Scrolls of Frolicking Animals

Scrolls of Frolicking Animals

Japan — 12th century

A masterpiece of satirical, anthropomorphic drawings poking fun at priests and other elites that has had a lasting influence in Japan and abroad

  1. Four scrolls dated to the 12th and 13th centuries are attributed to Kakuyū (1053-1140) and other artists

  2. It is hotly debated whether or not these drawings represent the first manga in history

  3. Entirely without text, these drawings also closely resemble modern political cartoons

Scrolls of Frolicking Animals

  1. Description
  2. Facsimile Editions (1)
Scrolls of Frolicking Animals

The Choju-jinbutsu-giga or “Animal-Person Caricatures” are a group of four scrolls that are illustrated entirely without text and include many satirical depictions of animals engaged in human activities. They are generally attributed to Kakuyū (1053-1140), also known as Toba Sōjō, but there is evidence of various artists from the 12th and 13th centuries. Some argue that the anthropomorphic drawings represent the first manga in history, but it is generally recognized that the style of drawing found here has had a lasting impact on art and cartoons in particular not only in Japan but in the rest of Asia and across the world as well.

Scrolls of Frolicking Animals

The roots of modern Japanese manga and other forms of animation go back eight centuries and can be traced to this document, one of the oldest of its kind: the Choju-jinbutsu-giga or “Animal-Person Caricatures”. Originating from the 12th and 13th centuries, these four scrolls likely originated from several artists including Kakuyū (1053-1140), also known as Toba Sōjō. He and the other artists who contributed to this work have had a lasting impact on drawing and animation both in Japan and abroad that continues to be felt today. They created what is arguably the world’s first manga, which are masterpieces in their own right, nonetheless.

An Artists’ Playground

These whimsical depictions of humans and animals place a special emphasis on facial expressions. They are some of the earliest linear monochrome drawings, an important style of Japanese art adapted from Chinese and Korean artwork. What is more, anthropomorphic animals are depicted engaging in virtually every human activity including swimming, bathing, wrestling, archery, thieving, learning, and attending funerals. Despite being entirely without writing, their satirical nature is obvious. The artists engaged in a form of social criticism similar to modern political cartoons and neither priests nor noble lords are spared. There is not a discernible narrative structure to the scrolls, instead they appear more like an artists’ playground with each section filled according to the whims of the artists. These groundbreaking masterpieces are a delight to explore and represent a milestone in the history of Japanese art.

The Four Scrolls

Although there is no text or structure to the Choju-jinbutsu-giga, the scrolls do seem to have themes. Scroll One, the largest and most famous, consists mostly of frogs, rabbits, monkeys, and other friendly animals behaving as though they were humans: engaging in trades, bathing and swimming, playing games, wrestling, and participating in celebrations and funerals. Scroll Two consists naturalistic drawings and studies of larger animals like lions, horse, and oxen. Scroll three depicts both animals and human figures, while Scroll Four depicts only humans. Today, the four scrolls are divided by the National Museums in Tokyo and Kyoto.


Alternative Titles
Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga emakimono
Scrolls of Frolicking Animals and Humans
Schriftrollen der herumtollenden Tiere
12th century
Artist / School

Available facsimile editions:
Limited Edition: Not limited
Facsimile Editions

#1 Choju-jinbutsu-giga

Limited Edition: Not limited
Commentary: 1 volume by Kenji Ueno
Language: Japanese
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the scrolls One and Two, which are preserved at the Tokyo National Museum, as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
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