UCHIMURA Kanzō 内村鑑三 (1980 [1900]): The Honour of Being a koshinbun (小新聞たるの名誉)

UCHIMURA Kanzō 内村鑑三 (1980 [1900]): The Honour of Being a koshinbun (小新聞たるの名誉)
Contributors (1)
Apr 13, 2017

Uchimura Kanzō: The Honour of Being a koshinbun1 (translation and commentary by Robert Kraft)

There are people who despise a newspaper for being a koshinbun, but we2 do not understand the reason behind this disdain. Being a koshinbun means to have many readers among people from the middle and lower classes and we think that in a society like the Japanese, there cannot be any greater honour for a newspaper (shinbunshi) than that.

Are not the people from the middle and lower classes the most honest, most diligent, and most innocent ones in our country’s society? They are indeed the base material out of which a future new Japan can be built, so talking to them and guiding them in itself is a contribution to the construction of a new Japan. We truly cannot stand the feeling of suspicion when seeing koshinbun employees not recognizing this honour, but instead having a low opinion of that.

Why do they not make teaching the middle and lower classes their business? Why do they consider it the only duty of a newspaper to spout political arguments directed towards politicians who are solely concerned about fame and wealth? Why do they make it a newspaper’s principal business to have discussions about style together with the world’s unproductive people called littérateurs? Why do they not wish to bring the gospel from heaven to the plasterers and carpenters? Why do they not put their efforts into earning the support of the hundred thousand rickshaw men? Do not a hundred thousand workmen outweigh three hundred members of Parliament? Which is more valuable: a million peasants or a thousand novelists? Deep inside we are sad that there is no pure common people’s newspaper (heimin shinbun) in Japan. We hope that a koshinbun will appear in our country, which courageously and explicitly sets itself to be an advocate of the middle and lower classes.

Of course being a koshinbun does not imply vulgarity. A newspaper does not necessarily have to publish lewd articles just because it is a koshinbun. Rickshaw men, too, are men, as are carpenters and plasterers. In many cases, they are even better men than the so-called gentlemen and merchant princes. They do know duty (in the noble sense) very well. They have a deep moral sense. We can approach them with our most sophisticated thoughts and our holiest ambitions. Is not at present a noble-minded koshinbun, a mouthpiece of the populace, of utmost importance for Japan?


1The term ‘koshinbun’ literally means ‘small newspaper’, but is to be understood as popular newspaper, newspaper for the common people, or tabloid. For a more detailed description of what koshinbun was, see the commentary below.

2The usage of personal pronouns in this translation follows the example of English articles by Uchimura in the Yorozu chōhō, where he usually uses the plural form.




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(Source: UCHIMURA Kanzō 内村鑑三, Koshinbun taru no meiyo 小新聞たるの名誉 [The Honour of Being a koshinbun], in: TAMURA Kōzō/MATSUZAWA Hiroaki (eds.), Uchimura Kanzō zenshū 8, 1900, Tokyo: Iwanami shoten, 1980, pp. 517-518.)


Uchimura Kanzō (*1861-†1930) was a famous Christian intellectual of modern Japan, who also established his reputation as a journalist. During his lifetime he wrote articles for several newspapers and magazines and even founded some himself. In 1897 Uchimura became chief editor for the English column of the daily newspaper Yorozu chōhō (‘Every Morning News’), but left the paper as early as the following year to found his own magazine Tōkyō dokuritsu zasshi (‘The Tokyo Independent’, discontinued in 1900). In 1900 he reentered the publishing company of Yorozu chōhō, the Chōhō-sha, as a contributing editor. The small text presented above was published in the Yorozu chōhō on Dec. 12 of the same year.

