Before Pokémon and Yo-kai Watch: A Window onto One of the Earliest Unique Forms of Japanese Animé at the Cotsen Children’s Library

By Tara McGowan

Popular visual culture from Japan in the form of manga, animé, and video games has attracted global attention in the last couple of decades, and, along with this interest, has come a preoccupation with origins. One frequently cited source for the origins of manga is the 12th to 13th century scrolls of animals frolicking, known as Chōchū giga 鳥獣戯画, and some scholars and Japanese popular culture enthusiasts go even further back to cite Heian-period (794-1195) narrative picture-scrolls (emaki 絵巻).

Fig. 1. Segment of Chōchū giga 鳥獣戯画, 12th-13th centuries.

Although there is little doubt that visual storytelling forms have a long history in Japan, focusing primarily on origins can sometimes overshadow the many important developments in the intervening centuries that arguably relate more directly to the emergence of the Japanese animated visual culture of today. A recent acquisition in the Cotsen Children’s Library of a “play print” (omocha-e玩具絵), entitled “The latest magic-lantern pictures” (Shinpan utsushi-e志ん板うつしゑ), published in 1884 by Tsunashima Kamekichi綱島亀吉, sheds fascinating light on a lesser known precursor of animé and also the largely forgotten global exchange of cinematic technologies that led up to it.

Fig. 2. “The latest magic-lantern pictures” (Shinpan utsushi-e), Tsunashima Kamekichi, 1884. (Cotsen collection)

Omocha-e play-prints were, until recently, a largely overlooked genre of ukiyo-e 浮世絵, or Japanese wood-block prints. Designed ostensibly for children, but probably enjoyed by people of all ages, omocha-e were considered inferior to the beautiful ladies (bijinga美人画) or kabuki歌舞伎 actors by Utamaro喜多川歌麿 or landscapes by Hiroshige歌川広重 that inspired modern artistic movements in Europe in the 19th century and ignited a Japonism craze in the West. Unlike the prints for adults that were meant primarily for viewing, omocha-e were even more ephemeral. Most were designed to be played with, and even, as in this case, cut up and assembled, and it is rare to find one in such pristine condition. There is renewed interest in omocha-e today, however, as historians recognize them as invaluable resources for understanding early popular cultural trends in fashion, lifestyle changes, and knowledge, especially among the socioeconomically disadvantaged classes that are less well represented in historical literature. Many omocha-e, like the one above, claim to be “the latest” (shinpan) on the given topic, and in this case, the topic is magic lantern shows.

Magic lanterns were an early form of slide projector invented in Europe in the 17th century. In Japan, this would have corresponded to the beginning of the Edo period (1603-1868), when the Tokugawa Shogun was pursuing a policy of seclusion from the outside world. How strictly the government was able to enforce this policy continues to be a subject of debate. What we do know is that there was, nonetheless, avid interest among the general public in Japan during this period to learn about new technologies from outside, and consequently a surprising number of foreign books, ideas, and objects found their way into the country. Some were smuggled in, while others entered the mainland through more acceptable channels, such as Dejima, an island off the coast of Nagasaki where Japanese merchants were allowed to carry on a limited trade with the Dutch. Most likely, at some point in the mid to late 1700s, a magic lantern made its way from Holland via Dejima onto the Japanese mainland because, by 1801, a distinctly Japanese version of a magic lantern called utsushi-e 写し絵 (literally, projected pictures) appears in chronicles of Edo-period entertainments.

Japanese-style magic lanterns were unique in that they were small, portable, and, remarkably enough, made of wood. The projector was a box with a hole at the top (closed off in the example below) so that the glass chimney of the burning oil or kerosene lamp inside could poke out and smoke could vent. This light source projected images painted on glass slides through a lens onto a curtain or screen. Unlike the later projectors made of metal that were introduced in the 19th century when Japan finally opened its doors to the West, early utushi-e shows were projected from behind the screen, out of sight of the audience. Seeming to appear out of nowhere, this method of hidden projection made them appear even more magical.

