Introduction
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1 INTRODUCTION A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance. James Madison1 Journalism is essentially a state of consciousness, a way of apprehending, of experiencing the world. James W. Carey2 Something remarkable happened to Japan’s commoners, or minshû, during the Meiji era. In 1868, at the period’s outset, the vast majority of them were subjects and nothing more, as far removed from the government, in journalist Tokutomi Sohò’s words, “as heaven is from hell.”3 When his august majesty died forty-five years later, in 1912, their grandchildren were displaying the characteristics of modern citizens: writing letters to newspaper editors to discuss debates in the legislature, marching in the streets by the tens of thousands to demand lower streetcar fares and an aggressive foreign policy, using phrases such as “constitutionalism” and “the people’s will” as if they were second nature. And when they shouted, the governors usually responded—despite the fact that most of these minshû had no vote, no legal means for expressing their will, until the 1925 enactment of universal male suffrage. Scholars have looked in a number of directions to explain this rapid transformation. The steady spread of education and literacy often has been cited, as have the creation of modern political institutions , the early extension of communications networks to remote towns, the successful efforts of political activists to get citizens to 2 Creating a Public demand “popular” rights, even the expansion of capitalist economic structures. This study focuses its lenses elsewhere. Without denying the importance of education, political movements, or economic transformation, it contends that no single institution did more to create a modern citizenry than the Meiji newspaper press, a collection of highly diverse, private voices that provided increasing numbers of readers—many millions, in fact, by the end of Meiji—with both a fresh daily picture of the world and a changing sense of their own place in that world. The papers also offered a repertoire of the ideas and actions that would be needed if commoner protests were to take on public significance. An understanding of the press’ role in leading the “people” thus becomes a prerequisite to any full explanation of Meiji development. And, it seems safe to add, a study of the press’ behavior in nineteenth-century Japan also should tell us much about the role newspapers can be expected to play in the evolution of modern societies more generally. This study’s second theme is the reverse impact the minshû had on the Meiji press. The change in the people’s political consciousness was matched, perhaps even exceeded, by the dramatic evolution in Japan’s daily newspaper world in these years. From beginning to end, the mainstream editors and publishers harbored elitist political values: a deep commitment to Confucian paternalism , a desire to strengthen Japan’s age old symbols and creeds, a determination to extend the nation’s influence to foreign shores. The way they gave voice to those values, however, changed dramatically from the 1870s to the 1910s. In the early years, the Confucian orientation produced small, erudite papers marked by endless gray columns of dense political discussion. By the turn of the century, those same Confucian-bred editors were turning out dailies full of sensational feature stories, exposés of corruption and officials’ sex lives, serialized novels, and daily family columns. The late-Meiji papers had more political influence than ever, but their impact now stemmed from huge readership bases and the power of exposure more than from editorials and political discussions. Fueling this change were the growing communities of urban minshû, people who had migrated from the countryside by the hundreds of thousands, bringing with them different skill levels, new values, new desires, and new markets. By mid-Meiji, nearly all of the newspaper owners and editors had become capitalists, made aware by experience that they could not put out a successful paper without resources sufficient to buy modern presses, pay reporters, and cultivate extensive communication channels. And Introduction 3 since resources were available from just two places, advertising and circulation, even the most patrician editors had been forced to cater to plebeian reading tastes—which meant revising their approach to journalism. One of the prime driving forces of the Meiji press was thus the increasing symbiosis between the papers and the minshû. From the people flowed circulation fees and a...



Subject Headings

  • Press and politics -- Japan -- History -- 19th century.
  • Press -- Japan -- History -- 19th century.
  • Japan -- History -- Meiji period, 1868-1912.
  • Public interest -- Japan -- History -- 19th century.
  • Journalism -- Social aspects -- Japan -- History -- 19th century.
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