FUKUZAWA Yukichi 福沢諭吉 (1872 [1866]): Newspapers (新聞紙)

FUKUZAWA Yukichi 福沢諭吉 (1872 [1866]): Newspapers (新聞紙)
Contributors (1)
Published
Apr 13, 2017

Fukuzawa Yukichi: Newspapers (translation and commentary by Robert Kraft)

The term ‘newspaper’ (shinbunshi) means that there are companies1, which investigate the latest state of affairs, record their findings and bring them to the public’s attention. That is, discussions from that country’s court; notifications of official orders; officials’ movements2; rumors from the street; developments in foreign countries; the current state of sciences3; commercial ups and downs; rich or poor harvests; price fluctuations; the joys and sorrows of the people; announcements of birth and death; oddities; put simply, anything that is new to people’s ears and eyes is reported, illustrated, and brought to light in detail. Even when it comes to trivialities like directions to gatherings or publicizing the names of newly opened shops, the search for lost property or for the owner of a found item, etc., people contact a newspaper publishing company (shinbunshi kyoku) about such things and ask for them to be reported. Therefore, even if somebody stays indoors and does not look outside, or if he goes to a remote place and does not receive letters from home, one look at a newspaper and he will see what is going on in the world just as clearly as if he had experienced it himself.  It is rightly said that people in the West read newspapers with such enjoyment that they even forget to eat. It goes without saying that many books exist in the world, but nothing is more suitable than newspapers for widening one’s knowledge, gaining insight into recent conditions, and learning about how to get on in the world.

There are newspapers that are issued every day and others published once every seven days. Wherever Westerners reside, be it in Western countries or abroad, they are sure to publish newspapers. This is carried out most extensively in London, Britain, and in New York, America. In London they collect news from all nations, incorporate this into their own paper, and distribute it to the world. This is the so-called London News.4 Newspaper coverage is supposed to be fast. With the help of steam engines, fifteen thousand pages can be printed in just one hour. After being bound, the papers reach their various destinations via quick transportation like steam trains and steamships. The speed is astonishing. To give an example: there was once a great debate held in the parliament of London which lasted the whole night. After it had ended at four in the morning (seven o’clock our time5), the course of the debate was instantly written down, published, and reported to the country. The news reached Bristol, located a hundred miles6 away from London, the same day at twelve o’clock (nine o’clock our time5).

Depending on the country and the opinion of the people involved, the view held by a newspaper may not be non-partisan, but basically papers under government license aim towards unrestricted, unbiased discussions of political rights and wrongs and criticism of individuals. That is why newspapers are highly valued by all people and sometimes turn the tide of public opinion (jinshin) temporarily, even bringing about a change in governmental deliberation. For example, in case country A deliberates whether it should start a war and attack country B, it may help prevent war if the people in country B discuss the pros and cons and make their opinion public via newspapers.

Notes:

1In this sentence the term ‘kaisha’ is problematic, because, whereas in today’s Japanese there is a clear distinction between the words ‘kaisha’, meaning ‘company’, and ‘shakai’, meaning ‘society’, the word usage in Fukuzawa’s time was not fixed in the same way. Before ‘shakai’ became the common translation for the English ‘society’, this Western concept of society could be translated in various ways, for example as ‘kōsai’ or ‘jinkan kōsai’ – these are the terms Fukuzawa preferably used –, but also as ‘kaisha’ (see YANABU 1982: 1-17). Therefore, if one assumes that Fukuzawa used the term ‘kaisha’ in the meaning of ‘society’, the whole sentence would read as follows: ‘Newspapers investigate the latest state of affairs in society, record their findings and bring them to the public’s attention.’ This interpretation seems all the more possible if one takes into account that Fukuzawa called newspaper publishing companies ‘shinbunshi kyoku’ in Japanese. Still, it remains unclear what reading he actually intended.

2Or: inaugurations and resignations of officials.

3Nowadays ‘gakugei’ means ‘arts and sciences’, but Fukuzawa seems to have used the term to refer only to sciences, especially that of the West.

4Probably refers to The Illustrated London News, a newspaper that first appeared in 1842 and indeed included a variety of foreign news.

5Calculation of time in Japan differed from that in the West.

6Fukuzawa uses the term ‘ri’ as a direct translation of the English ‘statute mile.’ At the end of the book he explains that one ‘ri’ is equivalent to a little less than fourteen ‘chō’ and forty-three ‘ken’ in Japanese units of length. That is approximately 1611 meters or a little more than one statute mile.