Fig. 3. Example of a performer and slide (illustrations by Tara McGowan).

Typically, several performers were involved. Animation was achieved, not only by the swift movement of the slides in front of the light source, somewhat like a flip-book, but also by the performers moving around the space, carrying their lanterns with them and projecting characters from different places onto the scene. Several lanterns with different slides would be used and animated at one time, causing audiences in the western (kansai) region of Japan to refer to these colorful performances as “brocade shadow plays” (nishiki kage e錦影絵). “Brocade pictures” (nishiki-e), it should be noted, was the term used for colorful Edo-period ukiyo-e prints, and there was considerable cross-over in styles and themes between the two media.

During the Edo period (1603-1868), Japan had a vibrant theater culture, which encompassed not only the well-known kabuki and bunraku (joruri 浄瑠璃) puppet forms, but also all manner of street performance styles and spectacles performed in less formal venues. One such popular performance venue was called yose 寄席. Although today yose has become almost synonymous with a genre of comic oral storytelling known as rakugo 落語, during the Edo period, it was much more eclectic, similar to vaudeville music halls in the West, featuring a wide variety of dramatic arts, spectacular feats, magic tricks, and street performance genres. From the outset, yose theaters became the home of utsushi-e magic-lantern performances, and the glass slides developed for this venue were inspired by the stock characters and themes with which yose audiences were familiar.

In fact, the image at the bottom of the magic-lantern play-print in the Cotsen collection is designed to look like the entryway into a yose theater with the stock character of Fukusuke–who typically served as a narrator between acts—bowing his head low and inviting the audience in. Fuku 福 means “good fortune,” and Fukusuke dolls are still frequently found in Japanese shops and establishments because they are believed to promote business. The characters (大入) above his head are read ōire, which means “a full house.” Hidden among the cherry blossoms above the stage is the phrase “a new cast of characters by popular demand” (shinrenchu hiiki).

Fig. 4. The yose stage at the bottom of the play print, “The latest magic-lantern pictures” (Shinpan utsushi-e) (1884).

To the left and right of the stage, we see the trunks of the cherry trees with messages from the publisher to the manager and patron (apparently, a fish merchant) on the right and to the child audience on the left with the promise of “plenty of diversion” (tesusabi takusan).

The owner of this print would have known that the stage was to be cut from the bottom of the print and (had they done it) would probably have reinforced it with wood or heavy cardboard. They would also have cut out the two white circles on either side of Fukusuke, so that they could move the magic-lantern slides—also reinforced on the back with cardboard or wood–across the back of the stage to simulate a magic lantern performance. Just like the characters on the print, the slides would have been read from right to left and from top to bottom.

Panorama at the top: the Itsukushima Shrine厳島神社 in Miyajima宮島町

The slide at the top of the print is a long panorama of the Itsukushima Shrine in Miyajima, famous for having been built over the water. The torii gate, famous even today in the tourist guides, can be seen on the left with the tide coming in and sailboats floating nearby. Long glass slides, such as these, were often used for scenery in magic lantern shows, alongside the more typical sequential slides depicting action. The shrine also suggests that this magic lantern show is being performed, as some were, in the precincts of the shrine for an auspicious festival day (ennichi 縁日). The cherry trees and blossoms around the stage also suggest an impromptu tent set up for the performance, possibly during the cherry-blossom viewing season around April.

(first row)

The slide directly underneath the panorama also relates to the theme of auspicious festival days, and appears to be set within the shrine complex. Moving from right to left, we have the pine branches that would signal a sacred Noh drama. Note that the stage above has two circles, set apart by the character of Fukusuke, so the audience would first see the pine branches in the right-hand circular window at the same time that it would see the Shinto offering at center on the left.

By moving the slide over one image, the audience would next see the stock dancing figure of Sanbansō, balancing on one foot and holding a fan in one hand and bells in another. Sanbansō typically appears as comic relief (kyōgen) during Noh drama. Along with Sanbansō, audiences would see what appears to be a female shrine attendant, who may have just arranged the Shinto offering at center.

