Toba Sōjo (Bishop Toba) Kakuyū (1053-1140) was a respected high priest and talented painter/illustrator who, due to his creation of many Buddhist pictures and humorous caricatures, is regarded as the primogenitor of manga. Nicknamed Toba Sōjo as he lived to serve the retired emperor Toba in his detached palace (Rikyū) in Kyoto, Toba Sōjo was sharp-minded and knowledgeable and his skills at management enabled him to make considerable civic contributions such as the restoration of the Tenōji temple.

The historical record of Toba Sōjo’s life is based on anecdotes recounted in collections of short tales depicting his artistic skills, mischievous personality and deviant behaviours which contrast with his high birth and religious importance. For example, his picture of straw bags flying despite the wild efforts of monks to keep them earth-bound due to their content being light rice bran instead of rice, comically reveals fraud regarding rice payment (Kokonchomonjū). According to Keiranshūyōshū (1318), a compendium or encyclopaedia for the time, Toba Sōjo also drew more than 100 abnormal Fudōson (Acala) some with female bodies, seemingly engage in sexual activities or suffering from diarrhoea, unlike normal depictions of Fudōson as large, highly muscular and even demonic, often shrouded or backed by holy fire. His drawings also include kachie or comical and often vulgarian pictures of games and competitions.

Toba Sōjo has been credited with being the creator of Chōjūjinbutsugiga (lit. caricatures of birds, animals and humans, or Scrolls of Frolicking Animals and Humans) although there is no decisive historical evidence to validate his involvement in their production. The scrolls were handed down in Kōzanji (temple) in Kyoto and are all designated National Treasure. They are all monochrome, brush drawings without written texts. They are exemplary okoe or zaree (comical, ridiculous, and/or satirical pictures) popular for the period. The styles and subject matter are however, all different. Hence it is believed they were created individually by different artists and then compiled sometime between the 12th and 13th century.

The first scroll is the most renowned, although it originally may have comprised two scrolls. It contains comical, witty anthropomorphic animals including rabbits, monkeys, frogs, foxes and birds engaging in various human activities including sumo, archery and a Buddhist service with a frog Buddha squatting on a lotus leaf Amida and a monkey in monastic robes. Although physiologically different, all of the animals are depicted as equally sized. Characters are depicted in dynamic motions yet connected through their gestures and direction of their eyes. Some sequences utilise a compositional method through which one scene or action flows to the next, similar to modern manga and animation. Moreover, the breath of the monkey priest reading the sutras is depicted with some lines of text resembling what we recognize today as manga.

In the early 18th century, comical and casual ukiyoe (wood-block prints) called Tobae (lit. Toba’s pictures) became popular in Kyoto and were soon published in Osaka. The term was based on Toba Sōjo’s reputation as the creator of Chōjūgiga. Tobae is characterised by exaggerated depictions of the human form. Historically, the term Tobae was used as the equivalent for what is referred to today as ‘manga’. The term Tobae was used by French artist, Georges Ferdinand Bigot (to name his satirical magazine, TÔBAÉ, between 1887 and 1889 in Yokohama.

Mio Bryce

Further Reading

  • Ito, Kinko. 2005. “Manga in Japanese History.” In Japanese Visual Culture: Explorations in the World of Anime and Manga. Edited by Mark W. MacWilliams.Armonok, New York: M.E. Sharpe: 26-47. Print.
  • Kern, Adam L. 2006. Manga from the Floating World: Comicbook Culture and the Kibyōshi of Edo Japan. Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center. Print.
  • Koyama-Richard, Brigette.2007. One Thousand Years of Manga. Paris: Flammarion. Print.