Organizer: Deborah R. Poskanzer, Columbia University
Chair: Henry D. Smith II, Columbia University
Discussant: Earl H. Kinmonth, University of Sheffield
The purpose of this panel is to examine the impact of media technologies on Japanese thought and society during the modern period. In modern Japan as in other countries it is clear that the development of mass communication has been one of the primary causes of long term social change. Less attention has been paid to the historical role of new media as the focus of an important discourse on the function of communication in society, among government officials, social critics, entrepreneurs, and others. Attitudes towards new and unfamiliar technology, necessarily speculative, often reflected larger social and political preoccupations in a particularly telling way. Common debates included the tension between public good and private profit, between edification and entertainment, between the advantages of free expression and the dangers of subversion.
Each of the papers in the panel will treat the early years of a different mode of communication: print, film, radio, and television. At the time of introduction, the eventual application of each new medium was envisioned only dimly, if at all. Radio, for example, was seen even by its own inventor as a substitute for the telephone in one-to-one communication, while the Meiji government believed movable type would be limited to printing stamps and money. The development of workable format and content for each medium involved the complex interplay of many factors. The capabilities and limits of the new technology, biases about art and commerce, state regulation, the response of the market, and the place already occupied by pre-existing media all had an influence. By focusing on the formative period of new media, we will be able to examine the ad hoc process of application, eventuating in the forms of use now taken for granted. The paper by Giles Richter analyzes how movable type enabled the production of a wide new range of material, with revolutionary effect on the publishing industry and the reading public. Deborah Poskanzer describes the contrasts between the pre-broadcasting culture of amateur radio operators and NHK's vision of a receptive audience. The final paper by Mizukoshi Shin explores the social and cultural factors affecting the development of television technology.
The historical reactions to new media are often strikingly similar to contemporary concerns about the profusion of new communications technologies and services, such as cellular phones, interactive cable, and networking. In Japan as elsewhere, a growing public discourse about new media once again signals the conceit that we are on the verge of an epochal shift in our habits of speech, work, and politics. The recurring patterns in media impact, and the parallels between past and present, will be addressed by our discussant.
Giles Richter, Columbia University
Japan possessed a highly developed print culture and publishing trade long before the diffusion of moveable type in the mid Meiji period. Yet with the implementation of state of the art printing technology and modern infrastructure in the 1880s, circulation potential for publications began a sharp incline, moving from the tens of thousands in the Meiji period, to the millions by World War I. The result was a printing revolution that catalyzed the Meiji information boom and transformed Japanese print culture.
This paper examines the modernization of the Japanese publishing industry from the 1860s to the 90s and the social reactions to these changes. It begins by focusing on attitudes toward typeset printing in the bakumatsu era and early Meiji period, when Japanese first attempted to cast their own type and woodblock printing still dominated. In the 1870s the "civilization and enlightenment" intellectuals and government officials theorized about the public value of moveable type printing, viewing it as a useful didactic tool, a foundation of modern civilization, or an aid to building political infrastructure and promoting official ideology. Yet by the 1880s and 90s, publishing was dominated by more business minded professionals of the private sector, who streamlined the industry and effected widespread diffusion of multimedia printing. Capitalizing on public interest in politics and war, they implemented new technology to unleash an unprecedented flood of images, text and information. They redefined the literary economy and the market for print. In the process, they set off a backlash from officials, writers, and educators who feared inundation in a sea of print culture they viewed as either subversive or mediocre.
This paper analyzes mass published books, general interest magazines, and advertising from the leading publishers of the mid-Meiji period. It shows the ways in which industrial printing technology altered the parameters of Japanese print culture and thus marked a crucial turning point in communications history. It also documents the evolution from an initial enthusiasm about modern printing as a symbol of cultural progress to a fin de siècle malaise about the ambiguities of media commercialism and cultural over-production.
