Yomiuri Shimbun: The giant of the Japanese press

Article  by  Mathieu GAULÈNE  •  Published 07.10.2010  •  Updated 11.10.2010

With more than 10 million copies sold every day, Yomiuri Shimbun is not only the largest daily newspaper in Japan, but the largest in the world.

Summary

Introduction

With more than 10 million copies sold every day, Yomiuri Shimbun is not only the largest daily newspaper in Japan, but also the largest in the world. The circulation of Yomiuri Shimbun is greater than that of the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal combined. Around 50 million newspapers are sold each day in Japan, where 90% of the public reads newspapers[+] NoteWorld Association of Newspapers, “World Press Trends : Advertising Revenues To Increase, Circulation Relatively Stable”, August 4, 2010.X [1]. Since 2005, Japan’s per capita newspaper circulation (634 copies per 1,000 persons) has consistently been the highest in the world. Yomiuri Shimbun belongs to the “Big 5” national dailies, which include Asahi Shimbun (10 million copies), Mainichi Shimbun, and the two main economic newspapers, Sankei Shimbun and Nihon Keizai Shimbun. Yomiuri is a conservative newspaper, which has a great influence on an estimated 26 million readers.
 
Table 1: Total Number of Readers
 
 
Circulation (morning)
Number of Readers per Issue
Total Number of Readers
Yomiuri Shimbun
10,018,701
2.6
26,048,623
Asahi Shimbun
8,018,572
2.5
20,046,430
Nihon Keizai Shimbun
3,050,277
1.9
5,795,526
(Source: J-READ 2009)
 
Yomiuri Shimbun belongs to mass media organization Yomiuri Shimbun Holdings (yomiuri shimbun gurûpu honsha), whose main shareholder is Tôru Shôriki, son of the historic owner of the newspaper, Matsutarô Shôriki. The details of shareholding show the Shôriki family influence on the group: the Shôriki Foundation (zaidan hôjin shôriki kôseikai) owns 21% of the shares; Tôru Shôriki, owner of the group, 12%[+] NoteTôru Shôriki is also honorary president of the baseball team Yomiuri Giants, director of the amusement park Yomiuri Land, and vice-chairman of the television channel NTV (Nihon terebi hôsô) which belongs to the Yomiuri Group. X [2]; Tatsuo Sekine, Matsutarô Shôriki’s grandchild, 8%; and Umeko Kobayashi, Matsutarô Shôriki’s daughter, 4.2%. Furthermore, the board of directors of the group owns 30% of the shares. Thus, a large part of Yomiuri Shimbun’s history is tied up with the life of Matsutarô Shôriki.

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“Sell by Reading”

Founded in 1874 in Tokyo by three journalists, Takashi Koyasu, Morimichi Motono and Shôkichi Shibata, Yomiuri Shimbun is one of the oldest newspapers in Japan[+] NoteKoyasu Takashi is also the founder of the first Japanese newspaper, the Yokohama Mainichi Shimbun. X [3]. In the beginning, it came out every two days, then after six months it became a daily newspaper sold on the street – yomi-uri literally means “sell by reading” and refers to the newspaper sellers of Edo period (1603-1868). At this time, Yomiuri Shimbun was classified in the category of “little newspapers” (ko-shimbun) alongside Asahi Shimbun and Mainichi Shimbun, meaning lowbrow newspapers filled with stories of murder, sex and others news in brief, contrasting with more “prestigious newspapers” (ô-shimbun).
 
In the beginning, Yomiuri Shimbun published literature, novel translations, and some famous writers such as Kôyô Ozaki. However, the arrival of the first editorialist, Sanae Takada, a supporter of the Constitutional Reform Party (rikken kaishintô), gave a political orientation to Yomiuri Shimbun. Just as other newspapers created at this time – Mainichi Shimbun in 1872 and Asahi Shimbun in 1879 – Yomiuri Shimbun had some anti-governmental feelings and become a partisan of the opposition parties. But in 1913, Yomiuri editorial staff made a mistake in supporting the Katsura government, which was facing demonstrations on the street for the defense of the Constitution (goken undo). The government fell and the newspaper lost a part of its readership. The Tokyo daily started having difficulties as sales decreased.
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Matsutarô Shôriki: A policeman at the Head of Yomiuri

