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Reading: Narrating history in the manga ‘Jūdō no rekishi – Kanō Jigorō no shōgai’ (1987)


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Narrating history in the manga ‘Jūdō no rekishi – Kanō Jigorō no shōgai’ (1987)


Andreas Niehaus

Ghent University, BE
About Andreas
Andreas Niehaus is professor for Japanese Studies at Ghent University. Currently he acts as Head of the Department of Languages and Cultures and Head of the International Office at the Faculty of Arts and Philosophy. He is also appointed adjunct professor for Japanese at the University of Eastern Finland and collaborative professor at Kanazawa University. His research focuses on Japanese body culture, esp. Japanese sport history, martial arts and ideas of the body in early modern and modern Japan. Publications include Leben und Werk Kanô Jigorôs. Ein Beitrag zur Leibeserziehung und zum Sport in Japan (Ergon 20102) and together with Christian Tagsold the edited volume Sport, Memory, and Nationhood in Japan: Remembering the Glory Days (Routledge 2012). He acted as guest editor for Sport in Society and the International Journal of Olympic History and is currently on the advisory board of the Journal of Martial Arts Research (JOMAR) and the European Network of Japanese Philosophy. More information via:
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Kanō Jigorō (1860-1938), the founder of Kōdōkan Jūdō, is one of the most prominent representatives of modern Japanese martial arts and numerous books and articles have been written about his life. In this article I will focus on the biographical manga “Jūdō no rekishi – Kanō Jigorō no shōgai” (1987). This graphic biography was published under the editorship of the Kōdōkan and by analysing the techniques that are applied on the textual as well as pictorial level to create authenticity and historical facticity, we will get a better understanding of the strategies by which collective ideas and norms within a specific historical and cultural context are created in jūdō. Biographies are a hybrid genre that unfolds its effect and its power in the space between fiction and non-fiction. Biographies tell a life story by applying literary techniques: creating a narrative, (pre)structuring and – retrospectively - giving meaning to life in and for a preconceived context. Historians, accordingly, – and despite Hayden White’s general reflections on Clio’s influence on historical writings –, as well as sociologists have questioned the value of biographies for understanding the past, criticizing the genre for its “artificial creation of meaning” (Bourdieu, 1986) and reducing the biographer to a literary writer. With biographies becoming a success in popular culture, e.g. in films, manga, etc., the genre finally seems to comfortably settled in the land of fiction, far beyond reach and – maybe more important – the interest of historians. I will, however, argue that it is to early to discard biographies in popular media as ‘historical writing’.
How to Cite: Niehaus, A., 2018. Narrating history in the manga ‘Jūdō no rekishi – Kanō Jigorō no shōgai’ (1987). Martial Arts Studies, 6, pp.52–61. DOI:
Published on 23 Jul 2018.
Peer Reviewed


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