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Title The Legacy of Popular Edo Publications in Modern Japan

Short abstract (300 characters)
This paper will argue that Edo publishing laid the foundations for modern Manga. After the demise of woodblock printing in the early 1880s, printing from copperplates met the demand for inexpensive, illustrated children’s books. The latter drew upon Edo formats and imagery, and represent an important step in the emergence of modern manga.

Long abstract (350 words)
Maeda Ai, a scholar of modern Japanese literature, pointed out that the Japanese woodblock print technology that had dominated the publishing industry in the Edo period (1608-1868) suffered a drastic decline in the early 1880s. This marked the end of popular Edo literary genres, such as gōkan. The woodblock-printed technology continued to be used almost exclusively for expensive illustrated ‘art’ books. The existing scholarship on book history has only been interest in the latter. In addition, recent manga scholarship has suggested that there is a discontinuity between modern day manga and Edo popular literature. They argue that modern manga originated with western influenced artists seeking to create Western-style comic strips for the Japanese market. This suggests that popular Edo literary genres are completely separated from modern manga.

However, this line of investigation needs to be pursued further to engaged with the full range of popular publications appearing in the Japan from the 1880s onward. Since woodblock printing was no longer a viable technology for commercial publishing for a mass audience, the publishers first had recourse to copperplate printings (dōhan) for the production of books for children. Many small-size copperplate children’s books were produced between 1884 and 1898. To satisfy that market, it was essential that publishers employed new technologies so that they could create an affordable produce. At the same time, they continued to draw upon traditional premodern formants.

In this paper, I will argue that Meiji popular publications may be regarded as a bridge between Edo children’s literary genres and modern manga. Publishers at this time were struggling to find a way to survive, which led them to adopt new technologies and to develop new genres. However, interestingly, they still used traditional premodern imagery, compositions and formats into the early 20th Century. More importantly, this development laid the foundation for the format of post war manga. Edo period children’s books and today’s manga are not presented in the same media, but the dynamism found in the earlier children books paved the way for the development of the today’s manga.
Period20 Aug 2023
Event typeConference
Conference number17
LocationGhent, Belgium