The History of Manga Regulation in Japan


This page will give as a brief explanation of the history of manga regulation in Japan. I am a Japanese and not good at English, I am writing this text with the help of DeepL, a translation service. So, please understand that there may be some unnatural sentences in some places. By the way, the image shows Chojujinbutsugiga (鳥獣人物戯画), which is said to be the oldest manga in Japan, and was drawn by several artists in the 12th and 13th centuries.

Regulation during the war and criticism after the war

Even though Chojujinbutsugiga is called manga, it is art style follows emaki (絵巻. Pictures on long sheets of paper), which is very different from modern manga where multiple scenes (panels) are drawn on a single sheet of paper of a specific size. Manga with panel layout began to be drawn in the 19th century and became fully established in the 20th century. A prime example is Norakuro (のらくろ) series by Suihō Tagawa (田河水泡), which began in 1931. This manga was very popular at the time, and Machiko Hasegawa (長谷川町子), who later became a national mangaka with Sazae-san (サザエさん), was also a big fan. She admired Norakuro so much that became a student of Tagawa.

Although Norakuro became a long-running series due to the enthusiastic support of children, but when the Pacific War began with the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, a ban on writing was imposed and the manga was banned. The reason is said to be to save printing paper, but the story of Norakuro was about a fictional unit modeled after Japanese Army, in which the main character repeatedly makes mistakes but still succeeds, so a theory was circulated that this was because Japanese Army complained that it was an insulting cartoon depicting us failing. Thus, Norakuro come to be called the first manga to be banned by the Japanese government.

Machiko Hasegawa, a student of Tagawa's, has also experienced restrictions on her creativity. She wrote about how when she was working for a newspaper, she was sketching the sea for her job when she was suddenly grabbed by the neck by military police and arrested for espionage in her essay collection Sazae-san Uchiwake Banashi (サザエさん打ち明け話. Confidential Talk on Sazae-san). The reason was that there was a military installation in the direction of the ocean she was sketching.

Machiko is captured by military police for sketching the ocean

© 1998 Hasegawa Machiko Art Museum

Hasegawa does not specify the exact date of this event, but it was probably in 1944, because she worked for the newspaper from March 1944 to November 1945, and because she writes about how her life changed from 1945 as the U.S. military attack intensified.

Such tyrannical of the Japanese government at that time is frequently depicted in manga, anime or films. As a representative example, I would like to mention Zō to Ojisan (ぞうとおじさん. The Elephant and the Uncle) in Fujiko F. Fujio (藤子・F・不二雄)'s Doraemon (ドラえもん), which has reigned as a national manga in Japan since the 1970s.

This is the story of the main characters Nobita Nobi (野比のび太) and Doraemon, who travel back in time to wartime Japan to save an elephant from being killed. During the war, Japan was bombed a lot by the Allied forces, so there were fears that the cages in the zoo would be destroyed and the animals would heading into the city. As a result, the Japanese government has decided to kill the animals in zoos.

They came to the zoo, they learn that the killing of the elephants is behind schedule. The keeper's uncle did not want to kill the elephant. Frustrated by this situation, the military police try to go to the elephant with his pistol. To persuade him, Nobita and Doraemon tell him with a very nice smiles, "Don't worry about the war. It will be over soon", "Japan will lose”. Hearing this, the military police became enraged, and he tries to cut them both down.

Nobita and Doraemon are about to be cut down by the military police

© 藤子プロ 1974

It is one of the best lines in Doraemon, that Doraemon says with a big smile, "Japan will lose". At the time, there was an atmosphere in Japan that denying Japan was unacceptable. It was a situation where even questioning the war was perceived as a denial of Japan would result in assault by military police. All Japanese people know that there was such a time. In such a time, Doraemon, who has never been to war, smiles innocently and unknowingly and denies everything about Japan, which makes it a very sophisticated satire. To use an analogy, it would be like saying, "It's not black people who died, it's criminals", in 2020 the U.S.

