Chapter 3. Serving the Government, 1868 to 1874
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C H A P T E R 3 46 SERVING THE GOVERNMENT 1868 to 1874 At night I talked with Sugiyama and Yamagata about my purpose in opening a newspaper office. . . . I want to inform people of distant domains about the reforms that are taking place . . . to make them aware of the spirit of the present age. Kido Takayoshi, April 5, 18711 The newspapers simply will not touch upon a sensitive issue for fear of losing government favor. When there is a praiseworthy deed on the part of the officials, the papers will praise it to the skies with exaggerated language very much like a harlot with her customer. Fukuzawa Yukichi, 18732 Government officials took more interest in newspapers than the original journalists did themselves in the years immediately following Fukuchi’s 1868 jailing. Chûgai Shimbun’s Yanagawa went back to work at the translation bureau, which had been renamed again, this time the Kaisei Gakkò, or School for Carrying Out the Opening , to reflect its increasing emphasis on education in Western sciences and languages. He was assigned to continue work as a translator, then was made a senior professor, but though he accepted a government paycheck, he expressed his feeling about the new regime by working at home rather than going to the Kaisei Gakkò offices. After failing in an 1869 effort to start another news- Serving the Government 47 paper, he began spending more and more time in the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters, “drinking until late at night,” composing and dancing the drunken kappa odori with a young friend, Narushima Ryûhoku, who would himself become a journalistic star later. He died unexpectedly in 1870, a mere thirty-nine years of age, broken and disillusioned.3 Similarly angry and disillusioned, Fukuchi took off for the Tokugawa hometown of Shizuoka after getting out of jail, but finding the city crowded with more former samurai than jobs, he returned to Edo and defied a summons to become an official. He adopted the pseudonym Yumenoya (Dream Hut) and turned to the writing of cheap fiction.4 A few other people tried to start papers, as did Kishida Ginkò, but none of them lasted for more than twenty or thirty issues.5 As a result, Japan was without a single domestically produced, private newspaper until the launching of the country’s first daily, Yokohama Mainichi Shimbun, three years into the new era. AGENTS OF CIVILIZATION If the journalists gave up their dreams of starting papers, however, the leading officials did not. While “big” issues such as defense and national unification may have demanded the bulk of most officials’ time, a surprisingly large number of them wrote often about the issue of communication: how to get information to the people, the role of media in Western societies, whether the government should start its own newspaper office, how “private” newspapers might be established to serve the modernization process. The first line of the argument on behalf of creating a press, as many officials articulated it, was that Japan’s “backward” commoners or heimin needed to be educated more fully if the country were to join the ranks of leading nations. While technical literacy may have been relatively high by international standards, particularly in the major centers of Edo, Kyoto, and Osaka, functional literacy was low in the provinces—to the point that a full decade into the new era a third of the residents of Shiga and nearly half those of Gunma still could not write their own names.6 Villagers all across Japan were ignorant not only of how to read and write but of the political life of their land and of their own roles as potential citizens . Itò Hirobumi described the general populace as “merely a numerical mass of governed units,”7 while Fukuzawa groaned, “What could be done with this country of ours, when there were so 48 Creating a Public many people as ignorant as this! . . . People themselves invited oppression.”8 Some popular rights editorialists in the mid-1870s described the heimin as “essentially ignorant, powerless fools who live in the realm of servitude.”9 Even the historian Irokawa Daikichi , who has worked hard to unearth evidence of political sophistication in the villages, has noted that the vehement debates that so enlivened Japan’s political atmosphere after the late 1870s “seldom stirred even a ripple below the regional elite level.”10 A people so disconnected from the sources of power, a people so restricted by a village-first, village...


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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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