When the slide is moved once more to the right, the audience would see the Shinto offering again and a scroll (kakejiku) at the far left. The characters in calligraphy on the scroll are written in a cursive style that is not easy to decipher, but a likely reading is “tama zoroi” (玉揃). Tama can mean “jewels”, and zoroi means “a whole assortment,” but tama can also mean “circle,” and the verb soroeru can also mean to “match up.” Since the user of this print would be “matching up the circles” in order to perform the images in the stage, the writing on the scroll may be providing some hidden instruction for the user.

Typical of an eclectic yose performance with the stock figure of Fukusuke, acting as master-of-ceremonies in between acts, in the next series of slides, we transition to another genre common in magic lantern shows of the time, flowers and bonsai of the four seasons.

(second row)

In this slide, we have a better example of how the quick movement of the slides behind the stage could create the illusion of movement or animation. Again, moving from right to left, the audience would first see Fukusuke (at center), this time looking up at the audience. No doubt, he is introducing the peonies, just in bud, on the far right.

With a quick move of the slide one over to the left, it would appear that the flowers suddenly bloom into a vibrant bouquet, and, on the left, like magic, an arrangement of plum blossoms and chrysanthemums also appears.

With another swift move of the slide, the audience would see the plums and chrysanthemums transform into a wizened bonsai arrangement (far left), and Fukusuke would reappear, on the right this time.

The magic animation of the slides, when performed swiftly and smoothly, would have been similar to a bouquet of flowers appearing suddenly out of a magician’s hat or from under a handkerchief.

Magic lantern shows often referred to themes from popular bunraku or kabuki theater plays, and the magical transformation made possible by the swift movement of the slides, made ghost stories particularly effective in this format. The next level of this play print takes us into what would have been the familiar territory for a child audience—folk and fairy tales.

(third row)

The first two images to appear would be the man on the right, spooked by a spectral fireball (hi no tama). To the left, even the narrator Fukusuke is startled, falling backwards and crying out in fear.

By pulling the slide one image over, the fire ball turns into a three-eyed monster (ōnyūdo), while in the left-hand opening would appear the rabbit, brandishing something over its head and holding a cup of salt. Children would immediately have recognized this as the well-known folktale, Kachi kachi yama, a truly gruesome story, in which a tanuki 狸 (sometimes translated, “racoon dog”) trickster fools an old man into eating his own wife! The rabbit avenges the old man in the story by setting fire to the tanuki and cruelly offering him salt to cure the wounds, only causing him even greater agonies. Note that the three-eyed monster is facing to the right, indicating that he is taking part in the drama on the right hand-side, whereas the rabbit is facing the left, in the direction of a new, unfolding scene.

One more pull of the slide, and we see Fukusuke again on the right, responding to the three-eyed monster, while the tanuki with his back on fire is fleeing the rabbit.

At the end of the folktale, the rabbit convinces the tanuki to board a boat that he has cleverly constructed out of mud, and no sooner does the tanuki set off in the river, than his boat dissolves and he drowns. The brief reference to the story at one of its most grisly moments would no doubt have been enough to resurrect the entire tale in the minds of the audience.

(fourth row)

As we move further down the print to the last level of slides, we enter into an even more ghostly realm. This time, the audience would first see the female ghost (yūrei 幽霊) suddenly appear on the far right, coupled with the man, falling down in shock and fear with the ghostly fire-ball at center.

Moving one image over, the audience would then see two brave samurai, ready to battle the apparitions. Note again, that one warrior faces to the right, where we last saw the female ghost, whereas the other warrior faces left, in anticipation of some new drama about to unfold.

Moving one more image over, we see what is known as a tsukumogami 付喪神, or a spirit made up of a collection of discarded objects, including a Japanese lantern, that have come to life. No doubt, slides could also be moved back and forth, as well, to add further drama and animation to the scene.

