Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga (鳥獣人物戯画?, lit. "Animal-person Caricatures"), commonly shortened to Chōjū-giga (鳥獣戯画?, lit. "Animal Caricatures") is a famous set of four picture scrolls, or emakimono, belonging to Kōzan-ji temple in Kyoto, Japan. The Chōjū-giga scrolls are also referred to as Scrolls of Frolicking Animals and Scrolls of Frolicking Animals and Humans in English. Some think that Toba Sōjō created the scrolls; however, it is hard to verify this. The right-to-left reading direction of Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga is still a standard method seen in modern manga and novels in Japan. Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga is also credited as the oldest work of manga. The scrolls are now entrusted to the Kyoto National Museum and Tokyo National Museum.
As opened, the first scroll illustrates anthropomorphic rabbits and monkeys bathing and getting ready for a ceremony, a monkey thief runs from animals with sticks and knocks over a frog from the lively ceremony. Further on, the rabbits and monkeys are playing and wrestling while another group of animals participate in a funeral and frog prays to Buddha as the scroll closes.
The scrolls were also adapted into several novels published by Geijutsuhiroba, the first book simply compiled the scrolls into one publication, now out of print. One of the books participated as part of the company's Fine Arts Log series as well as some were exclusive to certain exhibitions. Other companies like Misuzu Shobo and Shibundō also published books based on the Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga emakimono.
Although Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga is sometimes credited as the first manga, there have been some disputes with the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper. Seiki Hosokibara pointed to the Shigisan-engi scrolls as the first manga, and Kanta Ishida explained that the scrolls should be treated as masterpieces in their own right.
The Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga emakimono, belonging to the Kōzan-ji temple in Kyoto, Japan as an ancient cultural property, were drawn in the mid-12th century, whereas the third and fourth scrolls date from the 13th century.
Most think Toba Sōjō created Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga, who created a painting a lot like Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga, however it is hard to verify this claim. The drawings of Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga are making fun of Japanese priests in the creator's time period, characterising them as toads, rabbits and monkeys. Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga is read and rolled out from right to left which can still be seen in manga and Japanese books. Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga is credited as being the oldest work of manga in Japan, and is a national treasure as well as many Japanese animators believe it is also the origin of Japanese animated movies. In Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga the animals were drawn with very expressive faces and also sometimes used "speed lines", a technique used in manga til this day. Emakimono like Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga and many others barely were seen in the public until they made their way into popular culture, with many common people imitating the style. Emakimono emerged very popular in the city of Ōtsu, Shiga, and being dubbed Ōtsu-e after its popularity in the city around the 17th century. The first two scrolls are entrusted to the Tokyo National Museum, and the second two are entrusted to the Kyoto National Museum. The scrolls currently on display at Kōzan-ji are reproductions.The work belongs to the decline of the Fujiwara period, but it expresses in one of its best aspects the artistic spirit of their age. The artist is a delightful draughtsman. His pictures of animals disporting [themselves] in the garb of monks are alive with satirical fun. They are a true fruit of the native wit; they owe nothing to China beyond a vague debt to her older artistic tradition; and they bear witness to that reaction against the solemnities of Buddhist art which we have noticed.
The first scroll, which is considered the most famous, depicts various animals (frogs, rabbits and monkeys) frolicking as if they were human. There is no writing on any of the scrolls; they consist of pictures only. The first scroll is also the largest, with a length of 11 meters (36 ft) and 30 cm (1 ft) wide. As the first scroll is opened, rabbits and monkeys are bathing and swimming in a lake, moving on past the mountains, cliffs and trees are rabbits and frogs making bow and arrows. Further more, more rabbits and frogs are bringing pots and boxes to a (currently) unknown event. Frogs and rabbits pass by monks with their cattle (wild boar, sika deer) and a monkey runs away, supposedly stealing, and being chased by a rabbit with a long stick, further more a frog is lying on the floor who could have possibly been knocked over by the thief. Nearby, a celebration has started with two frogs dancing, and a group of animals having a conversation. Not too far from the celebration are animals wrestling and fighting and two monkeys holding a box. Far from the celebration are a group of animals at a funeral and a frog praying in front of a frog shaped Budai as the scroll closes.
BONES OF CONTENTION: Animals and Religion inContemporary Japan, by Barbara R.
Ambros. University of Hawaii Press, 2012, 255 pp., $29 (paperback)
Bumping into a Japanese acquaintance on the street recently, I inquired where he was going on
his day off dressed in a formal business suit. A worker at a major pharmaceutical company, he
explained that he was participating in a ceremony honoring the spirits of all the animals that had
suffered during experiments in their laboratories. A Buddhist priest would be conducting the
In Barbara R. Ambros’ “Bones of Contention,” the writer includes a similar example of a
restaurant at the foot of a pet cemetery, which holds an annual memorial service for fish, birds
and mammals, in a spirit of gratitude for sentient creatures that are “martyrs for the sake of the
nation’s progress and prosperity.”