The central problem the text is dealing with is the role newspapers should play in society, especially in light of the relationship between so-called koshinbun and ōshinbun that had changed significantly in the years before Uchimura wrote his article. Both types of newspaper originally came into existence in the time of the ‘Freedom and People’s Rights Movement’ (Jiyū minken undō), with the term ‘ōshinbun’ (lit.: ‘large newspaper’) derived from the usually large size (broadsheet) of politically oriented papers which addressed the educated people, i.e., bureaucrats, teachers, wealthy farmers and wealthy merchants. The term then served as a category in distinction from tabloid papers for the less educated lower classes called ‘koshinbun’ (see OKA 1977: 37-39 and YAMAMOTO 1981: 63-66; for a detailed analysis of newspapers’ readership see YAMAMOTO 1981: 183-200). The two types differed in various ways from each other. Regarding their style, ōshinbun were typically written in a stiff and classical style which could only be understood by people who had received an appropriate education, in most cases people of samurai origin. In contrast, the style of koshinbun was quite colloquial and included pictures and kana syllables besides Chinese characters (furigana) to aid in reading, so in principle everyone who had successfully graduated from elementary school could read and understand these papers. Then, in terms of contents, while ōshinbun primarily focused on critical discourse, koshinbun carried comparatively simple news about politics and the economy and also laid weight on entertainment. Last but not least the koshinbun were sold at a cheaper price than their elite counterpart (see YAMAMOTO 1981: 63-72). It may be for those reasons that koshinbun had an image of being vulgar, against which Uchimura tried to argue in his article.

Already in the 1880s, when the enthusiasm of the ‘Freedom and People’s Rights Movement’ began to wane, ōshinbun focusing on politics gradually lost their reputation, whereas koshinbun gained in popularity. The two subsequently converged, not just in the way that ōshinbun tended to simplify their writing style, but also in the way that koshinbun borrowed elements from ōshinbun, e.g., establishing editorial columns (ronsetsuran). As a result, their readerships began to overlap and so the dichotomy between ‘ō equals elite’ and ‘ko equals common’ in fact became outdated. Also, with regards to sales prices, the differences became less evident since ōshinbun, addressing the same readership as koshinbun, had to lower their prices to keep up with the latter in the competition for readers (see YAMAMOTO 1981: 86-90). The trend of convergence continued with the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) prompting the Meiji government to forbid any politically motivated criticism of the war and therefore causing a further concentration of the press on mere news coverage. After the war, there was no noteworthy change in this situation. One nationalist newspaper, the Nippon (‘Japan’), founded in 1889, tried to resist the tendency of the time and maintain its elegant ōshinbun-character, but in doing so it had to struggle not to drown in the sea of commercialization and capitalization of a press aiming at fast and wide reporting plus entertainment (see OKA 1977: 65-76 and 82-83; see YAMAMOTO 1981: 111-112 and 141-151). Such were the conditions at the time Uchimura called for a ‘pure common people’s newspaper’, ‘which courageously and explicitly sets itself to be an advocate of the middle and lower classes’.

Still, I consider it likely that Uchimura’s criticism was not only directed generally against the state of affairs described above, but also, if not in the first line, specifically against Tokutomi Sohō (*1863-†1957) and his daily newspaper Kokumin shinbun (‘The Nation’). Tokutomi founded the Kokumin shinbun in 1890, after he had been successfully running the magazine Kokumin no tomo (‘The Nation’s Friend’) for three years. Both publications took up the cause of ‘heimin shugi’, a term with which Tokutomi indicated his goal of building up a civil society with all people being equal, free and responsible for their own lives, and with this kind of people – not just the elite classes as until then – being the agents of Japan’s modernization (see OKA 1977: 52, YONEHARA 2003: 62-65 and SUGII 1977: 135-137). While the Kokumin no tomo was a quite sophisticated magazine suitable especially for the intelligentsia, the Kokumin shinbun was from the start supposed to address the common people from the middle classes and was therefore written in a simple and direct language including furigana and pictures, so basically everybody could understand it. Tokutomi furthermore declared his newspaper to be financially and politically independent and also cared about a virtuous layout to qualify it as reading material for schools and puritan households (see SUGII 1977: 138; see ARIYAMA 1992: 1-4 and 10-15). Thus, it is fair to say that the Kokumin shinbun came close to what Uchimura later called ‘a noble-minded koshinbun’, although it was not a koshinbun in the narrower sense, but rather, in accordance with the tendencies of the time, a chūshinbun, i.e., a paper combining elements from koshinbun and ōshinbun as well (see ARIYAMA 1992: 10-15). However, this was not meant to last forever. After Tokutomi had returned from a world trip in 1897, he took a position as counselor in the Ministry of Home Affairs and transformed the Kokumin shinbun into a medium representing the government and even receiving financial aid and first-hand information from the government, which effectively marked a break with the past objective of being independent. The paper also experienced a stylistic makeover, including the abolishment of furigana, to attract readers from the ruling classes of politics and society. Tokutomi later decided to reverse some of these modifications as the Kokumin shinbun stagnated, but he continued to side with the government (see ARIYAMA 1992: 56-67 and 91-113, and YONEHARA 2003: 125-144). This fundamental change of Tokutomi’s and his newspaper’s stance became the target of harsh criticism, inter alia, by Uchimura Kanzō (see for example UCHIMURA 1981: 478 and UCHIMURA 1973: 125-126).