The man who spent his adolescence in this era was Osamu Tezuka (手塚治虫), who later became known as the god of manga (漫画の神様). In Japan, there is the idea of "Eight million gods (八百万の神)" where everything in this world has a kami (神. God), so there is a tendency to easily give the title of "Kami" to people who have made achievements in a particular field. For example, the film director Alfred Hitchcock is called "The master of suspense" in the world, but in Japan, it is translated as "The god of suspense (サスペンスの神様)". Therefore, in Japan, kami are like Pokémon, increasing in number.

Let's return to Osamu Tezuka. In 1945, at the age of 16, Tezuka was working at a munitions factory in Osaka. He was still a student, but Japan was experiencing a serious shortage of human resources due to the war, and many students were forced to work in these factories. He was already into manga, it was a time when entertainment was strictly forbidden throughout the country and anyone who tried to draw picture or draw manga would be beaten.

Japan continued to hide the fact that Japan was struggling in the war in order to keep the people from losing their will to fight, but the students working in the factories received the real information. Tezuka became tired of working for the war effort and of putting up with the manga he loved, so he began to draw manga, knowing he would be beaten up. The following is a translation of a text from Osamu Tezuka's official website.

I drew a manga in the dormitory, or beside a trolley, hiding like a spy.

"Tezuka! An air-raid siren!"

I was no longer afraid of being yelled at like this, or of the oil and grease incendiary bombs raining down on me. Shortly after Tokyo was burnt to the ground in an air raid in March, the worst day came to Osaka. After a formation of B29s dropped as many bombs as they could along Yodo River, they returned to their country along Yodo River. Our factory, located on the banks of Yodo River, was caught in the crossfire of enemy planes dumping the extra bombs on their way home.

The sky was as dark as night, and the fires everywhere looked like something out of Dante's Inferno. A stale black rain fell, and the banks of Yodo River embankment were a pile of corpses and rubble, especially under Great Bridge, direct hits fell on the evacuated people, and the bodies were folded and charred. A cow was half buried and smelled like beefsteak. I thought, enough is enough. No more. This is not an earthly phenomenon. It's a myth. It could be a manga. I must be one of the many in that manga.

勤労動員に駆り出される:手塚治虫と戦争 手塚治虫 公式サイト

Tezuka, who had been drawing a manga in hiding like a spy, began to draw a manga openly when the war ended. And the following year, in 1946, he made his debut as a mangaka with a yonkoma manga Mah-chan's Diary (マアチャンの日記帳). After that, he published New Treasure Island (新寶島), Metropolis (メトロポリス), The Jungle Emperor (ジャングル大帝), and Mighty Atom (鉄腕アトム) one after another, masterpieces that would be handed down to future generations, making him a representative of mangaka at a young age. And because he became a leading mangaka, he also became one of the most criticized mangaka.

When Tezuka made his debut as a mangaka, Japan was still deeply affected by the war and there were shortages of various goods, so major publishers who were particular about quality had a hard time publishing books. On the other hand, small publishers, who did not care about quality and just wanted to sell books, published books one after another. It is said was especially true for manga, so a large number of manga printed on inferior paper were published. These mangas were called "akahon (赤本. Red books)" because they used a lot of red on their covers to attract people's attention. And it is said was Tezuka's early masterpiece New Treasure Island that made akahon popular throughout Japan.

Akahon enthralled children who were starved for entertainment after the war, but many people criticized it for its vulgar content. Tezuka's manga, which were prominent among akahon, are of course subject to criticism. Even after the distribution of goods stabilized and major publishers began to release books of a different quality than akahon, the criticism of a manga did not subside. Newspapers, magazines, TV, and all other media kept attacking a manga. One of the most famous manga criticisms of the time is His Highness the Dead Cross (デッドクロス殿下) from Mighty Atom.

This story takes place in a country that has had the world's first robot president. The President's name is Rag (ラグ. English spelling is unknown and may be incorrect). He wins the presidency with the support of many people, but the forces that don't want to recognize a robot president begin to threaten his life, and he is finally kidnapped. Atom tries to save Rag, but he runs out of fuel due to the time it takes to fight the robots prepared by the anti-Rag faction and to rescue Higeoyaji-sensei (ヒゲオヤジ先生. A good friend of Atom's), who has been taken hostage, and falls from a height. The impact destroys Atom.