In 1924, Matsutarô Shôriki took over the daily. An officer in the Tokyo Metropolitan Police, he worked in the “Special High Police” (tokubetsu kôtô keisatsu) in charge of surveillance and repression of communist and anarchist organizations. In October 1923, he was dismissed after the assassination attempt of the prince Hiro Hito by an anarchist (toranomon jiken). The Home Secretary, Gotô Shimpei, who had just been dismissed for same reasons, advised him to buy Yomiuri Shimbun. The ex-policeman was ambitious from the start, and had the will to make a newspaper “that people will enjoy reading”. To do so, he introduced some new columns dealing with radio, science and manga, which allowed the newspaper regain its working class readership. From 1924 to 1929, the circulation of Yomiuri Shimbun grew from 50,000 to 170,000 copies[+] NoteCollective, Dictionnaire historique du Japon, Maisonneuve & Larose, Paris, 2002, p. 2828.X [4]. In 1938, more than one million copies of Yomiuri Shimbun were printed daily. During the militarist period, fusion and concentration in the press sector were encouraged by the government in order to have better control of the press. Conforming to the will of government, the daily Yomiuri absorbed the Hôchi Shimbun and in 1942, became Yomiuri Hôchi Shimbun.
 
October 1945: while the Supreme Commander of Allied Powers (SCAP) urged Japanese workers to organize into labor unions, a historic strike broke out in Yomiuri Shimbun. The employees asked for the dismissal of Matsutarô Shôriki, accused of being a war criminal, but above all, sought to impose the “democratization of the direction”. The offices were occupied, and in 1946, the employee union took control of the newspaper. This first strike “set the tone”[+] NoteJacques Gravereau, Le Japon au XX° siècle, Seuil, Paris, 1999, p. 196. "In three months", underlines the author, "508 labor unions were created with 386,000 members. […] The turmoil continued to spread in 1946: 17,625 unions, 4,849,000 members - in other words, half of all Japanese workers”, ibid., p. 198. X [5] for the worker’s movement after the war. It launched a large strike movement for “control of the production” (seisan kanri tôsô)[+] NoteFor more details about the worker’s movement after the war, see Paul Jobin, Maladies industrielles et renouveau syndical au Japon, Editions de l’EHESS, 2006, p. 33.X [6]. During the year 1946, Yomiuri and Asahi were the scene of violent clashes between strikers and yakuza, who are usually employed in Japan as strike breakers. The “worker’s self-management” did not last and in 1950, the Yomiuri Shimbun was reorganized as an incorporated company. The sales of the daily continued to increase and quickly, the former “little newspaper” became a huge mass media conglomerate.
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The Yomiuri Group Inc.: Diversification Strategy and National Development

The mass media conglomerates in Japan developed in the wake of a press law preventing an industrial firm from buying a newspaper but allowing the newspaper to organise as a mass media firm[+] NoteThis law also gave mass media firms the possibility of not publishing their annual financial report. According to Eleanor Westney, Yomiuri Shimbun, “perhaps the most financially secretive of Japan’s media firms, distributes a financial report at its annual shareholders’ meeting, but collects all copies at the end of the meeting to prevent the data from becoming public”, in D. Eleanor Westney, “Mass Media as Business Organizations” in Susan J. Pharr, Ellis S. Krauss, Media and Politics in Japan, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 1996, p.56.X [7]. Those conglomerates are a combination of daily and weekly newspapers, TV channels, and different kinds of cultural activities. The Yomiuri Group owns the TV channel Nihon terebi (NTV), the publisher Chuôkôron-Shinsha, the sports newspaper Hôchi Shimbun, the amusement park Yomiuri Land, two foundations[+] NoteThe Shôriki Foundation and the Charity Foundation "Yomiuri, light and love" (yomiuri hikari to ai no jigyoudan). X [8], a university[+] NoteYomiuri Institute of Science and Technology (yomiuri rikô gakuin), created in 1969 to develop the formation of technicians. X [9], a department store and a symphony orchestra[+] NoteThe Yomiuri Group Inc. is also composed of a hundred different companies, mainly in the leisure sector, for example, golf courses.X [10]. Above all, it owns a famous baseball team, the Yomiuri Giants from Tôkyô, the first professional baseball team, founded in 1934 by Matsutarô Shôriki. The exceptional growth of Yomiuri after the war (it became the number one newspaper in Japan in 1977) was due to the incredible domination of this baseball team. Inspired by this model, many firms in Japan then bought their own team. This is the case, for example, of the Seibu Company, which belongs to Tsutsumi family and owns the Seibu Lions, or more recently, SoftBank, which purchased the Hawks from Fukuoka.

