yesterday several days ago marked the centenary of Britain entering World War 1 (though Japan did not enter the conflict until 23rd August), I thought I might as well look at one of the old manga / light novels I bought on my last trip there. I thought this one was from Taishō 3 (1915), but, now that I look again, it’s actually from Taishō 5 (1917). Old Japanese publications often have the date they were first published on the cover, along with the date of that issue (usually in tiny writing up near the spine, which can become illegible on some items, as they get bumped and rubbed).
So, then. Hiko Shonen (literally “Flight Boy” – I’d say a less literal translation might be “Boys’ Flying Magazine”… but only a minority of the content is about flying) started in December 1915 and, judging from the on-and-off sale dates, appears to have come out every 3 weeks. It has roughly 110 pages, and is very definitely in the light novel (or “story paper”!) category, though it also contains a few very simple strips.
As you can see from the cover, naval matters must have been on people’s minds at the time! Well, Japan is an island nation. On the inside front cover is this strange passage, made up of kanji and katakana (though the kanji have hiragana furigana). Is it an advert? Facing it is more writing, with a boy holding up a flag. This is written a bit more conventionally.
Actually, is that a ‘map’?
After that, we come to the contents page, written with red ink over a tattered Imperial Russian Navy flag! Though Japan had decisively beaten the Russian navy in 1905, they now found themselves on the same side, fighting Germany and Austo-Hungary.
After that, there is what may also be an editorial page and then A LOT of adverts! There must be 25-30 pages of them! They’re in virtually the same style as contemporary ads from The Boys’ Friend, Chums, Union Jack and so on – though perhaps slightly more old-fashioned (the type of ads those British publications had in around 1907, rather than 1917). Among the things advertised are guns (airguns or .22 rimfires? Or maybe even more powerful ones – gun control was very lax in those days), pocket watches, fountain pens, mouth organs, clarinets, magic lanterns and – given a pervasive Japanese stereotype – lots of cameras! Interestingly, a lot of these have English names like “The Little Nipper”, though they have Japanese place names printed underneath. Others have names in Katakana – angular letters more easily stamped into metal and wood.
After wading through that little lot, we reach the actual content – and what do we start with? an article on the Battle of Tsushima! Japan may have found herself allied to Russia, but neither side had to like it! (the Russians would, of course, soon have bigger problems of their own).
Which part counts as the “Crossing the T”?
There’s then an article which is apparently about tying people up! Perhaps, given the development of long-range bombing aircraft (the Germans did, right at the end of the war, build aeroplanes capable of reaching London – which were a lot harder to shoot down than the ponderous Zeppelins), the Japanese feared an invasion by paratroopers?
There’s a few more photo-illustrated articles, including this one, about a motor race? Japan wasn’t super involved in the fighting, so they must have had petrol spare! (Or it could be a race in the USA or somewhere).
Look at the size of the crew!
And, speaking of Zeppelins, here’s a picture of one that was shot down near the British coast, apparently after an attack on London. No photograph this time, though the illustration is very well done. There’s also an article about the navy, with the text printed in light green ink, which renders it near-unreadable!
After the factual stuff, it’s time for the stories! Beginning with a “manga”, which is four pages long, and has four panels! The story is written in blocks of text above the panels, and both the blocks and illustrations are numbered, just in case people forget which way they should read them, like.
Oh, and it’s about a kid who invents paragliding – with lots of balloons, a chair and a car!
Now, for the main events – the text stories! They seem to be complete – or, at least, there’s no obviously-boxed serial recap. But, of course, they might just not have a re-cap. Or it might be written into the story, like DC Thomson ones were. The first story is called Sawaki Niku(w)otoru Nihonkai Kusen, which is apparently, erm, “Battle of Tsushima to Dance Meat Springing Blood”. Anyway, it’s about the Battle of Tsushima, which ended the Russo-Japanese war, and opens with yet another Russian Navy flag. Appropriately thunderous illustration of the battle, too.
Undamaged Russian ship diplomatically to the fore.
