Newspapers. The founder of Japanese journalism was an Englishman, Mr. John Black, one of the earliest foreign residents of Yokohama. Before his time there no doubt existed street-criers (yomi-uri), who hawked small sheets roughly struck off from wooden blocks whenever some horrid murder or other interesting event took place. The Kwaigai Shimbun of 1864—5, published by "Joseph Heco," was a step in advance. Then, in 1871, appeared a small quasi-journalistic venture, entitled the Shimbun Zasshi, believed to be inspired by Kido, a then prominent politician. But Mr. Black's Nisshin Shinjishi, started in 1872, was the first newspaper worthy of the name,—the first to give leading articles and to comment seriously on political affairs. The seed once sown, Japanese journalism grew apace. There are now 781 newspapers and magazines published in the empire, of which 209 in Tōkyō alone. The most important newspapers appearing in the capital are the Kwampō, or "Official Gazette;" the Kokumin, semi-official; the Nihon, conservative and anti-foreign; the Yomi-uri and the Mainichi, progressionist; the Jiji Shimpo, independent; the Nichi Nichi, generally regarded as an organ of Baron Itō; the Chugwai Shogyō Shimpo, commercial. The Asahi, the Miyako, the Chuō, and the Hōchi enjoy great popularity, as does also the Yorozu Chōhō, whose exaggerations and violent personalities amuse all readers except such as are the objects of them. No one is safe nowadays from black-mail. The largest circulation (200,000 copies) is claimed by the Yorozu Chōhō, the Ōsaka Asahi coming next with 150,000. Some few papers have an English column. The Japan Times is published entirely in English. Among the magazines, the Taiyō is perhaps that which enjoys the greatest vogue with general readers all over the country; pure literature is represented by the Teikoku Bungaku and two or three others; red-hot chauvinism by the Nihon-jin; Christianity by the Rikugō Zasshi and several others, and satire and humour by the Maru-Maru Chimbun, or Japanese "Punch," while medicine, chemistry, anthropology, philology, political economy, and other sciences all have their organs, some of them conducted with great ability and a closeness to European models which is almost startling. The names of Shimada, Tokutomi, Kuga, and Asaina may be mentioned among those of the leading Tōkyō journalists.
Newspapers, like books, are published in what is called the "Written Language,"—a literary dialect considerably removed from the colloquial both in grammar and in vocabulary, the simple plan of writing as one speaks not having yet approved itself to the taste of any Far-Eastern nation. But though the style of Japanese newspapers is not popular, their prices are. Most of the larger journals charge only two sen about a halfpenny for a single copy, and from thirty-five to fifty sen per month; the smaller journals, one and a half sen for a single copy, and twenty or thirty sen per month. Several have rough illustrations. Most now have feuilletons devoted to the publication of novels in serial form. Extras are issued whenever any notable event occurs. During a change of ministry, for instance, and especially in war time, the cry of "Gōgwai! Gōgwai!" ("Extra! Extra!") becomes the commonest of all street sounds.
The Japanese press-laws, theretofore extremely rigorous, were at length softened in 1897 and again in 1900. The Ministers of the Army and Navy, it is true, retain the power of prohibiting the sale or distribution of any issue of a newspaper that has disclosed military secrets, and a similar power is vested in the Minister of Foreign Affairs to suppress the publication of anything tending to embroil Japan with other governments. Perseverance in the publication of such forbidden items, insults to the dignity of the Imperial family, attacks on existing institutions, and breaches of the public peace and morality render the offending journal liable to a criminal prosecution, which may end in total suppression and the confiscation of the plant used. Furthermore, fines ranging from 5 to 500 yen, and imprisonment for terms varying from one month to two years are provided for. All newspapers have to put up a certain sum as surety for good behaviour. This varies according to localities; at Tōkyō it is 1,000 yen.