There are three advantages to owning a baseball team. First, each victory of the Yomiuri Giants guarantees a cheap advertising campaign for the newspaper[+] NoteIn the 1990s, Tsuneo Watanabe, current president of the Yomiuri Group, insisted on renaming Yomiuri’s soccer team the Yomiuri Verdi, but in 1994, the Japan Soccer League refused to allow soccer teams have the name of a company.X [11]. Moreover, investment in a baseball team is a form of tax write-off[+] NoteAccording to Lesley Downer, “from the point of view of the owners, professional baseball was simply a form of public relations and a tax write-off”, in Lesley Downer, The brothers. The hidden world of Japan’s richest family, Random house, 1994, p. 290.X [12]. But above all, the Yomiuri Giants have been a source of profits for the group, because NTV owns the rights for broadcasting the team’s matches. With the help of the profits created by this baseball team, Yomiuri has been able to realize its goal of developing outside of Tokyo, on a national scale.

In 1952, the group founded the daily Ôsaka Yomiuri Shimbun, the first step in its conquest of the western reaches of the country. This was symbolically important because Osaka is the stronghold of its two eternal rivals, Asahi Shimbun and Mainichi Shimbun. Their arrival on the island of Kyûshû with Western edition Seibu Yomiuri Shimbun later solidified the newspaper’s national development. Moreover, a considerable network of sellers was established all over the Archipelago. Yomiuri Shimbun had a commercial strategy based on door to door sales and special offers – for example, free tickets to Yomiuri Giants matches for subscribing to the newspaper[+] NoteJean-François Sabouret (dir.), La dynamique du Japon. De 1854 à nos jours, CNRS Editions, Paris, 2005, p. 254.X [13].

Newspaper subscription is an institution in Japan, and 94% of Yomiuri Shimbun readers are subscribers[+] NoteAnne Jouan, "Les quotidiens japonais connaissent aussi la crise", Le Figaro économie, October 14, 2007. X [14]. Such enthusiasm for subscriptions is due to the guarantee of receiving the newspaper before 6am every morning made by all Japanese newspaper companies. To make this possible, Yomiuri Shimbun owns 29 printers all over Japan and has its own distribution network. This veritable war machine is set up with the precise goal of having the largest circulation in Japan, and in the world. A message from the president of the Yomiuri Group, Tsuneo Watanabe, is quite telling: during the newspaper’s130th anniversary celebration in 2004, he explained that all of the Group’s companies must unify “in order to maintain a daily circulation of up to 10 million copies”. Eleanor Westney describes this strategy as a “circulation focused-strategy”[+] NoteEleanor Westney, op. cit., p. 69.X [15].

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A Conservative Newspaper with Ties to Political Power

Yomiuri Shimbun is generally described as a conservative right-wing newspaper with ties to the Liberal Democrat Party (LDP), a right-wing party that ruled Japan from 1955 to 2009. If Matsutarô Shôriki has been able to boost the sales of the daily newspaper, he has also given a conservative orientation to Yomiuri, turning the Tokyo newspaper into “the most nationalistic of the three major newspapers, encouraging the jingoistic and anti-Western feelings of its readers”[+] NoteBen-Ami Shillony, Politics and Culture in Wartime Japan, Oxford University Press, 1991, p.78.X [16]. Some of the journalists were actually linked with nationalist organizations in the thirties. This was the case, for example, of Seijun Yamazoi, chief of the economic section, who voiced strong support in the newspaper for the “Movement for the Dissolution of Political Parties” of fascist diplomat Yôsuke Matsuoka[+] NoteDavid J. Lu, Agony of choice. Matsuoka Yôsuke and the Rise and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1880-1946, Lexington Books, p.107. Matsuoka is well-known for having been the diplomat who announced the decision to withdraw Japan from the League of Nations. As Secretary of Foreign Affairs, he signed a military agreement with Germany and Italy in 1941. Imprisoned as a class-A war criminal, he died in 1946.X [17]. Similarly, in 1941, Matsutarô Shôriki participated in a meeting called “Crush the United States and Great Britain”. In July 1944, he even entered the government as counsellor.
 