As this print demonstrates, the various types of stock shape-shifters (obake), ghosts (yūrei), and monsters (yōkai 妖怪) that have become popularized in recent years through animé movies, manga, and video games, such as “Yokai Watch,” were already well developed by the time this print was published in 1884 and were arguably a product of the fascination with the animated transformations made possible by early magic-lantern technology of the Edo period. Omocha-e prints, which helped to spread these new ideas and early cinematic technologies beyond the urban centers of Edo or Osaka to remote provinces throughout Japan, also played a major role in paving the way for the widespread fascination with shapeshifters and monsters that continues in Japan to this day and that has, more recently, spread around the globe.

The unique Japanese form of magic-lantern performance, utushi-e, was all but forgotten in the push for rapid Westernization, once Japan did open its doors to the West in 1853. Ironically, by the end of the Meiji period (1868-1912), Western-style metal magic lantern projectors were introduced to Japan as a new, foreign technology. In a direct translation of the words “magic lantern,” these new machines were called gentō 幻灯 and were used primarily in upper-class homes and educational settings. Although their popularity waned with the introduction of silent film and later television, utsushi-e continued to be performed sporadically until the mid-20th century. Recently, utsushi-e has been rediscovered in Japan, and there have been significant efforts made to collect and preserve these delicate glass artifacts, particularly at Waseda University’s Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum, which has created a digital archive. Reenactments of Edo-period slide shows based on the Waseda collection can now be enjoyed on Youtube, courtesy of the theater troupe Minwaza.


See more visual depictions of Japanese magic lantern shows at “江户の写し絵”

If It Moves, Is It A Book?

“Goodbye to the Martians” pop-up from The Jolly Jump-Ups Journey Through Space (McLoughlin Bros., c1952) Cotsen 586

We all know what a book is, don’t we?

A collection of printed or hand-written pages, bound together with some sort of covers, be they hardback or paper wrappers of some sort, right? And definitely something meant to be read or perused (in the case of picture books or volumes collecting illustrated plates).

But a few weeks ago here on the Cotsen blog, we looked a genre-bending variation on the general theme of a children’s book: an interactive musical toy, which combined (simplified) musical scores with words, bright color-process illustrations, and a mini musical instrument: read, perused, and played upon.

This week, I’d like to tell you about another variation on the theme, a type of “moveable” book, which also defies our normal expectation of a book as essentially a two-dimensional object: pop-up books.  As the name implies, pop-up books make use of carefully-folded cardboard or paper (that’s thick enough to stand up), which then “pops up” to reveal an illustrated scene when the pages are turned. (Illustration is key — a pop-up book with printed text alone generally wouldn’t very interesting.)

One of the pop-ups in Robert Sabuda’s Winter’s Tale

In terms of historical development, late nineteenth century paper-engineered mechanical books by Lothar Meggendorfer (1847-1925) are often regarded as forerunners of moveables and pop-ups. Meggendorfer’s work was not aimed at children, although children certainly do delight in seeing them — and a lucky few probably did get to actually manipulate these fairly pricey publications at the time.  In terms of recent pop-ups for adults and children of all ages, some of Robert Sabuda’s work comes to mind, Winter’s Tale, for instance. But the genre usually seems to be aimed at children, who delight in the bright illustrations and the non-static, interactive aspects of pop-ups.

Chromolithographed cover of The Jolly Jump-Ups & their New Home (McLoughlin Bros., c1939) Cotsen 12945

The bright colors of chromolithography were certainly an important part of the visual appeal of children’s pop-ups, which became major items in the inventories of England’s Ernest Nister and America’s McLoughlin Brothers, both of whose work is very well represented in Cotsen’s collection.  Nister’s chromolithographed books were generally printed in Bavaria or Germany (thus carrying on Meggendorfer’s legacy), while McLoughlin’s books were first printed and assembled in the firm’s Brooklyn production facility, in the days when Williamsburgh was a gritty manufacturing, not a trendy boutique and art center. After being sold to Milton Bradley, the McLoughlin imprint changes to “Springfield, Massachusetts,” the location of the parent company. (Thanks to technological developments in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth centuries, chromolithography, which had originally been a printing process for plates and art book reproductions, became commercially viable for cheap, children’s books — McLoughlin’s stock-in-trade).

