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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien

Sabine Hänsgen

Japanese Science, Library Science
Since May 2006
(PhD Students, May 1, 2006 - February 28, 2007)

Dissertation (preliminary title):

“Documents of
the Bakumatsu period (1853-1868). Kawaraban in Edo“

Due to fast progress of modern media nowadays, there’s an
increasing interest in media history, too. Especially regarding Japan,
whose competences in information and communication practice win
worldwide recognition, there’s still little knowledge about
it’s media history. Therefore the planned analysis shall
create conciousness about the existence of mass media in Japan right
before its modernization in a western style.

Kawaraban,
literally “tile prints”, were commenly used as
(illegal) newssheets for about 180 years since the end of the 17th
century. But with the upcoming of more attractive media forms within
the Meiji period they lost importance. Referring to their commercial
background, kawaraban may be considered as the forerunner of newspaper
in Japan, although the definition of a newspaper deviates from the
typical features of kawaraban./p>

What makes kawaraban
now attrative for us, is the fact, that they do not just provide
obvious informations but also give various insights into the mentality
and the customs of the Edo era’s people. That’s
why, I suppose to say, kawaraban are of inestimable importance to
cultural-historical studies. The study not only allows reviews of the
past, but also intimate contact with those days, as kawaraban can be
seen as a direct reaction to any kind of  incident, what
implicates their “immidiacy”.

The anaysis will concentrate on kawaraban published in Edo during the
Bakumatsu era. This restriction intends to limit the enormous amount of
prints in regard to enable an intensive discourse. Furthermore this
period was chosen referring to the contents as well as the quality of kawaraban published
during this time. Relating to domestic and foreign affairs there were
plenty of themes like riots, famine, epidemic diseases, natural
disasters and last but not least the enforced contact with foreigners
after a long period of national isolation, which go along with lots of
news and satiric material.

Kawaraban
is a general term for quite different kinds of broadsheets. Their
topics as well as their appearances may differ a lot, so there is a
large spectrum of variants. Concerning this fact the following
mainquestions shall be discussed in order to figure out the media
historical position of kawaraban.

  • the definition of kawaraban
    (there are different concepts)
  • the themes
  • the ways of presenting (compositional and technical aspects)
  • the content’s and graphic’s correlance
  • scematic representations
  • the usage of symbols (parody of utterance, poems, ukiyo-e, hikifuda, etc.)
  • the publishers and vendors (the practice of yomiuri, the
    reading vendors, are wellknown, there’s still to analyse the
    role of ezôshiya,
    the vendors of illustrated story books and the role of kashihon’ya,
    the book lenders)
  • the multimedia aspect (kawaraban’s
    information was transported by the combination of text, illustration
    and performance)
  • the sources of information
  • the consumers
  • the rate of distribution (concerning areas as well as
    social classes)
  • functions beside news
  • effects of censorship