Thursday, December 17, 2009

Birth of a Million Seller, Part 1

Birth of a Million Seller
Printing Museum Tokyo


(Birth of a Million Seller, used for review purposes only.)

The Printing Museum in Tokyo, located in the Toppan Publishing building, runs various exhibits that are tied to the printed form in one way or the other (one exhibit consisted of early cigarette packaging). The nearest station is Iidabashi, on the Sobu line, just 3 stops from Akihabara. Toppan is about 1 or 2 kilometers west of Tokyo Dome, making it an easy walk to the Hongo Cultural Center (where they had the Authentic Account: Manga Shonen exhibit), and another 10 minutes past the HCC is the Yayoi-Yumeji Gallery, which had hosted the Shojo no Tomo exhibit. To find Toppan, take the main exit from the Iidabashi station, get up on the overpass walkway to cross the main intersection, then follow the river west about 6 blocks. Toppan is the oval-shaped building on the right just as the river makes a dog-leg to the left.


(Shonen (Boy) magazine cover, 1903, from Birth of a Million Seller, used for review purposes only.)


(Shonen Sekai (Boy's World) magazine cover, 1895, from Birth of a Million Seller, used for review purposes only.)

I'd mentioned Birth of a Million Seller in part 1 of the History of Manga post. It was an exhibit that ran during the summer of 2008, and focused on the introduction of western-style magazines to Japan, with their subsequent growth up through the 1920s. The exhibit book is still available for 2900 yen from their online shop, if you want it (click on Catalog). The majority of the book consists of various magazine covers plus one or two sample pages and a paragraph or two of explanatory text. The rest covers printing and ink technologies. Unfortunately, there's no time line of start and end dates for the publications, and most of the text is only in Japanese. But, the introduction was translated into English, and that contains the info I really want to use here, which is all I care about. The below information comes from this exhibit book. First is a narrative piece by Misako Shinozawa, which I'll excerpt below.


(Seiyo Zasshi (Western magazine) cover and inside page, 1867, from Birth of a Million Seller, used for review purposes only.)

According to BoMS, Japan adopted western style newspapers at the same time it took on magazines. (Although, as mentioned in the History of Manga part 1, Japanese newspapers did exist as early as the 1600's, they were mainly for government announcements.) Initially, magazines and newspapers were indistinguishable, and were produced by westerners located in Japan. The first recognized Japanese magazine was Shunsan Yanagawa's Seiyo Zasshi ("Western Magazine"), in 1867. It was a booklet of half-sized Japanese Mino paper woodblock prints on 10 pages in a folio binding, made up of translations of western scholarly articles. The idea was to go monthly, but Seiyo folded in 1869 after only six issues. What makes Seiyo important is that the editor stated in the first issue that the booklet's purpose is to bring news and interesting topics of the world to the people, which is what a news magazine does.


(Hagaki Bugatsu (Postcard Literature) magazine cover, 1905, from Birth of a Million Seller, used for review purposes only.)

In 1869, the Meiji government was established, and initially magazines published knowledge from the west, criticism of the government, and new political thought. Shimbun Zasshi (1871, "Newspaper Magazine") was funded by a Meiji politician. Meiroku Zasshi (1874, "Journal of Meiroku Company") was the mouthpiece of an academic organization that included the Minister of Finance at the time.


(Nihon Daitaika Ronshuu (Japan Big Expert's Essay Collection) magazine cover, 1887, from Birth of a Million Seller, used for review purposes only.)

The magazines were printed on typographic presses using imported paper. As they became more popular, printing technology improved, increasing the number of copies that could be made, reducing costs, and allowing the printing of photos. This was followed by the creation of companies that made western-style paper domestically. In return, literacy increased and people from around the country got access to the same news at the same time when the introduction of the steam train increased distribution coverage. Where newspapers and magazines diverged was in their content. Papers were printed daily (or almost daily) and could feature breaking news, while the monthly schedule for magazines promoted more of an educational bent, including scholarly papers, opinion pieces, medical theses and criticism.


(Maru-maru Chimbun (Entirely Curious News) magazine cover, 1882, from Birth of a Million Seller, used for review purposes only.)

Entertainment content started surfacing with Maru-maru Chimbun, which was mostly made up of political and social cartoons. But, it wasn't until the 1890's that hobbies, entertainment or localized literature started becoming common. With the new educational system implemented by the Meiji government, school enrollment went from 50% in 1891 to 97% in 1907, while we also have the proclamation of the Constitution of the Empire of Japan in 1889, the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, and the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-05.


(Nisshin Sensou Jikki (Sino-Japanese War Chronicle) magazine cover, 1894, from Birth of a Million Seller, used for review purposes only.)

These events drove public expression in magazines, and the number of publications rose. A lot of the present-day printing companies were formed at this time. However, up to this point, producers sold strictly on a cash basis; distributors bought what they thought they could sell, so they'd underbuy to avoid being stuck with deadstock. "Fujin Sekai" ("Ladies' World", 1909) was the first monthly sold on consignment, and their sales soon reached an unheard-of 250,000 copies per month. Then we have the introduction of the 3-color press; its first use was with the "Roses" frontispiece for Bungei Kurabu (1902, "Literature Club").


((Tokyo Economics) magazine cover, 1879, from Birth of a Million Seller, used for review purposes only.)

The economy started soaring following WW I, and Japan was on the verge of becoming a modern industrial nation, but the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 sent the country into a major depression. Common citizens started complaining about the problems around them, setting the basis for the Taisho Democracy and giving rise to liberal and social movements. This is what the new wave of magazines focused on. At the same time magazines created content designed to appeal to modern tastes, driven by the motto "large sales, large profits". The Tokyo Magazine Union was formed in 1914 to prevent price wars between distributors, leading to fixed, uniform pricing of magazines. And, the Tokyo Magazine Sellers' Union (1914) became the Japan Magazine Association in 1924, making for a much more stable marketplace.


(Fuuzoku Gahou (Illustrated Customs) magazine cover, 1889, from Birth of a Million Seller, used for review purposes only.)

In 1925, emerging publisher Dai Nihon Yuben-Kai Kodansha (present day Kodansha Corp.) came out with King magazine - "The most amusing! The most educational! The most reasonably priced magazine you ever had!", at 354 pages for 50 sen (half a yen). The biggest magazine at the time was Shufu no Tomo ("Housewife's Companion"), 348 pages at 75 sen, with a circulation of around 200,000-300,000. King's first issue was 500,000 copies and sold out immediately, forcing a reprint with a final run of 620,000 copies. They reached 1,000,000 copies with the January, 1927 issue. The numbers hit 1.4 million in November of that year, meaning that one out of every 50 Japanese was reading King now. This was followed by a rush of new titles in the "1 yen" boom (with the "1 Yen" publisher producing books for 1 yen each).

To be continued in part 2...

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