The conservative orientation remained even after the war. Nowadays, Shôriki’s newspaper is still a strong supporter of the revision of article 9 of the Constitution, which forbids Japan from making war or having an army. It is different from Asahi and Mainichi Shimbun, liberal-oriented newspapers that support the pacifism of the Japanese Constitution. But the difference is also in the quality of information provided. In an analysis of the media coverage of elections in Machida and Tokyo made by Hiroshi Akuto, the results show that “Asahi and Mainichi carry higher ratios of ‘substance’ reporting than did Yomiuri and Sankei” which are more interested in the “game”[+] NoteSusan J. Pharr, Ellis S. Krauss, op. cit., p. 322. The "game" includes involving winning or losing, tactics, a candidate’s personal appearance, and hoopla, whereas the "substance" includes issues, policies, traits, records and endorsements.X [18]
 
The daily Yomiuri is also close to the Liberal Democrat Party, because of their similar political position, as well as the system of kisha clubs. In Japan, journalists are embedded inside “press clubs” (kisha kurabu) which are linked with a party, a minister, a local government or a famous politician. Thanks to these clubs, journalists have access to all the information they want, but in exchange, they need the club’s accord if they wish to write an article[+] NoteIn 2001, the French NGO “Reporters without Borders” denounced those clubs as “the main obstacle to a real freedom of press in Japan”. All the more so since foreign journalists, freelance journalists and journalists of the communist daily newspaper Akahata are excluded from the kisha kurabu.X [19]. In spite of a reputation for being critical of the political class – mainly because it is “good for business”[+] NoteSusan J. Pharr, Ellis S. Krauss, op. cit., p. 10.X [20] – journalists have not always been very talkative about cases of corruption. This was the case for the Recruit scandal in 1988: in the beginning, it was merely an affair of bribes concerning some politicians[+] NoteIn particular, prime minister Takeshita, finance minister Kiichi Miyazawa, and president of LDP, Shintarô Abe.X [21]. Uncovered by Asahi Shimbun, all of the other newspapers stayed silent. Some months later, it appeared that the vice-president of Yomiuri Shimbun and the president of Nihon Keizai Shimbun also received some “presents” from the Recruit Company.
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Can the “Old Dinosaur” Evolve?

The Japanese dailies seem to have resisted the recession facing Japan, and the press continues to sell well. However, this must not hide the fact that there are some difficulties in evolving, in particular for Yomiuri Shimbun, which has lost one million readers since 1997[+] NoteAnne Jouan, op. cit., October 14, 2007.X [22]. There are two threats to the Japanese press: the news available on the internet and mobile phones, and free newspapers. There are around 1200 free newspapers in the Archipelago, and the total number has been increasing for the past ten years[+] NotePhilippe Pons, "La vague des journaux gratuits déferle sur la presse magazine japonaise", September 22, 2006.X [23]. However, free newspapers do not directly compete with daily newspapers because they are mainly weekly and monthly, focused on specific subjects and targeting specific readerships.
 
News on internet is a substantially more serious threat for daily newspapers. Yomiuri Shimbun has had its own website since 1995, Yomiuri Online, with a limited access to articles. Furthermore, since 2009, all archives since 1874 are available on this site. This site is facing increasing success, as the 44th most consulted website in Japan, and the largest news site[+] NoteAccording to the classification made by web information company alexa.com, Asahi Shimbun and Mainichi Shimbun respectively hold the 47th and 76th positions. X [24]. Like Asahi Shimbun, Yomiuri also has an English news website The Daily Yomiuri. Yomiuri Online is in fact a portal where it is possible to have access to the different websites of the Yomiuri Group, such as YomiDr, an information site on health and medicine.
 
In 2007, it was still possible to think that the “old dinosaur” would not evolve as quickly as the other newspapers. Asahi Shimbun had gotten ahead by developing its own application for mobile phones, Asahi Nikkan, providing results about sports. But since June 2010, Yomiuri Shimbun subscribers have been able to access a great deal of content – articles, sports, but also novels – with the new application, Yorimoba. Thus, it seems that the 135 year-old dinosaur is ready to take on the 21st century calmly.
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Key Figures

    -         President: Hitoshi Uchiyama
    -         Chairman: Tsuneo Watanabe
    -         Capital: 613.2 million yens (5.6 million euros)
    -         Sales revenue: 455..3 billion yens (4.19 billion euros)
    -         Circulation: 14 million copies a day (10 million in the morning; 4 million in the evening)
    -         Employees: 2500 journalists (60 foreign correspondents)
 