The next story is an aviation-related one called Dai Hiyaku, or “Big Leap”. It features a very primitive-looking aeroplane about to take off in front of a crowd of people – so is presumably about the early days of powered flight (less than 15 years previously!). Interestingly bold ‘headings’ in the text contain the kanji for “11” and “12” – chapter numbers, implying a serial? (still no ‘recap’ though, and the letter that is used to represent “chapter” today is not present).
Following this, another flying story, this one set in the the war! To be precise, the the Darudanerusu – or Dardanelles, better known today as the Gallipoli Campaign. Presumably this story is about a British or ANZAC flyer, though could maybe be about a Japanese pilot improbably ending up there (the Japanese Navy was sub-hunting in the med during the latter part of the war, they were also one of the first nations to experiment with sea-launched air raids).
Not sure about those coats with the two rows of buttons, though. They don’t look RFC… but then again, you couldn’t exactly Google Image Search in 1917.
The story involves the capture of a recognisable(ish) Breguet 14 – a plane then in use by the Turkish Air Force. No crescents drawn on it, though!
The next story is definitely a new one, starting with a bold “Ichi” character, for one! It’s called Umi No Rōgoku, or “Prison of the Sea”. Though maybe a less-literal translation might be “Prisoners of the Sea”. It features crudely-stereotyped Germans, continuing to wear their spiked helmets even when indoors! Perhaps it’s about the maritime blockade which was causing severe suppy shortages in Germany. Or maybe about the end of the “race to the sea”, where the opposing trench lines tried to outflank each other, until they reached the Belgian coast.
“Can ve not dig undervater trenches?”
The next section is a long(ish – 4 pages!) photo-illustrated article about a woman who appears to have the name Aato Sumisu… which de-katakanised is …something Smith? Art? Mart(h)a? she looks white, anyway! And, if I’m reading the letters right, she appears to be 15 years old. Oh, and she’s a pilot!
Yes, that bicycle wheel nailed to an upright plank of wood is the controls of an aircraft!
In World War 2, women were used (in Britain, anyway) as transport pilots, delivering newly-built aircraft from the factories to thier squadrons. Was this “Aviatrix” one of thier forerunners?
The next story doesn’t have furigana on the title, and one of the kanji is very complicated (and possibly obsolete), but it’s something about a “heaven tower”. Anyway, it involves Germans being scared by a “monster”, which, in the style of stories of this time, will probably turn out to be something rigged-up which looks harmless in daylight.
Another illustration in the story has some “giants” being given orders by a small man in uniform. Though they might be “savage” Africans being bossed about by a “civilised” White or Japanese person.
After that… more ads! Those big letters on the right say “Nihon Shonen”, which means “Japan(‘s) Boys”, but it’s also the name of another story paper, which I have an issue of. I’ll review that at some point. Down the side there’s “Shonen Ponchi” – maybe a humour magazine called Shonen Punch? On the left there’s some ads for toys. One of the planes is called a “Smith”… named after the woman in the article, perhaps?
After the ads, there’s the inevitable samurai story. This one called Senchau no Meikuwa… which involves kani that I recognise (“fry” and “flower”), but with obscure readings. The title is apparently “Meika of War Fried”, according to Google Translate, anyway! It involves a horse chase.
The next story is very short, and is called Kenkiushitsu No Kuwaikua, which is something to do with a laboratory (again, it uses odd and obscure readings of kanji). It’s only over two pages, and one of them has a big picture. In English it would probably be a couple of paragraphs!
After that, a story I don’t even need to translate the name of! It’s called Yamanote Sen, or “Yamanote Line”, which is a railway line that runs in a big circle around the districts of central Tokyo – which is more like a load of small cities joined together, rather than one big one. The Yamanote Line stops at the various “town centres” of those cities. Anyway, this is perhaps some sort of mystery or spy story. The main character looks like Charlie Chaplin!
The next story appears to be another one set in the past, or at least the one illustration has people wearing kimono, rather than “western clothes”. But then again, I suppose quite a few people still did, in the Japan of 1917. Anyway, the story is called Ketsujifu Jidan, again using apparently-obsolete readings of the kanji. They literally mean “Blood Ten Study Association”. The “Association” is pronounced “Dan”, which is the only translation Google offers. Perhaps that letter has been removed from Japanese entirely.
