serious artists in either the western or traditional Japanese modes. However, they seemed to have shared an interest in exploring how to promote and develop “manga” in Japan. One of them wrote the first history of manga, published in Japan in 1924. Another member is credited with producing Japan’s first anime. Some tour members, including Okamoto Ippei, the leader, wrote manuals and offered courses teaching others how to draw cartoons. Therefore, although, their paintings may not look like what people think of as manga today, this “manga scroll” is an important document of manga history.

The manga scroll is constituted from a series of individual watercolors, assembled together in a scroll according to the layout of the sites on the Tōkaidō route. Individual artists were each assigned particular sites of the former post-stations and made impressionistic drawings of the place, emphasizing changes occurring with modernization.  Since 150 scrolls were created, each in original watercolors, each artist made at least 150 paintings, most many more.  Needless to say, the paintings were done very quickly.  Still, they all seem to capture something essential about the places they portray.  No two of the scrolls are identical, and some of the artists made very different compositions, although set at the same location.

Though the title is The Fifty Three Stations of the Tōkaidō Manga Scroll, the paintings are numbered 1 through 55.  This is because the starting location, Nihonbashi, and the final destination, Kyōto, were not numbered in Utagawa (Andō) Hiroshige’s original The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō (1833–1834 in the Hōeidō edition), and the manga scroll follows this precedent.  Japanese names are given throughout in Japanese order, family name first and given name last.

The scroll displayed here, along with another exemplar, was acquired as part of the manga collections in Ohio State’s Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum.


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