Chapter 2. Coming into Being, 1868
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C H A P T E R 2 36 COMING INTO BEING 1868 In prosperous regions where newspapers flourish, you can learn the strange stories and marvelous tales of far distant places, even while sitting at home. Moshiogusa, June 1, 1868 Seldom does real life give historians undisputed markers for organizing the past into chronological categories. The battle at Sekigahara in October 1600, for example, seems at first glance to provide a clear starting point for the Tokugawa era, but specialists have spent careers arguing whether the new era really began then, or in 1603 when Ieyasu became shogun, or in 1598 when Toyotomi Hideyoshi died, or even decades later when Tokugawa control was indisputable . So too with January 3, 1868, the day of the Meiji Restoration. The palace coup provides a convenient milepost, especially useful for undergraduate tests on modern Japanese history. But did Japan’s new era really begin then, or in 1853 when Perry’s Black Ships arrived, or earlier in the century when the Tokugawa regime came under increasingly vociferous attacks? Some even start the “modern ” era in the 1870s, after the Meiji leadership issue was settled, or in 1889, with the promulgation of the Meiji Constitution. But if even the clearest dates often are slippery, there is at least general agreement among those seeking the origins of Japan’s modern press. The spring of 1868—a season that saw the new Meiji leaders struggling to eradicate their opposition and take firm hold of Coming into Being 37 the state apparatus—produced a transition so dramatic in Japan’s communications world that scholars unanimously cite it as the beginning point of the country’s modern press. “Faction breeds print,” says British press historian Anthony Smith;1 and so it did in the Edo of 1868. Incited by political passions and driven by a desire to make information available about what was occurring on the battlefields, more than a dozen cerebral, mostly young samurai decided to start producing their own news publications. The sheets they put out were the first quasi-modern “newspapers” most Japanese, even within the elite, had seen. None of the Restoration papers proved lasting. The longestlived , Yanagawa Shunsan’s Chûgai Shimbun, stayed in print for only four and a half months, from March 17 to July 27, issuing a total of forty-five issues; Tòzai Shimbun survived just twelve days and four issues in early July; and the shortest-lived of all, Fûka Shimbun, came out but once.2 Neither did they appear daily or with absolute regularity. Small staffs and the time required to carve woodblocks precluded that. Nor did they look like newspapers as we know them. Instead, they resembled small books or pamphlets filled with a miscellany of opinion and “news.” But they were Japan’s first genuine attempts at what today we define as newspapers : privately produced publications containing both news and opinion, issued on a regular, continuing basis for a public audience. For this reason, historians are unanimous in seeing in them the first real prototypes of Japan’s modern press.3 PASSIONATE EDITORS The editors of these Restoration papers had two quite different sources of inspiration: foreign models and domestic crisis. Most of them got the idea of editing at least in part from their own acquaintance with the Western press, both at home and abroad. Kòko Shimbun editor Fukuchi Gen’ichirò, for example, had translated Western newspapers for the bakufu foreign office (gaikoku bugyò) as a teenager and, as we have seen, had marveled during his 1865 trip to France at “how powerful a newspaper could be in shaping public opinion,” deciding then and there that he would publish his own newspaper some day.4 Yanagawa, similarly, encountered newspapers at the Kaiseijo, as did quite a number of the other editors of that spring’s new papers. And Kishida Ginkò, who launched Yokohama Shinpò Moshiogusa on June 1, 1868, had never heard of news- 38 Creating a Public papers until Joseph Heco told him “about a thing in America called a ‘newspaper’ (shimbunshi), which pulled together each day’s happenings and all of society’s strange events and disseminated them to the public.”5 As important as those foreign models were, however, they were not the primary reason so many news sheets came into existence in the spring of 1868. Even more important was the domestic situation. We already have seen how the news-for-profit kawaraban tradition and the growing popular...


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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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