The next section’s title is even worse. It’s Tetsuken, which is written 鐡拳, and the Google Translation “English” for that is “鐡拳“! Anyway, it appears to be a lot of short passages of text, with sub-headings. But, more interestingly, along the pages there’s a “film strip” comic strip, apparently about some villain in a “blobby” jacket and flat cap making some evil plan, perhaps to defraud an old man and his daughter (the first panel is an old man and young woman, anyway). A boy is thrown into a river, and later spots the man sabotaging a boat. The man catches him, and locks him in the boathouse. The boat sinks, but apparently only in shallow water, so everybody is okay. Meanwhile, the boy escapes the boathouse and unmasks the villain, who is arrested.
The strip is pretty self-explanatory, though there’s a few speech bubbles too. Interestingly, the characters all have boxes floating next to them, containing the same word each time – are these thier names? (The boy’s is “Pitaa”, or Peter, the villain is “Shon”, possibly Shaun, and the woman is Tijii, which might be Tilly). Also, look at that policeman – the two rows of buttons look a bit archaic, and the helmet is a bit wide… but could he be a British “bobby”?
I’m not sure, but the text passages on these pages might be an explanation of the story. Though they could equally be long jokes, readers’ letters or the other sort of content similar British publications would run!
When I first saw the next item, I thought it was very interesting – a 1917 superhero story! About a “pudgy little girl” who “wears a one-piece swimsuit with ‘Gold’ written on it” and who is able to beat up adult villains.
I thought I’d found a super-obscure old character, so I immediately stole her for a big “monster montage” in my stupid Final Fantasy-based webcomic called Insanity Please (no direct link, due to adult content!)
But then a guy on my Facebook page posted a clearly-more-modern image in response:
But when I asked if she was better-known in Japan than just “somebody who was in one story paper 98 years ago”, he just liked my comment, but didn’t reply or explain anything XD. So I went and showed the picture to the Japanese guy at my job, instead…
Actually, “she” is a pudgy little boy who wears an apron with “gold” written on it, who is called Kintaro. He was either born to a witch (or great samurai), or adopted by one, and fought many monsters with his animal companions. Oh, and the story was probably hundreds of years old even in 1917! It ends with what I thought was “the superhero girl losing her clothes and flying off on a magic fish”. But actually part of the Kintaro story involves him fighting a giant demon fish, so that’s probably what this illustrates!
This is followed by a spread about a boy at the post office… maybe a subscription advert?
And then, back to the Boys’ Own stuff! This time a story called Pirate Island, which is easy to translate because the title is written in English! What-appears-to-be the credits are all in kanji, though, so it’s probably not a translated foreign story.
The title page has a guy in a European-style suit of armour (Japan never really had all-metal plate armour like that), but that must be either part of the treasure, or the guy who originally buried it. The story itself is set in modern times, with a guy wearing what looks like some sort of tartan cap, with binoculars. And on the next page – steam warships!
Presumably, one of the allied nations, and the Germans, both find out about a buried treasure at the same time, and are racing to get it first.
Following them is a section featuring lots of small blocks of text, with a few small illustrations at the beginning, and frequent breaks for bold ‘titles’. At least one part of this section has haiku poems, another is called Monohazuke (the “Zu” unusually, for today, written with a modified Tsu, rather than a modified Su). Apparently that means “Those Immersed”. Above it, a boy is putting part of a kanji together – perhaps these sections are a guide to writing? There’s also several bullet-pointed “lists”. Some of these are all-kanji, and look like Chinese. But they might be people’s names – contemporary British publications used to publish lists of competition-winner’s names, or new members of thier fan clubs.
Then… moooore adverts! But not so many this time, only about 5 pages. The back cover features a picture of a very European-style house, though it’s probably in Japan. After Japan opened up to the world, they started to imitate European architectural practices… but the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 saw the end of that! (They then noticed that all the old wooden temples – able to flex rather than crumble – had survived).
Also, down the side it says something about “Great Japan country”…