Popular Japanese Conception of Foreign Naval Power after Commodore Perry's Arrival in Japan.
Woodcut kawaraban showing a foreign steamship.
This print graphically suggests the power of modern western technology to the very concerned Japanese public. It shows a steamship in the foreground while and the rest of the American fleet to the right.
The text in the upper section of the image reads: "Four large ships: eighty-five ken in length; thirty-five ken in width; thirty large guns; twelve breechloading guns; and fifty-two small guns. Two small ships: Forty ken in length; twenty ken in width; twelve large guns; twenty-five small guns; and five breech-loading guns."
Japanese newspapers began in the 17th century as yomiuri (読売、literally "to read and sell") or kawaraban (瓦版, literally "tile-block printing" referring to the use of clay printing blocks), which were printed handbills sold in major cities to commemorate major social gatherings or events. These sheets were often printed anonymously.
The kawaraban publishers served as a crucial vector for the transmission of information about Commodore Mathew Perry's opening of Japan. During the Edo Period, the arriving European vessels were called kurofune (Black Ships). That time was characterized by great social upheaval, and intense public interest in the agents of the outside world arriving in Japan.
Anna Wada, in "About Kawaraban", Perry in Japan A Visual History, gives background on the kawaraban:
The kawaraban took up a range of topics, including natural disasters, superstitious happenings, murders, and less commonly, political satire. Printers chose topics more to entertain and satisfy the readers’ curiosity than to educate them. Visual components such as illustrations, diagrams, and maps attracted the people to the print and helped them to understand the text, as well as sometimes offering additional information.
Throughout the Edo period the shogunate repeatedly restricted printing for a mass audience, particularly seeking to avoid rumors and political commentary. By the time the Black Ships [i.e., Perry’s fleet] arrived at the end of the Edo period, however, the system of censorship could not keep up with the number of prints in circulation. The increase in publications coincided with the spread of literacy in both urban and rural areas.