Japan Punch

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Japan Punch was a cartoon magazine published by Charles Wirgman in Yokohama, from 1862 to 1887. Patterned after the French Le Charivari and its British derivative Punch, it was one of the first monthly serials published in Japan in the European mode, closely related to the European tradition of newspapers and political cartoons, and thus representing an important predecessor to Japan's own cartoons and modern newspaper industry.

The publication consisted chiefly of political cartoons referencing in-jokes pertaining to the foreign settlements in Yokohama, as well as parody, satire, and criticism of Japanese politics. Policies of extraterritoriality within the foreign settlements protected the paper from any possible reprisal by the Japanese authorities, thus granting Wirgman and his colleagues free reign in their critiques of, and jokes at the expense of, those authorities.

Wirgman employed a combination of traditional Japanese materials and Western technology in printing Japan Punch, using copper plate engraving and soft Japanese paper.

Though the ukiyo-e tradition in Japan included long-established modes of political commentary, and of images hiding (or revealing) complex layers of multiple meanings & referents, Wirgman's Western-style political cartoons were something new for Japanese audiences & commentators. The simplistic lines of the artistic style were compared to the cartoonish toba-e of the past, though there were many more artistically complex ukiyo-e prints which might have made for a more apt comparison in terms of their political content. Outside of the artistic style and overall Western format of the publication, what was decidedly novel for Japan was the direct, explicit reference to specific contemporary individuals and events; though haphazardly enforced, the Tokugawa shogunate had time and again declared strict bans on the depiction of contemporary samurai figures or political events in popular materials.

The cartoons inspired a number of Japanese artists to begin experimenting with creating political cartoons in a similar fashion, and gave rise to the term ponchi-e ("Punch pictures"), the first Japanese term for (Western-style) cartoons; this was later superseded by the rise of the term manga around the turn of the 20th century.


  • Peter Duus, "The Marumaru Chinbun and the Origins of the Japanese Political Cartoon," International Journal of Comic Art 1 (1999), 42-43.