Tokyo nichinichi shinbun
Meiji 5y Jinshin 2m 21d   No. 1
Seiyo 1872y 3m 29d
Temperature at Noon   52°
Yosha Bunko (1921 reproduction)

This is the first issue of what students of the history of journalism consider to be Tokyo's first genuine newspaper. It was printed off a block of wood carved from a hand-written copy.

Lunar and solar dates

The upper-right corner, where the paper begins, shows the reign year and the lunar calendar date followed by the issue number, then the "western" year and the solar calendar date, the temperature at noon, and the day of week. This was the last year Japan officially used the lunar calendar.

140 mon each

The issue consisted of only one sheet of paper. What you see in the image is what you got -- for 140 mon [of copper], or 20 me of silver for one month, according to the information in the upper-left corner.

A new currency act was passed the year before, and some gold and silver yen-denominated coins were being minted for use in ports for foreign trade. But in ordinary life people continued to use several older currencies. One "ginme" or "monme of silver" was the equivalent of 3.75 grams of silver, which merchants preferred.

The mints run by the shogunate were just outside the Edo castle, now part of the Imperial Palace. The gold mint was at Kinza, the silver mint at Ginza, and the copper mint at Zeniza, which remain placenames in Tokyo today.

Official briefs

The first two-thirds of the first row are given to short official reports that are written in Japanese so dense it looks like Chinese.

Human-interest column . . .

At the end of the first row are the beginning lines of Koko Sodan [World Stories], a human-interest column about real-life incidents. This first run reports a case about a man who kills his wife.

Reports of murder, suicide, and other such happenings might seem a bit out of place in a paper that began as, and for several years continued to be, a mouthpiece for the government. But take a look at the way this crime report has been written.

Beginning of murder story (1st row)

. . . begins in Japanese . . .

The story begins in a style of Japanese that uses fewer kanji than the official notices. The style, though not as stiff, is not colloquial. And there are no furigana to assist people who may not know how to read well.

The nishikie version of Priest Kills Woman is written in a more entertaining, colloquial style. And a number of kanji are provided with furigana.

End of murder story (2nd row)

. . . but ends in Chinese

The story ends in a Japanese version of Chinese called kanbun. Kanbun was studied and used in Japan the way Latin was in Europe -- partly classical, and partly adapted to local needs.

Note that the kanbun is punctuated by kaeriten (return marks), to show the order in which the kanji are to be read when translating the Chinese syntax into Japanese. Imagine writing "they eat rice" as "they eat ^ rice" to show that, in Japanese, the order would be "they wa rice o eat suru".

The kaeriten are there because the people who could read kanbun depended on them. They learned kanbun by reading Chinese classics and Japanese kanbun texts that had been punctuated for translation into Japanese. They did not learn Chinese so much as how to translate kaeriten texts into Japanese.

For people who knew their kanji cold

Most people, in fact, were unable to read kanbun. They couldn't read Japanese very well either. The masses were only semi-literate, and Tokyo's first newspaper was not for the semi-literate. It was for readers who, like the newspaper's founders, had been educated in Chinese and Japanese classics, and knew their kanji cold.

Sources: Newspark 2001:9