The Jolly Jump-Ups series list (from rear cover of The Jolly Jump-Ups Journey Through Space)

McLoughlin Brothers was a real pioneer in mass-produced, relatively inexpensive color-printed materials for children, and the firm’s output included paper toys, board games, all sorts of novelties, and elaborately-cut paper Valentine’s Day cards.  The clever paper engineering in pop-up books was thus a natural for them.  One of their earliest pop-up books was The Jolly Jump-Ups and their New House, of which Cotsen Library has two copies, both marked “copyright 1939,” but with one bearing the text “patent applied for” above the copyright mark and the other noting “trade mark” after the title words “Jolly Jump Ups.”  “Jolly Jump Ups” was McLoughlin’s title for this series of pop-up books, whuch eventually included eleven titles, and the “patent applied for” label indicates how proprietary McLoughlin was about their pop-up paper engineering.  (This cover variation between what otherwise looks like identical editions, exemplifies an aspect that makes McLoughlin publications so tricky to catalog or identify with certainly — especially in view of the frequent lack of a publication date on many of their other books, which the firm often reissued over and over again over the years, sometime with the same inventory number noted and sometime with different ones.  Are these two copies of New House from two different editions printed at different times, or part of the same edition  — what bibliographers often term “the same setting of type” — with “just” minor printing variations on the cover, perhaps just “stop press” changes made to reflect a change in patent or trade-mark status? )

“Moving Day” – Pop-Up #1

Take a look at the cover of The Jolly Jump-Ups and their New House.  It’s a virtual collage of all the idealized aspects of small-town or suburban life that you could imagine!  Packed together are happy children playing, a boy on his bicycle, a horse-drawn flower-seller’s cart, a pretty girl in a princess dress buying some flowers, a delivery van, and even an organ grinder and his monkey.  In the background, a flashy car drives in front of brand-new subdivision housing, with the Jump-Ups’ large, brand-new house looming large on a hill. It’s hard now not to find this jumble of so many sentimentalized features a little over the top, but perhaps McLoughlin Bros. thought children needed all the cheer they could get in the dark days of 1939, when war had just broken out?  Sentimentality and nostalgia for an idealized past were important aspects of many wartime stories for both children and adults.

The pop-up pages inside the book continue in this cheerfully idealized vein, depicting the perfect house, the perfect sunny day, the perfect happy family, lots of good wholesome fun… And despite the fact that the book has quite a bit of text, it’s really the color-rich pop-up illustrations that make a vivid impression and bring the story to life.

Lots to do — but no mischief afoot!

Family time in the evening “children’s hour”

Copyrighted some ten years later, the 1948 Jolly Jump Ups ABC Book features a cover of happy children presented as fancifully-manipulated lottery figures.  Quite a range of fun activities are displayed.  I particularly like the fact that P and R are playing with phonograph records (along with Q) and that S is in the sand-box (along with T, U, and V), but perhaps I’m reading too much into this?

S is for Sand-box?  Cover of The Jolly Jump Ups ABC Book, featuring children as lottery figures (McLoughlin Bros., c1948) Cotsen 19276

The actual pop-pages inside the book take a different pictorial tack though, using familiar illustrative objects for each letter of the alphabet: A is for child artist, C is for clown, T is for turkey, etc.  In addition, each letter is chalked on a recurring blackboard backdrop, both in capital letters and cursive writing (remember that?) and provides the object of short, four-line poems in the manner of many earlier alphabet rhymes.

And S is for Saw, T is for Turkey, U is for Umbrella…

Pop-up depiction of the letters: A is for Artist

The illustrative objects seem to be an eclectic, free-associative combination, and at least one of the juxtapositions seems portentous, perhaps unintentionally.  Does the “sharp saw” leaning on the turkey somehow suggest the poor bird’s Thanksgiving fate?

