This project showcases student project work from Japan and the World, a modern Japanese history course offered at Kanda University of International Studies. It focuses on important themes and individuals from the Meiji (1868-1912) and Taisho (1912-26) periods, when Japan was beginning to open to the world after centuries of government-enforced isolation.

All submissions are researched, whether in English or Japanese, and references provided. Comments responding to and exploring ideas, suggesting connections or further reading, are most welcome. As entries are written by non-native English speakers, please refrain from non-constructive comments about language use.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Georges Ferdinand Bigot

By Kumiko Omura

Georges Ferdinand Bigot is a French cartoonist and illustrator born in 1860. A picture below is very famous for one of Bigot’s cartoons, gyofu no ri. It is depicted well in the cartoon that Japan and China competed for domination of Korea, and Russia watched carefully to usurp Korea. This cartoon explains the relationships among Japan, China and Russia in the Sino-Japanese War which occurred in 1894. Most Japanese will have seen it in text books at least once.

Bigot's famous cartoon depicting relations between Japan, China, Russia and Korea

Bigot was born in France and encouraged into art by his mother, and he was accepted by the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris at the age of 12. However, he quit school when he was 16 years old to earn a living for his family, and he began to contribute illustrations to newspapers and magazines. In 1878, he visited Paris International Exposition and knew Japan through the exhibition. It motivated him to have strong interest in Japan. Finally, he arrived at Yokohama at the age of 22. In 1882, there was a foreign settlement in Yokohama, but he never lived there because he wanted to draw Japanese daily life outside the settlement. He was hired as an oyatoi gaikokujin and taught watercolor painting at the Imperial Japanese Army Academy for 2 years. Oyatoi gaikokujin is a foreigner hired officially by Japanese government from the end of Edo Era through Meiji Era to advance Japanese modernization.

Bigot published his own magazine TOBAE while he stayed at Japan. TOBAE was a satirical cartoon magazine targeting Japanese politicians, and its readers were mostly foreigners living in the settlement. It was TOBAE in which gyofu no ri, mentioned before, appeared. TOBAE was first published in 1887 and continued until 1889, in the midst of the Freedom and People’s Rights Movement. This was a campaign to request establishment of a national assembly legislature from 1874 through 1890 in Japan. Bigot aimed to criticize politics and Japanese society through TOBAE and claimed what they should be (2006, Shimizu, p.g. 38-39). He sent TOBAE to newspaper publishing companies, magazine publishing companies and journalists to try to influence them. Chomin Nakae, who was a leading figure of the campaign, helped him to caption cartoons in TOBAE. On 11th February 1889, the Constitution of the Great Empire of Japan was promulgated, and then the Freedom and People’s Rights Movement came to an end (2006, Shimizu, p.g. 132). This constitution was enforced until Japan lost the Second World War. After that, he mainly played up the treaty revision in TOBAE. He stated that it was too early for Japan to revise treaties because Japanese legal code had not been completed yet (2006, Shimizu, p.g. 143).

In 1894 at the age of 27, Bigot followed Japanese military as a special correspondent of British newspaper The Graphic and went to the front of the Sino-Japanese War. This event led his career as a news painter and shifted his theme to the Far East Asia situation. His paintings from the field had things that the mass media hardly took up. After the Sino-Japanese War, readers of his magazines decreased because they feared the abolition of foreigner settlement and returned back to their countries. He also decided to go back to France a month before the treaty revision realized., at the age of 32.

It was after the Second World War that Bigot's cartoons became widely known to Japanese people. Bigot came to Japan longing for Japanese ukiyoe and really loved Japan, especially Japanese masses. He left many drawings of Japanese masses, and began to depict people in the middle and higher classes when he published TOBAE. At that time, it was difficult for foreigners staying at Japan and masses to see the lives of people in the upper class. He reported their life to foreigners and masses through his drawings. He totally recorded Japanese people and society in the end of 19th century on drawings as a cartoonist, an artist or a journalist. Bigot’s works helped Japanese in Meiji to fill the gap between classes from the point of view of a foreigner, and gave foreigners in the settlement chance to know better Japanese lives from masses to the higher class. His cartoons are very precious and helpful for us today to visually know Japanese life in Meiji Era when was short of visual materials, too (2006, Shimizu, p.g. 11-12).


Simizu, I. (2006). Bigo ga Mita Meiji Nippon [Bigot and Japan in Meiji]. Tokyo: Ko-dan sha