Obliged to kill hundreds of thousands of chickens after avian flu struck in 2004, the Japan Poultry
and Egg Farmer Association, we learn, held a large memorial service at the Tokyo Grand Hotel,
the altar bedizened with white lilies and a pyramid of boxed eggs. Such initially startling events
come, through the powerful transformer of Ambros’research, to gradually make perfect sense,
to even be perceived as morally well-grounded actions.
The author illustrates just how embedded animals have become in Japanese life, reflected in the
increasing desire of owners to be interred with their pets. And Buddhist temples, always on the
lookout for new sources of revenue, have welcomed the demand for memorialrites for pets.
The writer’s own entrée into this deathly landscape was more experiential than academic.
Ambros first came across mortuary rituals when her parakeet came down with sudden seizures,
the attacks requiring incubation in a Tokyo clinic and eventually euthanasia. It was there the vet
told her about the possibility of being interred and memorialized in a pet cemetery at a Nichiren temple.
Following the bifurcating paths that hands-on research often presents, the writer gained access
to pet funerals, usually the exclusive preserve of family members, surveyed websites dedicated
to pet loss, joined in online consolation chat rooms relating to propitiatory rites and funerals for
pets, tracked stories in the print media and the content of pet literature, even examining court
documents relating to legal cases connected to pet cemeteries.
Ambros touches on the intriguing subject of metamorphosis, which in Japanese folklore and
mythology often takes the more specific form of zoomorphism, the shape shifting of animals
into humans. Such beliefs may not be confined entirely to the past. One recalls in Alan Booth’s
travelogue, “The Roads to Sata,” the author being warned not to take a forest road at twilight, as
foxes, transformed into alluring women, would likely bewitch him. The book was written in the
Ambros questions the propensity of Japanese scholars to lean on oversimplistic dichotomies in
suggesting that they possess a closer relationship with animals than other races, one reflective
of a greater holistic sense of the natural world. The writer easily explodes the notion that the
Japanese live in harmonious coexistence with nature, noting that “Wildlife has been treated both
as a resource to be exploited and as pests and predators to be exterminated and feared.” This
would seem perfectly natural for a people who once hunted deer and boar with dogs, and who
now rank among the world’s more enthusiastic consumers of meat.
Ambros references the idea that attitudes to animals and their care vary regionally in Japan.
There may be something to this. Outsiders who have settled in Okinawa, for example, have
complained to me about the wretched mistreatment of animals there, comparing it to
conditions in China.
Interestingly, such attitudes do not preclude sentimentality about animals. On a recent trip to
Okinawa, I came across two dog statues facing each other across the water between Aka and
Zamami islands. Such was the passion of one dog, he swan each day to a beach on Zamami for a
rendezvous, a distance of some 3 km. This tale of loyalty and affection was even made into a
film. Like many an ambivalently sentimental people, the Japanese, it seems, cannot resist a good animal story.
KOBE — A sea turtle that lost her front legs to a shark attack was bidding to match “Blade Runner” Oscar Pistorius on Tuesday, as she donned the latest in artificial flipper technology in Japan. Yu, an approximately 25-year-old female loggerhead turtle, was test-driving her 27th pair of artificial front legs around her home aquarium near Kobe, where she proves a draw for the crowds. The rubber limbs are attached to a vest slipped over her head, said the aquarium’s curator, Naoki Kamezaki. “We have worked hard to design the vest in a way that prevents the turtle from taking it off unwittingly,” he told AFP. “It can flutter the limbs as the vest is soft.” The creature, which weighs 96 kilograms and has a shell 82 centimeters long, was pulled out of a fisherman’s net and sent to the Suma Aqualife Park in mid-2008. One third of the right limb and half of the left limb were gone, in what Kamezaki believes must have been a shark attack. The aquarium started developing artificial limbs for the animal in late 2008 as it could swim only at about 60 percent of its normal speed. Earlier versions were squeezed into the stumps but were apparently painful to Yu. “Similar attempts have been made to attach artificial limbs to turtles around the world. But we have not heard if they went well,” said Kamezaki, an expert on sea turtles, whose surname coincidentally means “turtle cape” in Japanese. “Ours may be the only case in which a turtle with artificial limbs is still swimming without a problem.” In 2004, a dolphin at an aquarium in Okinawa became the first in the world to be fitted with a rubber tail fin. It lost its own tail due to illness. South African sprint king Pistorius, whose legs were amputated below his knees, won plaudits for his performance at last year’s London Olympics where he competed alongside able-bodied athletes.
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