Atom falling and breaking

© Tezuka Productions

Tezuka later recalled that this scene appeared in a newspaper article and was heavily criticized as "the cruel shonen manga". According to my ebook version of Astro Boy, volume 8 (which I bought to write this article), the story was released to the world in Showa 35, that is 1960 in the western calendar, but the voice of anti-manga kept heating up after that. It is said that some people were so shocked by this overheated criticism of manga that they quit their jobs as mangaka.

One such is Kazuyoshi Fukumoto (福元一義), who was famous as the chief assistant to Osamu Tezuka. He was originally a mangaka, but retired from mangaka when one day his work, Todoroki Meitantei (轟名探偵. Roaring Detective) was featured as "a bad manga" on TV news. He had a young daughter at the time, and he was concerned that she would be treated as "the child of someone who drawing bad manga".

And in 1963, this criticism intensified into "akusho tsuihō Undō (悪書追放運動. Movement to banish bad books)". Several manga, including Tezuka's works, were burned in various places.

Books being burned in the school yard

Photo by

How did Tezuka, who became a representative of the industry, move against the heated criticism of manga? It was "not quit drawing a manga". Furthermore, Tezuka sometimes directly refuted those people who criticize mangas. The following is again a translation of a text from Osamu Tezuka's official website.

So, what was Tezuka Osamu doing at that time? Fukumoto-san says:

Tezuka-sensei was very admirable. No matter how he was criticized by anyone, he would not run away, but rather, he would come forward and state his opinion clearly. At PTA meetings, he would always attend, even though he knew he would be criticized, and go up on the stage to explain the appeal of manga.

虫ん坊 2010年5月号(98)

Despite the intentions of the anti-manga faction, the popularity of the manga was accelerating rather than declining. This is because Tezuka, as well as his junior mangaka, Jiro Kuwata (桑田次郎), Mitsuteru Yokoyama (横山光輝), Shotaro Ishinomori (石ノ森章太郎), Fujiko Fujio (藤子不二雄. Joint pen name of Fujiko F. Fujio and Fujiko FujioⒶ / 藤子不二雄Ⓐ. The two initially wrote manga as a duo), Fujio Akatsuka (赤塚不二夫), and others, produced a succession of popular works that seemed to prove Tezuka's strong argument that "manga is attractive".

Furthermore, in 1963, at the peak of the anti-manga movement, Japan's first TV anime series, Astro Boy, began broadcasting. The original work is of course Tezuka's manga Mighty Atom, and Tezuka also directed the anime. The anime gained explosive popularity and recorded the highest viewer rating of 40.3%. This is the highest record in the history of Japanese TV anime, and it has yet to be broken. As a side note, the closest to this record was Chibi Maruko-chan (ちびまる子ちゃん) in 1990, with 39.9%. As a further aside, anime at this time was called "TV manga", not "anime". For this reason, the generation that was obsessed with Astro Boy at that time still sometimes refers to anime as "manga".

In the meantime, it is said that the voice of the anti-manga had been slowly, but gradually, diminishing. I don't know the exact reason, but the rumors I have heard and my speculations are as follows.

  1. With the hit anime Astro Boy, many companies have realized that anime and manga hold great commercial opportunities (manufacturers who sponsored the show released related merchandise, and sales were strong).
  2. It became well known that Tezuka had a medical license (the anti-manga faction claimed that reading manga made you dumber, but this was destroyed by the existence of Tezuka alone).
  3. Shuppan Rinri Kyōgikai (出版倫理協議会. Publishing Ethics Council?), a self-regulatory organization of publishers, was formed (established in 1963 when criticism of manga was heating up).
  4. Bored of the activity (That is entirely my own speculation, lol).

In any case, it is clear that the voices criticizing a manga were overwhelmed by the voices of children supporting a manga. It seemed as if the criticism would die down, but only a few years later, when the popularity of a certain manga exploded, the criticism of a manga heated up again.

Next page: Revived anti-manga and resistance