Japanese: (old kanji have been replaced by new ones and gōryakugana by katakana)

新聞紙

新聞紙ハ会社アリテ新ラシキ事情ヲ探索シ之ヲ記シテ世間ニ布告スルモノナリ即チ其国朝廷ノ評議、官命ノ公告、吏人ノ進退、市街ノ風説、外国ノ形勢、学芸日新ノ景況、交易ノ盛衰、耕作ノ豊凶、物価ノ高低、民間ノ苦楽、死生存亡、異事珍談、総テ人ノ耳目ニ新ラシキコトハ逐一記載シテ図画ヲ附シ明評ナラサルハナシ其細事ニ至テハ集会ノ案内ヲ為シ開店ノ名ヲ弘メ失物ヲ探索シ拾ヒ物ノ主ヲ求ムル等皆新聞紙局ニ託シテ其次第ヲ記ス故ニ一室ニ閉居シテ戸外ヲ見ス、万里ノ絶域ニ居テ郷信ヲ得サルモノト雖トモ、一ト度ヒ新聞紙ヲ見レハ世間ノ情実ヲ摸写シテ一目瞭然、恰モ現ニ其事物ニ接スルカ如シ西人新聞紙ヲ見ルヲ以テ人間ノ一快楽事トナシ之ヲ読テ食ヲ忘ルト云フモ亦宜ナリ凡ソ海内古今ノ書、多シト雖トモ聞見ヲ博クシ事情ヲ明ニシ世ニ処スルノ道ヲ研究スルニハ新聞紙ヲ読ムニ若クモノナシ〇新聞紙ハ毎日出版スルモノアリ七日ニ一回出版スルモノアリ西洋諸国及ヒ海外ノ地ニテモ西人ノ居留セル地ニハ必ス之ヲ出版スルモノアリ其最モ盛ニ行ハルゝハ英国ノ龍動亜米利加ノニューヨルクヲ天下第一トス龍動ニテハ万国ノ新聞ヲ集メ自国ノ新聞ト共ニ記シテ世界中ニ布告ス所謂龍動新聞ナリ新聞紙ノ報告ハ速ナルヲ趣意トシ蒸気機関ヲ以テ版ヲ摺リ一時間ニ一万五千枚ヲ得へシ制本終レハ蒸気車蒸気船等ノ急便ニテ諸方ニ達ス其神速ナルコト人ノ耳目ヲ驚カス一例ヲ挙クルニ曾テ龍動ノ議事院ニ終夜大議論アリテ暁第四時七時ニ終リシトキ即時ニ議事ノ次第ヲ記シ出版シテ国中ニ布告シ同日第十二時九時ニハ百里外ノブリストルニ達セシコトアリ〇新聞紙ノ説ハ其国ニ由リ其人ノ意見ニ従テ偏頗ナキニシモアラサレトモ元ト官許ヲ受ケ出版スルモノニテ其議論公平ヲ趣旨トシ国ノ政事ヲ是非シ人物ヲ褒貶スルコト妨ナシ故ニ世人皆之ヲ重ンシ其大議論ニ由テハ一時人心ヲ傾ケ政府ノ評議モ之カ為メ変革スルコトアリ譬ヘハ此国ニテ師ヲ起シ彼国ヲ攻メントノ評議アルトキ彼国ノ人、理非曲直ヲ弁論シ之ヲ新聞紙ニ載テ世上ニ布告スレハ師ヲ止ルノ一助トモナルへシ

(Source: FUKUZAWA Yukichi 福沢諭吉, Seiyō jijō shohen kan no ichi 西洋事情初編巻之一 [Conditions in the West, Part One, Vol. One], Tokyo: Keiō gijuku shuppankyoku, 1872.)