Even the present state of things will appear stringent enough to home readers. But let us be just. The thoughtful enquirer will surely always lay most stress, not on the point at which any given institution has arrived, but on the direction in which it is tending. Now the marked tendency of all existing Japanese institutions is towards greater liberality. The restrictions which still hamper the full liberty of the press in Japan are not, historically speaking, retrograde measures, that is, they do not come after better things in the past. Under the old feudal regime, not only did liberty of speech not exist in fact; the right to some measure of it was not so much as recognised in theory, nor would the men who made the revolution of 1868 have dallied with the idea for a moment in their then frame of mind. They would have shuddered at it as sacrilege. The idea has entered Japan more recently, in the wake of English and American text books for schools and of Anglo-Saxon ideas generally.
Imprisonment for press offences is still common. So openly has it come to be reckoned among the probable incidents of a journalistic career that most papers employ what is called "a prison editor," that is, a man who, though nominally editor-in-chief, has little or nothing to do but go to prison when the paper gets into trouble. The real editor, meanwhile, remains an uncrowned king, figuring on the books simply as a contributor. In fact, the traditional Japanese fondness for dual offices has cropped up again in modern guise. Formerly there was an Emperor de jure and an Emperor de facto, there were nominal Daimyōs and the Daimyōs right-hand men with whom lay all the actual power. Now there are real editors and dummy "prison editors." But much practice has made ready writers. Recourse to allegory, double entente, and other ingenious devices for conveying "more than meets the ear," generally suffices to keep Japanese journalists on the safe side of the law. Taking one thing with another, it seems surprising that any man of ability should be tempted to enter the journalistic profession in Japan. The highest remuneration given barely exceeds £120 a year; but only some half-dozen individuals in the empire succeed in climbing to that giddy height. From £30 to £50 a year is the usual pay.
The foreign press at the "Open Ports" is principally in English hands. The newspapers there published are rendered more interesting than the majority of colonial journals by the constant and striking changes in Japanese politics and social life that have to be chronicled. Think what a paradise for the journal ist must a country be where the administrative organisation has been recast a dozen times in less than three dozen years, and everything else revolves in similar kaleidoscopic fashion! But this paradise has its drawbacks. Fancy-free till the year 1899, the foreign press in Japan saw itself thenceforward subjected, as a consequence of the abandonment of treaty privileges, to the same disabilities as are imposed on native printed speech. This reactionary step had been eagerly awaited by the Japanese news paper men, who, though crying out for more liberty themselves, chuckled at the prospect of seeing their foreign brethren become their companions in misfortune. This is but human nature: "Nous avons tous asses de force pour supporter les maux d' autrui."
In the case of one important branch of modern journalism, the Japanese government has struck a blow whose results may be world-wide. When hostilities with Russia broke out in the spring of 1904, foreign newspaper men immediately flocked to Tōkyō, eager for the fray. They were politely received, they were dined, they were wined, they were taken about the Inland Sea in a yacht, and continually received assurances to the effect that they would be allowed to start for the front to-morrow or, at the latest, next week or next month. But the to-morrow was so long of coming that most of the correspondents, weary of this endless waiting, returned home angrier and possibly wiser men, though not in martial experience. Some few, who were actually granted a peep of the seat of war, found that their telegrams to the home papers were so greatly delayed in transit through Korea as to be rendered useless. Evidently, the Japanese government considers war correspondence little better than a roundabout means of assisting the enemy to a knowledge of one's own military movements. The experience of other nations, from Franco-Prussian days down to England's big bungle in South Africa, was there to instruct them; and they elected to safeguard their own troops at the risk of arousing the hostility of the foreign press, whose enormous outlay to procure war news had thus been made of none effect.
- A native of the province of Harima, on the Inland Sea, who was cast away in a junk in the year 1850, rescued, and carried to America, where he lived for some years, returning as interpreter when Japan was opened. He died in 1897. The story of his checkered career is told in The Narrative of a Japanese.