23b. From Tsurumi Shunsuke’s Thoughts on Manga in the Postwar

I had no idea this would be the case, but I found working on last week’s translation rather tedious and time consuming.  I suppose just because you can translate does not mean that you have it in you.  With that in mind, I proffer yet another translation from Tsurumi’s massive oeuvre, from the Introduction to Thoughts on Manga in the Postwar (Manga no sengo shisō), in which Tsurumi broaches a topic that occasionally rears its ugly head in comic studies, though I think is not taken seriously enough.  From my entirely biased perspective, I think comics scholars, among whom, for better or for worse, I still count myself, have come to a point where the subject of any given comic is far less important as to whether it will be read as a comic than any formal or more specifically visual properties.  Of course, the very word “comic” points to the fact that this was not always the case, and I think we ought to bear that in mind when going off on certain flights of formalist fantasy.

At the center of this particular excerpt is the word rakugaki, which Tsurumi explains at some length, so I won’t break it down here, but I do want to note, before I get into the translation, a correspondence to an earlier blog post on Okamoto Ippei and what he called the “new manga.”  You may not recall (or may not have read) that Ippei, in thinking about what contemporary manga was, favored not the picture scrolls or giga of the Heian period as an “ancient precursor” but rather the occasional literature of writers like Sei Shōnagon or Yoshida Kenkō.  In modern Japanese, rakugaki generally means “doodles” like what a particularly bored student might be scrawling across her notebook, as her professor drones on and on about how important the manga of the kindai period are and how no one studies it in sufficient depth and how everyone is wrong.  The connection between Tsurumi’s and Ippei’s text, then, lies in the emphasis on the moment, being in that moment, and depicting it.  This emphasis is, perhaps, why Tsurumi valorizes the Garo artists of the 1960s over and above their contemporaries or immediate predecessors, for the way in which their comics respond to the times, even when, as with Shirato Sanpei, the subject appears to be historical events long past.

The translation is from the text of Manga no sengo shisō in Manga no dokusha to shite (As a comic reader) pp. 89-93.

“To begin with…” (Hajime ni)

Comics [manga] have their origins in rakugaki [i.e. “doodles” but also “graffiti” or “sketches”], and in the modern day comics are still one source for rakugaki.  The word rakugaki [らくがき] can be written either as 落書 [i.e. “vulgar writing/drawing”] or 楽書 [i.e. “amusing writing/drawing”].  When written as 落書, the same characters, when read as rakusho, refer to a form of anonymous satire of someone in a position of authority.  As such, it is meant immediately to catch someone’s eye, as they pass over it.

Closely related to rakusho is rakushu [a form of satirical poem in the classical style, e.g. a satirical haiku].  “Rakusho,” then, refers to an anonymous kyōka [a comedic tanka] composed so as to satirize a particular famous person or famous incident.

When rakugaki is written as 楽書, it becomes associated with something regarded as a pleasant diversion.

Rakune refers to a form of easy, relaxed sleep; rakuyaki to a form of fine grained, handmade earthenware that was unglazed all around and upon which a customer might have something drawn in the shop, which they would then immediately fire in a kiln.  The sense of rakugaki is closely associated with these things as well.

According to the Iwanami kokugo jiten [Iwanami Japanese Dictionary], the word rakugaki refers to drawings or written characters composed mischievously [itazura-gaki] where nothing ought to be written/drawn.  Within this are combined the sense of an unnamed form of resistance to that which passes as socially acceptable as well as of deviating from the path one is coerced into following.

