While organized newspapers were only introduced to Japan after the Meiji Restoration, they had their roots in the broadsheets, pamphlets, and woodblock prints that had secretly circulated under Tokugawa censorship when public discussion of public affairs was prohibited. The arrival of Commodore Perry’s ships in 1853 forced the government to re-examine their policies as news of the foreigners, and the Japanese reaction to them, rapidly travelled throughout the country. Afterwards, the newspapers published by the Westerners now living in Yokohama gave the Japanese an early taste for the current events that were culled from overseas newspapers. Henceforth, it became impossible for the government to stem the flow of information circulating throughout Japan.
While organized newspapers were only introduced to Japan after the Meiji Restoration, they had their roots in the broadsheets, pamphlets, and woodblock prints that had secretly circulated under Tokugawa censorship when public discussion of public affairs was prohibited. The arrival of Commodore Perry’s ships in 1853 forced the government to re-examine their policies as news of the foreigners, and the Japanese reaction to them, rapidly travelled throughout the country. Afterwards, the newspapers published by the Westerners now living in Yokohama gave the Japanese an early taste for the current events that were culled from overseas newspapers. Henceforth, it became impossible for the government to stem the flow of information circulating throughout Japan.

© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

In 1869, shortly after the Restoration, newspapers were permitted, and it became acceptable to publish political news and express public opinion. However, the government maintained control of the press, and direct criticism of policies that were deemed "important" to the progress of Japan were still restricted. Instead, the government used the press to promote modernity and encourage national pride in a society suffering the natural anxieties brought on by radical change. Thus, early Meiji newspapers continued to show respect for the establishment and governmental policies, but they also provided a platform for public opinion and a vehicle for those with strong beliefs to influence others. Early readership of these newspapers comprised mostly of government officials, the educated elite, and other intellectuals.
In 1869, shortly after the Restoration, newspapers were permitted, and it became acceptable to publish political news and express public opinion. However, the government maintained control of the press, and direct criticism of policies that were deemed "important" to the progress of Japan were still restricted. Instead, the government used the press to promote modernity and encourage national pride in a society suffering the natural anxieties brought on by radical change. Thus, early Meiji newspapers continued to show respect for the establishment and governmental policies, but they also provided a platform for public opinion and a vehicle for those with strong beliefs to influence others. Early readership of these newspapers comprised mostly of government officials, the educated elite, and other intellectuals.

© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Newspaper

Edo-Tokyo Museum

© Edo-Tokyo Museum


From 1873, after the government split to create an opposition party, vocal opposition was permitted in the press. Thereafter it was impossible for the government to suppress opposing views. In the following years, newspapers, now entirely free of government controls, relied on their readership and advertisers for financial support. The Tokyo Nichi Nichi Shimbun, one of that city’s first papers, was also responsible for publishing the first daily editorial in December 1874. Soon afterwards, most of Japan’s quality papers were publishing regular editorials and informative articles, similar to their Western counterparts. Editorials became a primary feature of Japanese newspapers in the 1870s, and publishers competed to attract the most popular writers for their opinions.
From 1873, after the government split to create an opposition party, vocal opposition was permitted in the press. Thereafter it was impossible for the government to suppress opposing views. In the following years, newspapers, now entirely free of government controls, relied on their readership and advertisers for financial support. The Tokyo Nichi Nichi Shimbun, one of that city’s first papers, was also responsible for publishing the first daily editorial in December 1874. Soon afterwards, most of Japan’s quality papers were publishing regular editorials and informative articles, similar to their Western counterparts. Editorials became a primary feature of Japanese newspapers in the 1870s, and publishers competed to attract the most popular writers for their opinions.

© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

A growth in circulation is attributed to several factors including a very high literacy rate, strong public interest in the Sino-Japanese War, and industrial developments at home. Now privately financed, the numerous publications began pandering to public taste to compete with one another. With over thirty papers in circulation, sensationalised stories of scandal and crime were now combined with reports of the latest developments in the West to attract a broader readership. By the 1880s, a split in the style of papers had emerged, with some retaining a strong editorial and news content, while others pandered to a less informed public, becoming in effect Japan’s first tabloids.
A growth in circulation is attributed to several factors including a very high literacy rate, strong public interest in the Sino-Japanese War, and industrial developments at home. Now privately financed, the numerous publications began pandering to public taste to compete with one another. With over thirty papers in circulation, sensationalised stories of scandal and crime were now combined with reports of the latest developments in the West to attract a broader readership. By the 1880s, a split in the style of papers had emerged, with some retaining a strong editorial and news content, while others pandered to a less informed public, becoming in effect Japan’s first tabloids.

© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Handcoloured newspaper woodblock

Edo-Tokyo Museum

Woodblock print
902081
© Edo-Tokyo Museum


Woodblock prints, depicting such subjects as notorious crimes, were found in the illustrated papers that were popular with the "less literate" Japanese. In one example, Hanai Oume, a geisha and restaurant owner, was arrested and charged with the murder of Kamekichi, a man she knew. Pleading self-defence, she claimed that he had attacked her with a knife because she had been refusing his advances. Unable to convince the authorities of her innocence, she was convicted to life imprisonment. The trial brought her fame and several plays and novels were written about her.
Woodblock prints, depicting such subjects as notorious crimes, were found in the illustrated papers that were popular with the "less literate" Japanese. In one example, Hanai Oume, a geisha and restaurant owner, was arrested and charged with the murder of Kamekichi, a man she knew. Pleading self-defence, she claimed that he had attacked her with a knife because she had been refusing his advances. Unable to convince the authorities of her innocence, she was convicted to life imprisonment. The trial brought her fame and several plays and novels were written about her.

© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Hanai Oume killing Kamekichi

Taiso Yoshitoshi for the Yamato Newspaper, Series: Lives of Modern People
Art Gallery of Greater Victoria

© Art Gallery of Greater Victoria


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • Describe the development of Japan’s newspaper industry both prior to and during the Meiji period
  • List the consequences of the permission of publication of newspapers under Meiji government
  • Describe the format and content of newspapers in late 19th century Japan, with examples
  • Relate the newspapers in late 19th century Japan with newspapers in their own culture

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