Table 3:
Principal Medias and Political Orientation


 
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  • 1. World Association of Newspapers, “World Press Trends : Advertising Revenues To Increase, Circulation Relatively Stable”, August 4, 2010.
  • 2. Tôru Shôriki is also honorary president of the baseball team Yomiuri Giants, director of the amusement park Yomiuri Land, and vice-chairman of the television channel NTV (Nihon terebi hôsô) which belongs to the Yomiuri Group.
  • 3. Koyasu Takashi is also the founder of the first Japanese newspaper, the Yokohama Mainichi Shimbun.
  • 4. Collective, Dictionnaire historique du Japon, Maisonneuve & Larose, Paris, 2002, p. 2828.
  • 5. Jacques Gravereau, Le Japon au XX° siècle, Seuil, Paris, 1999, p. 196. "In three months", underlines the author, "508 labor unions were created with 386,000 members. […] The turmoil continued to spread in 1946: 17,625 unions, 4,849,000 members - in other words, half of all Japanese workers”, ibid., p. 198.
  • 6. For more details about the worker’s movement after the war, see Paul Jobin, Maladies industrielles et renouveau syndical au Japon, Editions de l’EHESS, 2006, p. 33.
  • 7. This law also gave mass media firms the possibility of not publishing their annual financial report. According to Eleanor Westney, Yomiuri Shimbun, “perhaps the most financially secretive of Japan’s media firms, distributes a financial report at its annual shareholders’ meeting, but collects all copies at the end of the meeting to prevent the data from becoming public”, in D. Eleanor Westney, “Mass Media as Business Organizations” in Susan J. Pharr, Ellis S. Krauss, Media and Politics in Japan, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 1996, p.56.
  • 8. The Shôriki Foundation and the Charity Foundation "Yomiuri, light and love" (yomiuri hikari to ai no jigyoudan).
  • 9. Yomiuri Institute of Science and Technology (yomiuri rikô gakuin), created in 1969 to develop the formation of technicians.
  • 10. The Yomiuri Group Inc. is also composed of a hundred different companies, mainly in the leisure sector, for example, golf courses.
  • 11. In the 1990s, Tsuneo Watanabe, current president of the Yomiuri Group, insisted on renaming Yomiuri’s soccer team the Yomiuri Verdi, but in 1994, the Japan Soccer League refused to allow soccer teams have the name of a company.
  • 12. According to Lesley Downer, “from the point of view of the owners, professional baseball was simply a form of public relations and a tax write-off”, in Lesley Downer, The brothers. The hidden world of Japan’s richest family, Random house, 1994, p. 290.
  • 13. Jean-François Sabouret (dir.), La dynamique du Japon. De 1854 à nos jours, CNRS Editions, Paris, 2005, p. 254.
  • 14. Anne Jouan, "Les quotidiens japonais connaissent aussi la crise", Le Figaro économie, October 14, 2007.
  • 15. Eleanor Westney, op. cit., p. 69.
  • 16. Ben-Ami Shillony, Politics and Culture in Wartime Japan, Oxford University Press, 1991, p.78.
  • 17. David J. Lu, Agony of choice. Matsuoka Yôsuke and the Rise and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1880-1946, Lexington Books, p.107. Matsuoka is well-known for having been the diplomat who announced the decision to withdraw Japan from the League of Nations. As Secretary of Foreign Affairs, he signed a military agreement with Germany and Italy in 1941. Imprisoned as a class-A war criminal, he died in 1946.
  • 18. Susan J. Pharr, Ellis S. Krauss, op. cit., p. 322. The "game" includes involving winning or losing, tactics, a candidate’s personal appearance, and hoopla, whereas the "substance" includes issues, policies, traits, records and endorsements.
  • 19. In 2001, the French NGO “Reporters without Borders” denounced those clubs as “the main obstacle to a real freedom of press in Japan”. All the more so since foreign journalists, freelance journalists and journalists of the communist daily newspaper Akahata are excluded from the kisha kurabu.
  • 20. Susan J. Pharr, Ellis S. Krauss, op. cit., p. 10.
  • 21. In particular, prime minister Takeshita, finance minister Kiichi Miyazawa, and president of LDP, Shintarô Abe.
  • 22. Anne Jouan, op. cit., October 14, 2007.
  • 23. Philippe Pons, "La vague des journaux gratuits déferle sur la presse magazine japonaise", September 22, 2006.
  • 24. According to the classification made by web information company alexa.com, Asahi Shimbun and Mainichi Shimbun respectively hold the 47th and 76th positions.
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