Japanese Advertising History

Japanese Advertising History Meiji Period

Meiji Period1868〜1912

The westernization of Japan saw rapid development in printing technology as well as the media. The appearance of newspapers and magazines saw these publications take center stage among the advertising media. In turn, this brought about the advent of ad- vertising agencies, signaling the start of the history of modern advertising which continues to this day.

Newspapers and magazines:
the dawn of mass media

In the Meiji period, the advent of newspaper and magazine media facilitated the convey- ance of large amounts of information to a much broader range of people. The newspaper played a vital role in modern advertising.

The Yokohama Mainichi Newspaper 600th issue / 1872 (Meiji 5)
First issue of Fujin Sekai magazine /
1906 (Meiji 39)

Advertisement battles:
showdowns between ideas

Economic development saw the appearance of new advertisers such as producers of over-the-counter drugs and tobacco. For cigarettes, the advertising competition between domestic and foreign-made tobacco products garnered public attention, and new sales promotion ideas such as giveaways and street advertising competed for product recognition.

Advertising art touched by westernization

Japanese society and everyday life under- went a dramatic transformation during the Meiji period. Horse-drawn carriages, rickshaws, and bicycles appeared on the streets, and Western culture was prevalent everywhere with more and more people beginning to sport cropped hairstyles and Western clothing. This westernization was evident in the advertising of the time.

Musical instruments were used for
street advertising

Trade fairs become showrooms for promoting modern Japan!

The trade fairs were designed to showcase Western culture and develop Japanese industry. Answering the call of the new Meiji government’s Shokusan Kogyo policy for encouraging new industry, products and fine articles were gathered from all over Japan to create events that would gather people by the millions.

Western style attraction for public enjoyment
Two big attractions at the Tokyo Industrial Exhibition / 1907 (Meiji 40) / Poster

the introduction of a new media

The latter half of the Meiji period saw the gradual spread of large-size printing brought about by European and Amer- ican lithograph technology. Morinaga, a sweets manufac- turer, promptly took advantage of the technology and intro- duced an original poster which featured the words “Western Confectionaries.”

The Pioneers of the Advertising World

Key person of the Meiji period who enthusiastically adopted Western culture

Fukuzawa Yukichi


Fukuzawa helped introduce Western culture and promoted Japan’s modernization. He was one of the publishers of the Jiji Shinpo daily newspaper, a publication that from the very beginning regarded advertising as important, instructing mer- chants on modern advertisement theory and explaining the virtues of newspaper advertising and other related topics.

Multi-talented writer and central figure in the pharmaceutical industry

Kishida Ginko


Following his stint as a reporter for the Tokyo Nichinichi Shimbun newspaper, he changed careers to become an entrepreneur and launch the sales of Seikisui eye drops through his pharmacy Rakuzendo. During this time, he wrote product articles for news- papers and skillfully developed promotional activities. In addition, he earned recognition for his artistic advertising techniques suchasembeddingadsinnishiki-e (colored woodblock prints).


1868(Meiji 1 ) Period name is changed to Meiji, and Edo is renamed to Tokyo
1870(Meiji 3 ) Release of first daily newspaper, Yokohama Mainichi Shimbun (letterpress)
1872(Meiji 5 ) Fukuzawa Yukichi’s “An Encouragement of Learning” is published / Solar calendar is adopted
1873(Meiji 6 ) Japan participates in the Vienna Exposition
1875(Meiji 8 ) Kishida Ginko opens Rakuzendo pharmacy to sell Seikisui eyedrops and other products
1877(Meiji 10 ) New Meiji government holds the first National Industrial Exhibition
1878(Meiji 11 ) Japan’s fine arts and crafts exhibits garner attention at Paris World’s Fair
1880(Meiji 13 ) Kukidogumi opens for business (first advertising agency)
1883(Meiji 16 ) Fukuzawa Yukichi’s message to merchants, Shonin ni Tsuguru no Bun, appears in the Jiji Shinpo daily newspaper
1884(Meiji 17 ) Iwaya Matsuhei commences sales of mouthpiece cigarettes (Tengu Tobacco)
1886(Meiji 19 ) Ginza Kimuraya Bakery uses a musical band with silk-hatted members for advertising
1894(Meiji 27 ) Murai Brothers commences sales of non-filtered cigarettes (Hero)
1901(Meiji 34 ) Establishment of Japan Advertising Ltd. (forerunner of Dentsu Inc.)
1902(Meiji 35 ) Maruzen bookstore runs a large-scale newspaper advertisement for Encyclopedia Brittanica
1904(Meiji 37 ) Mitsukoshi Kimono Store became the first department store in Japan with the posting of its “Department Store Declaration” in newspaper advertisements
1911(Meiji 44 ) First-issue release of Kodan Club magazine