Deborah R. Poskanzer, Columbia University
This paper will discuss the changes in the constituency for radio in early twentieth century Japan. Nowadays, the word "radio" is used synonomously with broadcasting. However, broadcasting is not the only-nor was it the first-application of the technology of wireless transmission. During the approximately two decades between the introduction of wireless technology to Japan and the beginning of broadcasting in 1925, the primary use of radio was for point to point contact, such as ship-to-shore or ham radio transmissions. The majority of the general public had no actual contact with this new technology, although they might read of it in the press. There was, however, a subculture of ham-radio hobbyists who enthusiastically learned how to deploy wire, crystal, and metal plate to speak to one another through the air. The attitude of these amateur "narrowcasters" towards radio technology, and the ethos of communication that they inspired, differed markedly from later concepts of the "listening audience" for broadcasting. The analysis of those differences forms the substance of this paper.
The first section of the paper focuses on the philosophy of early ham radio enthusiasts, as reflected in the magazines that catered to their interests. These periodicals of the "popular science" genre approached wireless technology with a sense of adventure and mastery. The tools of communication were there to use for anyone with initiative. During the period when ham radio was the most familiar form of wireless use, the attitudes of the ham subculture colored the image of radio held by the general public. Commentary in general interest periodicals played up the democratic potential of wireless, with its ability to promote the free flow of ideas and culture.
With the founding of the Nippon Hoso Kyokai (NHK) in 1926, the Japanese government established a monopoly over broadcasting. In its mission to edify and enlighten the public, NHK favored a didactic rather than a participatory model of radio use. In their view, there was little place for popular input. The relatively small ham-radio subculture, now relegated to a marginal rather than dominant form of use, could not have posed any actual threat to the status of NHK. Nevertheless the ethos of the independent operator and the concept of radio he inspired was inimical to the kind of attitude NHK hoped to foster in their audience. The second portion of the paper will focus on the ideological campaign waged by NHK to reinforce the authority of their own vision of radio. Tactics included the depiction of radio technology as too dangerous and complicated for the ordinary person to master; and the portrayal of unlicensed listeners as anti-social. Finally, the role of listener surveys in reinforcing the idea of a passive listening audience is examined.
Koshimizu Shin, University of Tokyo
This paper examines the social factors which affected the early developmental process of Japanese television technologies in comparison to other countries like the United States. I will focus on the gap between the technological activities of the 1920s, 1930s, and the 1950s. I analyze early television from two main perspectives. First, television is viewed in the dynamic context of the mass media which preceded it, such as radio, film and newspapers. Each of these media had its own conception of the implications of television, which in turn affected its development. Second, I examine the interaction between groups of professionals and ordinary people, focusing in particular upon the activities of amateurs and the mania about new broadcasting technologies which played an important function in the design and handling of the new medium of television in Japan.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Japanese engineers developed original television technologies. Especially in the field of mechanical television, there was a short period when Japanese research defined the technological standard for the world. But with the outbreak of the Pacific War, research and development fell victim to changing national priorities. After the war, Japanese television engineers had to use the NTSC standard imported from the United States to restart its research efforts. This new research however was essentially imitative, and there was a remaining feeling of regret about the failure of pre war Japanese technology to gain dominance. In the 1970s, that regret motivated engineers to once again attempt to create a television technology original to Japan, by developing high definition television (HDTV), later referred to as "Hi Vision."
How then did society react to early television technology? In America and Europe, where the tradition of civil society was strong, there was a high degree of public excitement and imagination vis-à-vis the new medium. Technophiles and self styled "mad scientists" tried to invent new audio visual media, while science fiction stories and advertisements envisioned a future society completely permeated by television. The public excitement about television created a reciprocal process, in which social imagination stimulated professional researchers and designers. In Japan, however, a different dynamic occurred, centering around the interpretation of ideas imported from abroad, and dominated by engineers and scientists. Popular participation in this discussion of new media existed but was less prominent, as Japanese had fewer opportunities to discuss and dream about the new television medium.
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