Commentary:

This small text is an excerpt from the first volume of part one of Enlightenment philosopher Fukuzawa Yukichi’s (*1835-†1901) larger work ‘Conditions in the West’ (Seiyō jijō shohen kan no ichi), first published in 1866. Unlike the parts of the work published later in 1868 and 1870, which are primarily translations of English books, this first part is based not only on foreign books but also on Fukuzawa’s personal experiences, i.e., on what he witnessed and heard when traveling to Europe as a translator for a Shogunate embassy in 1861. Therefore, it has a more descriptive character rather than a theoretical one. The work primarily aims at introducing the West as a model of civilization and enlightenment to the Japanese people and, since the Western things described in the text were completely new to most readers, it is written in a generally uncomplicated style to prevent confusion. In terms of the press in Japan, the country had only rudimentary print journalism, which was hardly comparable to that in the West when Fukuzawa’s book was published. One form was a kind of woodblock print newssheet called ‘kawaraban’, which reported on simple facts such as the occurrence of earthquakes and the like. As Japan faced political turmoil in the late Edo period, some of these sheets also contained political statements. Fukuzawa then mentions Westerners who reside in places other than their home countries and have their own newspapers there; the same was true for Westerners living in Japan in the late Edo period. Lastly, the Tokugawa Shogunate allowed translation of foreign newspapers as a source of information about world issues (see OKA 1977: 2-9). The first Japanese daily newspaper was the Yokohama mainichi shinbun (‘Yokohama Daily Newspaper’) founded in 1870, which was then followed by many other Tokyo-based newspapers (see ibid.: 15-16). Even though the young Meiji government forbade coverage as early as 1869 that was critical of its own politics (see ibid.: 12-13), the early years of the Meiji period (until about 1874) were characterized by a comparatively harmonious relationship between the government and the press simply because newspapers were regarded as an effective medium for the propagation of civilization and enlightenment (see YAMAMOTO 1981: 350-351). Just as Fukuzawa explained: ‘nothing is more suitable than newspapers for widening one’s knowledge, gaining insight into recent conditions, and learning about how to get on in the world.’ The government later changed its stance and turned to a stricter control over print media, as was the case during the ‘Freedom and People’s Rights Movement’ (Jiyū minken undō) when the popularity of newspapers in support of the movement surpassed that of the pro-government newspapers (see ibid.). Put under pressure by the ‘Freedom and People’s Rights Movement’ in 1881 the Meiji government promulgated the establishment of a diet to be realized in 1890. Political parties were consequently founded, some of which backed the government while others represented the movement. Again, newspapers became divided along party lines. Against this backdrop, Fukuzawa – who, in ‘Conditions in the West’, had described newspapers as aiming at unbiased discussion – founded his own daily newspaper Jiji shinpō (‘News on Current Events’) in 1882, which took a politically neutral position (see OKA 1977: 31-34 and 41-45). Considering these historical developments, it seems possible to retrospectively read the small text presented above as one example of proto-media theory.

References:

FUKUZAWA Yukichi 福沢諭吉, Seiyō jijō shohen kan no ichi 西洋事情初編巻之一 [Conditions in the West, Part One, Vol. One], Tokyo: Keiō gijuku shuppankyoku, 1872. (For a new edition with explanatory notes and comments see: SAUCIER, Marion ソシエ・マリオン/NISHIKAWA Shunsaku 西川俊作 (eds.), Seiyō jijō 西洋事情 [Conditions in the West], Tokyo: Keiō gijuku daigaku shuppankai, 2009.)

OKA Mitsuo 岡満男, Kindai Nihon shinbun shōshi: sono tanjō kara kigyōka made 近代日本新聞小史――その誕生から企業化まで [A Small History of Newspapers in Modern Japan: From Birth to Commercialization] (Shakai kagaku sensho 60), revised edition, Kyoto: Mineruva shobō, 1977.

YAMAMOTO Taketoshi 山本武利, Kindai Nihon no shinbun dokushasō 近代日本の新聞読者層 [The Readership of Newspapers in Modern Japan] (Sōsho/Gendai no shakai kagaku), Tokyo: Hōsei daigaku shuppankyoku, 1981.

YANABU Akira 柳父章, Hon’yakugo seiritsu jijō 翻訳語成立事情 [The Circumstances of the Formulation of Translated Words] (Iwanami shinsho (kiban) 189), Tokyo: Iwanami shoten, 1982.

Comments
1
Martin Roth: [@highlight/1124] You are certainly right in the sense that the text did not aim to develop a theory. Interestingly, Fukuzawa does indeed identify several key characteristics (speed, coverage, dispersion) and speculates about the effects (political influence) newspapers might have. In this sense, I would say it has a theoretical moment, albeit not fully developed. As you point out at the end of your comment, this is a kind of media theory "sketch", or, if you prefer, "proto media theory" (proto might sound like a rather strong claim, since it associates original or first).