The Jolly Jump-Up Series includes the Jump-Ups at the Circus, … On the Farm, … At the Zoo,At the Circus, and … On a Vacation Trip, when they visit Washington, DC, West Point, and the Grand Canyon.  But, without question, my favorite of Cotsen’s books in the series is The Jolly Jump-Ups Journey Through Space, copyrighted 1952, a real evocation of the era when “outer space” and the idea of humans traveling into space really took hold of the public’s imagination.  (As context, Sputnik was launched in 1957, the first Earth-orbiting satellite, transmitting radio signals back to Earth, a landmark event in the furious competition between the USA and the USSR to be “first” in the various aspects of space exploration.)

The text is presented in the narrative frame of a series of reports transmitted from “Station S-C-I-E-N-C-E radio and T.V., located in the Inventagon,” which describibe the Jump-Ups’ voyage to Mars. As such, the text is longer and perhaps more imaginative than that found in any of the other books in the series.  But, once again, the illustrations really steal the show and make dynamic use of color-process-printing in the pop-up format.

Up, up & away in a spacecraft from Jules Verne…

“Set for Mars” – The Jump-Ups & the 1952 media.

In the book’s first pop-up illustration, the Jump-Ups (traveling as a family, just like the Space Family Robinson) pose for the press.  A veritable catalog of 1950s clothing and then-state-of-the-art media technology is set against a futuristic backdrop that seems to belong to a very different world.  In the second pop-up, a spacecraft more akin to something from Jules Verne than even the most fanciful 1950s mock-ups, blasts off against a beautifully-rendered sunrise.  The ship’s fire-red blast-off plume is vividly done, and the its horizontal trajectory dramatically cuts across the rectangular plane of the illustration and perhaps even presses up against the envelope of the book’s “two-dimensional” rectangular plane.

Let’s take a closer look at the colors and details:

Space Ship away … in a fiery exhaust plume

Once on Mars — which looks like a cross between the enchanted wood of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the Grand Canyon (which the family had visited in their Vacation Trip pop-up book) — the Jollys meet friendly Martians, who look a lot like fairy sprites or the “little green men” of Martian lore.  And of course, they get back to Earth safely.  But how? Take a look the illustration!  Did they fly home with wings?  No, as the narrative below informs us (which I’ve cropped out here in hopes of better showing the illustration), the children have used their “spectrachutes,” a gift from the Martians, and ask their parents to safely land the spaceship.  Some aspects of the relation between parents and kids never change, do they?

Floating down to Earth via “spectrachutes,” a Martian gift

On Mars, with friendly Martians, taking lots of vacation photos

The Jolly Jump-Up Series must have been popular with children or — at least their book-buying parents — since the books were in print for well over ten years, and the number of titles in the series continued to expand during that time. The popularity of the Jump-Ups Series is also documented by several McLoughlin Brothers catalogs from the 1940s, copies of which we have in the Cotsen collection from McLoughlin’s own publisher’s archives”.  The series is often the lead item in a catalog, and a four-page 1947 Price List touts the “The New Jolly Jump-Ups,” in addition to listing the well-known series titles. But what became of popular books?

Publication of the series ceased, not because it fell out of favor with child readers, but rather due to hard realities of business financials.  Milton Bradley shut down publication of McLoughlin Brothers titles some time after the end of World War I; in 1951, Julius Kushner, a New York toy manufacturer, bought the trademark and reissued the Jolly Jump-Ups for a few years until some time about 1954.  So The Jolly Jump-Ups Journey Through Space seems to have been something of a last hurrah for McLoughlin publications, and, indeed, its 1952 copyright date makes it quite possibly the last-issued McLoughlin publication in Cotsen’s collection.

Gone but not forgotten, the Jolly Jump-Ups pop-up books represent an important phase in American children’s book publishing, particularly in terms of “interactive” books or print items that push the envelope of what a “book” can be. So apart from sharing delight in the color-printing and ingenuity of pop-ups, I invite you to to use the Jump-Ups as an invitation to think about questions like, “What is a book?” and “What is it that a book can, or cannot, do”?

Cover of The Jolly Jump-Ups Journey Through Space (c1952)