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Visiting professor lectures on role of mass print media in Japan’s history

Bard College assistant professor Nathan Shockey will deliver a colloquium in Royce Hall about changes in mass media production – specifically the rise of oral performance and photography during the Meiji Restoration in Japan. (Courtesy of Nathan Shockey)

Colloquium with Professor Nathan Shockey

Friday, Jan. 11

Royce Hall


By Linda Xu

January 9, 2019 10:27 pm

The Meiji Restoration generated not only an industrial boom in late 19th century Japan but also a new wave of mass-produced media.

Bard College assistant professor Nathan Shockey will speak about this surge of magazine printing in his colloquium at Royce Hall on Friday, titled “Developing A Paper Empire: Late Meiji Magazines And Modern Japanese Mass Culture.” The lecture, hosted by the Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies, will explore the role of photography and oral performance in making typographic print a widespread, mass phenomenon.

Morgan Montelius, a representative from the Terasaki Center, said the center hosts about three colloquiums per quarter, with the goal of community outreach and accessible education.

“There’s a large Japanese-American community in Los Angeles and being able to bring in scholars from across the world to give lectures reinforces our ability to promote Japanese studies to the greater Los Angeles area,” he said.

Faculty members involved with the Terasaki Center suggest speakers for the series. UCLA associate professor of history William Marotti invited Shockey to lecture after previously having him speak on a panel he organized. He said the colloquium series is important because it highlights, in part, up-and-coming scholars, like Shockey, who are able to relate to students and present new ideas.

“He really draws out this link between the print media itself and then nontypographic, nonprint traditions or forms,” Marotti said. “And he’s very skilled in weaving together an interesting and evocative cultural history.”

Shockey’s lecture will chronicle the rise of two specific publishing companies in the later years of the Meiji era: Hakubunkan and Kodansha. The latter, which is now a well-known publisher of manga comics, was founded in 1909 by Seiji Noma, a graduate of the University of Tokyo who had a special interest in the oratorical arts, he said.

Noma first started a magazine called Yuben with collaborators drawn from his network, such as professors from the university. Instead of just rote transcription, the magazine presented a “metadiscourse” on the act of giving speeches itself, such as what it means to give a speech before an audience and its influence on democracy.

“He sees this as not just, ‘I’m going to reproduce the text of what’s being said in a speech in a magazine so that you can read the speeches on paper,’ but actually kind of talk about what it means to create oral culture and the role of oral culture in a print age,” Shockey said.

The follow-up to the highly successful Yuben, a magazine titled Kodan Kurabu, or Kodan Club, gave the company its name and focused more so on oral performance art. Descriptions of art forms, such as sung, narrative ballads or types of comic storytelling, were accompanied by images or sometimes commentary on the genre as a whole.

Shockey said that Kodan Club really engaged its audience by encouraging them to form readers clubs or taking submissions, from which a winner would be rewarded, perhaps by having their work published in the magazine. Kodansha reinvented the way people interacted with written forms of mass-produced media, he said.

While Kodansha is known for its popularization of oral performance in print, Hakubunkan, founded a couple decades earlier, made great strides in visual media. It was among the first publishers to heavily feature photography its magazines, which, at the time of the First Sino-Japanese War, was especially noteworthy because many consumers had never lived through a modern war, much less seen it documented.

Hakubunkan’s “True Record of the Sino-Japanese War” sold hundreds of thousands of copies and the company was later able to invest in a new set of magazines spanning different genres, such as literary and children’s magazines. The texts, which had pictures and advertisements for popular commodities, appealed not only to the intellectual elite but to anybody that had an interest in the topics.

“With this big kind of new wave, Hakubunkan is able to create a format for each of those, at a new scale, that features something like literary fiction as a marketable, easily consumable commodity,” Shockey said.

Many factors characterizing the Meiji era led to the popularization of magazines. Shockey said the government’s focus and prioritization of literacy among its citizens — partly to impart state ideologies — paved the way for textbooks and other forms of print media to flourish, coupled with an educated generation.

“From really the very beginning of the Meiji period, you have a sense that is shared by some of these Meiji elites and the government,” Shockey said. “One of the things that a modern, civilized nation-state and empire and modern civilization needs to have is print.”

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Linda Xu
Xu is a senior staff reporter for the Arts and Entertainment section. She was previously the assistant editor for the Lifestyle beat of Arts.
Xu is a senior staff reporter for the Arts and Entertainment section. She was previously the assistant editor for the Lifestyle beat of Arts.
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