Chapter 4. Finding Its Own Voice, 1874 to 1881
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C H A P T E R 4 68 FINDING ITS OWN VOICE 1874 to 1881 Punished on the first, they reenter the fray on the second. Withdrawing on the third, they advance on the fourth, ceaselessly fighting and tormenting the courts. Such is the stubbornness and idiocy of newspaper essayists. Narushima Ryûhoku1 Political crises propelled much of the press’ evolution during the first two Meiji decades. Thus, when ugly government squabbles were leaked to the public in 1873, then again when scandals rocked the Council of State in 1881, the official world’s own troubles sparked a different, but equally significant, set of upheavals in newspaper circles. And those upheavals in the end helped the press evolve from its early role as a tool of the authorities into a relatively independent medium of public discussion—indeed, into the first private medium with a public voice that Japan ever had experienced. Out of the rumblings of internal strife, one might say, came the stirrings of civil society. The first of these political episodes was ignited in April 1873, a year and a third after the Iwakura Mission had departed Edo on its international fact-finding mission, leaving Saigò Takamori and Inoue Kaoru in charge of day-to-day government operations. The public face of the government had been fairly tranquil until then, despite factional and philosophical differences behind the scenes. But when the ministries began to maneuver during that spring’s budget dis- Finding Its Own Voice 69 cussions, several officials decided to build support for their own positions through the city’s young newspapers and, in the process, changed the role of Japan’s press for all time. The budget struggles actually had cropped up first in 1872, when the education and justice ministries fought with Inoue, who as vice-minister was presiding over Òkurasho (Finance Ministry) affairs in Minister Òkubo Toshimichi’s absence. Plagued by spreading red ink, he had vetoed their requests for increases then;2 so there was little surprise when the budget struggle reemerged the next spring. Justice Minister Etò Shinpei and Education Minister Òki Takatò again requested more money than Inoue would approve. But they were intransigent this time; so a third party, the rising young Òkuma Shigenobu, was asked to moderate, and when he sided with the education and justice ministries, Inoue resigned.3 Although there was nothing particularly remarkable about the squabble, the way it was handled was precedent setting, because this time the combatants took their fight into the public arena, an action that would have been unthinkable in feudal Japan. Inoue’s side initiated the new tack by leaking to Shimbun Zasshi and Black’s Nisshin Shinjishi a Shibusawa Eiichi memorandum that supported the Finance Ministry. Their leak raised eyebrows far and wide, not just because it was unprecedented but because the government had issued an order only the previous month forbidding the unauthorized disclosure of official matters to the press.4 Òkuma responded by having his own budget figures published, and before the issue was settled the papers had launched into Japan’s first journalistic discussion of an internal governmental dispute.5 The result was a press that changed, almost overnight, from an official mouthpiece to an instrument of political debate. It would remain an elitist, establishment institution, with individual editors who nurtured ties to powerful officials and factions, but never again would the newspaper world appear to speak for the government per se. As press historian Yamamoto Fumio sees it, “The divisions that suddenly developed within the government . . . took the press in a completely new direction.”6 It is conceivable that this new course might have been temporary , a short detour away from what until now had been a steadily tightening press-government relationship, had it not been for a second , even larger crisis that hit Japan later that year and rendered full-fledged press-government cooperation impossible forever. This crisis centered first on the government’s relations with Korea, then, more generally, on the long-term directions of foreign and domestic 70 Creating a Public policy as well as on the fundamental question of how decisions would be made. The Crisis of 1873, as it sometimes is called, needs no elaboration here, since it has been covered in detail by many historians of the Meiji era.7 Suffice it to say that when members of the Iwakura Mission returned to Japan that autumn, several of them succeeded in overturning a belligerent Dajòkan plan to force...



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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