Something resembling rakugaki, which combines these two meanings in one, likely appears in countries outside of Japan, but their style perhaps does not hew so closely [to what the Japanese word implies].  When I look up rakugaki in a Japanese-English dictionary, its entry has the word “scribble” [sukuriburu], which implies something poorly or hurriedly drawn/written and which conjures a different set of associations.  If you look thoroughly in other national contexts [for illustration], there perhaps is some term one might associate with what rakugaki implies in Japanese.  Not knowing myself where something of that sort might lie, whenever I think about rakugaki in Japan, the style of representation one sees in rakushukyōkasenryū [poems similar to haiku in form but often darkly comedic rather than contemplative], kyōshi [silly, often vulgar kanshi or Chinese-style poems], henaburi (works incorporating trendy ways of speaking) and various others spring to mind.  Their style of representation lies somewhere on the lines laying out the boundaries of politics and art, yet they never quite enter into the domain of politics, and likewise they never quite enter into the domain of art.

Tsurumi's example of a rakugaki from Hōryū-ji

Tsurumi’s example of a rakugaki from Hōryū-ji

According to Rinoue Masafumi’s History of Rakugaki [Rakugaki-shi], in the Golden Hall of Hōryū-ji (erected in the Nara period), secluded on the back slope of Amai, there are dozens of rakugaki of human heads.  On the back of the pedestals beneath the statue of the Brahmas in Tōshōdai-ji (also built in the Nara Period), there are many rakugaki of human figures, and beneath the pulls (the lip where the panels on left and right meet in the center of the opening) of the eastern door in the Phoenix Hall of the Byōdō-in in Uji (erected in the Heian period) one can find rakugaki of figures wearing eboshi and hitatare.  The people who built these colossal structures, in periods of rest, when drawing something that had nothing to do with their work, indulged their imaginations.

The "shouting man" from a sutra housed in Shōsō-in.

The “shouting man” from a sutra housed in Shōsō-in.

Within the handwritten copies of sutras housed in Shōsō-in, there are rakugaki.  It has little to do with the feelings of stress all those who copied the sutras might have experienced.  More likely they had become weary of the tedium of the job assigned to them.  What we might learn from the Buddhist scriptures they were copying is that these people likely had doubts [about their faith? what they were doing?].  It was a way of keeping their spirits up as they chatted idly with their companions sitting about them.  One of their company was drawn as a figure shouting as if engaged in a great argument.  According to Miyao Shigeo’s Japanese Caricature [Nihon no giga], this defines the period of Japan’s very first caricatures (funny pictures; Miyao uses the word “caricature” [giga] with more or less the same meaning as comics [manga]).  On this illustrated piece of paper is written “the first day of the fourth month of the 17th year of Tenpyō (745).”

Beginning with rakugaki gives us the outline of a particular occupation or diversion, in which later emerges the Ōtsu-e of the Kan’ei period (1624-44).  According to Yanagi Muneyoshi’s research, Ōtsu-e can be divided into three periods: a period made mostly of fūshi [satire], a period of texts illustrated for the purposes of moral instruction, and a period of pictures drawn as omamori [religious charms or amulets]. That Iwasa Matabē was the creator of Ōtsu-e seems like something made up after the fact; some person living in Ōtsu, whose name has not come down to us, likely began it, and by means of other artists imitating the initial model, it spread throughout an entire area, to young and old alike, with surprising speed, and in this way one might say the same style of manga was sold to each and every home.  This style of drawing, even nowadays, is still used as a kind of magical ward [omamori].  There is a long history of this kind of rakugaki.  Throughout various time periods, rakugaki gives us a hint of a different way of representing people and things.  The particular stream of rakugaki in the period in which we now live is quite different from the ink wash paintings (suibokuga) from the time of the construction of Hōryū-ji, yet it is mixed into the influencing force of various styles of depiction.  Manga, then, is one of those modes of representation that comes down to us heavily influenced by our rakugaki.

Next week: a look at Tsurumi’s thoughts on Hasegawa Machiko’s Sazae-san

Stay Tuned!

Ba Zi

contact me: uahsenaa@gmail.com



  1. […] were a couple of aspects of the two examples of Tsurumi Shunsuke’s manga criticism I posted last week and the week before that are not entirely obvious and could do both with a bit of clarification and […]


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