Chapter 6. Developing a New Persona, 1886 to 1894
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C H A P T E R 6 150 DEVELOPING A NEW PERSONA 1886 to 1894 In the 1880s, all over the world, the newspaper was ready for a new formula. Anthony Smith1 The people look no longer to the military class for guidance. The samurai’s place has been taken by the newspaper. The Times, April 19, 18892 Monday, February 11, 1889, was a reporter’s dream (and nightmare )—full of promise at daybreak, disastrous by mid-morning, glorious later, and brimming with news enough to fill a month of papers. It snowed in the villages of Gunma that morning, and silk merchants piled barrels of sake into high monuments, while housewives cooked special rice for those who had not trekked off to Tokyo to join the capital celebrations. Before the day was out, the Emperor Meiji had given his people a new constitution; a Shintò nationalist had assassinated Education Minister Mori Arinori, an amnesty had given freedom to scores of minken political prisoners, and Kuga Katsunan had launched Japan’s newest newspaper, Nihon.3 At the close of the day, people celebrated the constitution and mourned Mori with fireworks. The day was particularly symbolic for Japan’s established newspaper world, which covered the constitutional promulgation like it had no event before it. Tòkyò Nichi Nichi’s new president, Seki Naohiko, was at the court at 8:00 a.m., and his paper was on the street with a text of the document at 10:00 a.m., the very hour Developing a New Persona 151 at which the imperial ceremonies began.4 Jiji was selling copies by mid-afternoon. And Asahi spent an incredible 7,300 yen for a telegram to get a two-page extra containing the entire constitution onto the Osaka streets that same day. “We spared no expense,” said editor Murayama; “our brash use of such a long telegram dumbfounded people.”5 At least as dumbfounding was the unabashed competition and rivalry that marked the day’s news coverage. The papers jostled for the ten press spots at the promulgation ceremonies,6 used insider connections to get advance texts of the document, and printed flashy ads to promote their reportorial exploits.7 They also ran editorials overflowing with patriotic pride, declaring the constitution the symbol of a new and modern Japan, a document filled with “glory enough” to justify a bit of national “boasting to the world.”8 Something quite clearly had happened to Japan’s press since the descent into partisanship seven years earlier. Reporters from all types of papers and journals, big and small, came together now at the promulgation ceremony, with each of them interested both in politics and in winning readers through speedy, lively reportage. If the years just after the emperor’s constitutional promise had produced a press consumed by politics, the years surrounding the promulgation inspired a press committed to news and profits. They pushed both koshimbun and òshimbun toward the middle, in the most significant transformation Japan’s press had known since its break from the government early in the 1870s. And the most striking characteristics of this new press were the same things that made the February 11, 1889, coverage symbolic: a renewed focus on the political life of the nation, an emergent willingness by all the papers to seek profits through fast and attractive news coverage, and the appearance of a new kind of nationalism. THE REVIVAL OF POLITICAL PASSION The painful failure of the party press may have caused the òshimbun to wither, but it did not kill the political interest that had brought them into being in the first place. Politics, after all, continued to dominate the national life throughout the 1880s, as Itò, Yamagata , and their cohorts prepared the country for life under a constitutional monarchy. And even the new, more profit-oriented editors and publishers, who disdained partisanship and turgid editorials, had been trained in Confucian schools that focused on the need for effective, morally sound central political institutions. So the papers 152 Creating a Public never stopped discussing political issues altogether, and as the promising days of assembly government approached, political news and opinion came once again to dominate the daily news and editorial offering. By the late 1880s, indeed, all the leading newspapers were concentrating on the key issues of governance, both diplomatic and domestic, some of them even dipping again in the broiling waters of partisanship. As the German physician Erwin Baelz commented in his journal near the...



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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