From The First Ever Comic Book To Hello Kitty: Explore Japanese Pop Culture Since 1680


Another fascinating exhibition at MK&G, Hamburg

In the seventeenth century, Edo – modern day Tokyo – was the biggest city in the world, with a sophisticated and distinctive culture oriented towards pleasure and consumption. It was around then that Hishikawa Moronbu developed the first ever pictorial narratives “told in sequences of images and presented in the print medium” i.e. a cartoon. It told the story of the demon Shuten Doji and precipitated the invention of popular illustrated books in small-format editions. 

Yoshihiro Tatsumi (1935-2015), Beloved Monkey, p. 262, 2013, Graphic Novel, © Carlsen Verlag

One of the most fascinating aspects of Japanese popular culture, which becomes clear at Hokusai x Manga: Japanese Pop Culture since 1680, is how continuous it is with modern Japan. One of the few imperial nations to remain ethnically and culturally homogenous, the tropes and references of Moronbu’s cartoons are still relevant today, in a world of mass manga, anime and computer games. (Not to mention cosplay.)

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861), ‘I Want to See the Next One!’, Japan, Edo, 1852, colour woodblock print, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, © MKG

The exhibition, fascinating for all Japanophiles (and, let’s face it, who isn’t?), features more than “two hundred historical woodblock prints and woodcut books, sketches and pen-and-ink drawings” and “over sixty Japanese Manga books…animation cels from Anime films, cosplay  costumes and video games”. 

'Hokusai x Manga: Japanese Pop Culture since 1680' runs until 11 September 2016 at MK&G Hamburg. Admission is €12/€8 (conc.)