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Manga 101: The Pre-History of Japanese Comics

By March 25, 2007

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Close-up of the Choju Giga scroll by Toba Sojo

Before Superman ever put on a cape, Japanese artists were telling stories with pictures. How long before the days of Action Comics #1? Try the 11th century A.D.!

A puckish priest named Toba Sojo painted a 36-foot long scroll that made fun of the Buddhist priesthood by drawing priests as mischievous rabbits, monkeys and toads. Often referred to as choju giga, this whimsical and witty painting is read from right to left as the scroll is unrolled -- a tradition that is still followed today in modern manga (which is also read from right to left.) Thanks to Masakazu Yoshizawa's super cool Web site, you can unroll and view the scroll in its entirety on the Web!

Want more? Find out how scroll paintings, erotic prints and English-style political satire came together to create the beginnings of modern manga with my intro to the early origins of Japanese comics, or what I like to call "manga before there was manga."


June 3, 2008 at 11:05 am
(1) natalia says:

Hi Deb
i want to ask you the date of the paint (the rabbit paint) and if his creator was toba no sojo.

June 3, 2008 at 3:00 pm
(2) manga says:

Hi Natalia,
Yes, the scroll is by Toja Sojo, and according to most sources, it’s dated as being from the mid-12th century.

hope that helps!

November 7, 2009 at 5:42 am
(3) Rahele says:

Hi Deb
I want to know are there any books about Choju Giga scrolls in Eglish that has been published?
And I would like to know more about them by the articles that you know about them,My thesis is about them and if you help me it is so useful and helpful for me,
Thank you in advanced,

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