Since the late 20th century, Doujinshi has consistently been one of the most dominant media in Japanese popular culture, and with the rise of 2D culture worldwide, its influence is increasing ever so rapidly. However, many are unaware of the origins of doujinshi and even what it’s all about. Today, we will take a swift glance at what the word “doujinshi” truly means and the history behind this genre.

What is Doujinshi?

Nowadays, when talking about doujinshi, people often define it as individual or fandom publications based on existing Japanese 2D cultural creations (such as manga, anime, LN, and video games). Some may even see doujinshi as a more specific type of publication: hentai pieces. This view is a product of the rapid popularization of hentai doujinshi in the last few decades of the 20th century, resulting in its domination over the doujinshi market.

However, the world of doujinshi is more than hentai publications: it’s a world of individuals and groups expressing their passions and ideas in their own published work.

Doujins featuring Kagura and Sougo Okita from Gintama – examples of modern doujinshi

The word “doujinshi” is composed of three kanji characters and can be split into two parts: “doujin”, which can be translated as “like-minded individuals”, and “shi”, which is commonly translated as “magazine”. Put together, “doujinshi” connotes a group of people, passionate about the same topics, creating works that are collected in “shi”.

While this definition was based on how early doujinshi had been created, it isn’t too applicable to the pieces that we are consuming today. In fact, rather than being a collaboration by a group of like-minded people, modern doujinshi are usually created by individuals, using their own material or existing popular cultural creations to express their own ideas.

The Beginnings of Doujinshi

Meiroku Zasshi – the first stepping stone towards the development of doujinshi

The origins of doujinshi can be dated to February 1, 1874, with the publication of the Meiroku Zasshi by the Meirokusha, an independent society which aimed to “promote civilization and enlightenment” in Japan. This piece isn’t really considered as a “magazine” as in the definition of doujinshi, but it still played an important role in the creation and popularization of collaborative publications.

Later, in 1885, the first magazine featuring a collection of doujinshi was founded; this was the Garakuta Bunko, and its creation marked the official birth of the doujinshi genre.

In the first few decades of the Showa period (1926-1989), doujinshi experienced a boom, as it was seen in society as a symbol for youthful creativity. Notably, being a vessel for groups to express their perspectives of the world around them, this genre of literature was used by certain groups to spread their political beliefs to a wider audience.

Meanwhile, the early 20th century also saw the early rise of manga as a literature medium, with the appearance of small manga-focused groups. Among these groups was Ajima, which is commonly considered to be the first manga doujinshi collective, and which played an instrumental role in popularizing manga as a major medium in doujinshi, even to the present day.

Doujinshi in the Age of War and Occupation

As Japan plunged into war in the late 1930s, doujinshi took the form of “I-novels”, which presented the dark side of society or the authors’ personal life and were only shared with fellow authors and their friend groups. This gave doujinshi an aura of individuality, and may have led to a shift in the creative process of doujinshi, from being a collaborative venture to being produced by individuals.

Meanwhile, strict government regulations began to stifle the creativity of manga authors, who also often found an inability to have their work published. As such, the production and consumption of manga doujinshi greatly declined during the war.

The decline of doujinshi continued after the war, with even heavier censorship enforced by the Allied occupation government, which constricted the creativity and development of doujinshi writers. Moreover, the content of doujinshi published during this era changed from expressing ideas prevalent in society to becoming a medium to spread propaganda of Japan as an occupied country.

This lull in doujinshi development only ended at the end of the occupation, after which some in the prewar manga circle decided to resume their work. Immediately after the occupation, many new manga artists – including Osamu Tezuka, commonly known as the “God of Manga” – set their foot into the mass market, further contributing to the increasing popularity of doujinshi. The rise of this new generation of manga artists also played a role in the individualization of the doujinshi creation process, marking a further departure from the collaborative nature of the first doujinshi.

Doujinshi in the Modern Era

Cover of Comiket 96 Catalog

During the last few decades of 20th century, doujinshi as an art form continued to develop and evolve while also gaining popularity among the Japanese public. With the formation of Comic Market (aka Comiket) – one of the most popular doujinshi markets – in 1975, the general content of doujinshi was shifted strongly from being based on purely original ideas to adapting from existing elements found in other series. It also began to diversify into many genres, from ordinary works to more sexually inspired works, which often originated from the urge to form relationships between the authors’ favourite characters – relationships that were not canon in the series these works are based on.

The significant rise of doujinshi industry during those years can be seen by the exceptional increase in the scale of Comiket. From 32 circles and roughly 700 participants at the first Comiket in 1975, it had grown to 35,000 circles and about 430,000 participants by the 58th Comiket in 2000; the most recent Comiket – Comiket 96 in August 2019 – attracted 730,000 participants to the Tokyo Big Sight. Moreover, thanks to advancements in technology, doujinshi have become more accessible, allowing anyone, anywhere, to publish, access, and advertise doujin through various media, thus bringing this genre of literature throughout and beyond Japan, and ultimately around the world.

Graph showing the Number of Participants (In Blue)
and Number of Circles (In Red) from Comiket 1 to Comiket 96

Next time in the journey to understanding this genre of literature, we will go through the lore of Comiket, and the view of the Japanese government on copyright issues associated with doujinshi.

Hope to see all of you soon!

Thanks for reading.

References:

  1. Doujinshi Wikipedia: https://en.wikipediam.org/wiki/Dōjinshi.
  2. Comiket Archives: https://www.comiket.co.jp/archives/Chronology.html
  3. Doujinshi and the Deal with Self-Publishing: http://yabai.com/p/2197
  4. PhD thesis: The cultural economy of fanwork in Japan: dōjinshi exchange as a hybrid economy of open source cultural goods / PhD thesis 3: Introduction to the system of dōjinshi exchange: http://www.nelenoppe.net/dojinshi/PhD_thesis_3:_Introduction_to_the_system_of_dōjinshi_exchange