And what about the Yorozu chōhō? It was possibly the most koshinbun-like newspaper of the time. Founded in 1892 by Kuroiwa Ruikō (*1862-†1920), the Yorozu claimed to be a champion of the poor, gaining popularity particularly through uncovering scandals and attacking the upper-class society, or, as Uchimura puts it, calling ‘all things by their true names’ (UCHIMURA 1972: 153-154). For that reason, and because it was sold at cheap price, most of its readers belonged to the middle and lower classes, especially in Tokyo, where it was one of the papers with the highest circulation. It therefore had a gutter press (akashinbun) image, but the presence of intellectuals like Uchimura Kanzō and Kōtoku Shūsui (*1871-†1911) among its editorial staff served to attract some educated people as well (see YAMAMOTO 1981: 95-99, 274, 404-407, and OKA 1977: 52-53). It is possible that one intention of Uchimura’s article was to praise the Yorozu’s position and defend it against criticism without naming it explicitly. Anyway, in 1903 Uchimura turned his back on the Chōhō-sha twice, this time due to the paper’s pro-war attitude on the eve of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05), which was not compatible with his pacifist standpoint (see OKA 1977: 85-89). Together with him Kōtoku Shūsui and Sakai Toshihiko (*1871-†1933) also left the company. In the same year the two founded the socialist weekly Heimin shinbun (‘Common People’s Newspaper’), but it was suppressed by the government afterwards (see ibid.: 90-91).


ARIYAMA Teruo 有山輝雄, Tokutomi Sohō to Kokumin shinbun 徳富蘇峰と国民新聞 [Tokutomi Sohō and the Kokumin shinbun], Tokyo: Yoshikawa kōbunkan, 1992.

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.

SUGII Mutsurō 杉井六郎, Tokutomi Sohō no kenkyū 徳富蘇峰の研究 [A Study of Tokutomi Sohō] (Sōsho • Rekishigaku kenkyū), Tokyo: Hōsei daigaku shuppankyoku, 1977.

UCHIMURA Kanzō, Things by their True Names (The Yorodzu’s Motto), in: YAMAMOTO Taijiro/MUTO Yoichi (eds.), The Complete Works of Kanzō Uchimura, Vol. V: Essays and Editorials I, 1886-June, 1897, Tokyo: Kyōbunkan, 1972, pp. 153-155.

UCHIMURA Kanzō, The Doshisha and the Kokumin Shimbun, in: YAMAMOTO Taijiro/MUTO Yoichi (eds.), The Complete Works of Kanzō Uchimura, Vol. VI: Essays and Editorials II, July, 1897-May, 1898, Tokyo: Kyōbunkan, 1973, pp. 124-126.

UCHIMURA Kanzō 内村鑑三, Koshinbun taru no meiyo 小新聞たるの名誉 [The Honour of Being a koshinbun], in: TAMURA Kōzō/MATSUZAWA Hiroaki (eds.), Uchimura Kanzō zenshū 8, 1900, Tokyo: Iwanami shoten, 1980, pp. 517-518.

UCHIMURA Kanzō 内村鑑三, Yo no jūji shitsutsu aru shakai kairyō jigyō 余の従事しつゝある社会改良事業 [The Social Reform Work I am Engaged in], in: TAMURA Kōzō/SHIBUYA Hiroshi (eds.), Uchimura Kanzō zenshū 9, 1901, Tokyo: Iwanami shoten, 1981, pp. 469-482.

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.

YONEHARA Ken 米原謙, Tokutomi Sohō: Nihon nashonarizumu no kiseki 徳富蘇峰――日本ナショナリズムの軌跡 [Tokutomi Sohō: Tracks of Japanese Nationalism] (Chūkō shinsho 1711), Tokyo: Chūō kōronsha, 2003.


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