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Thursday, April 7, 2016

Early Days Of Printing In Japan

Here's another article from the July 31, 1872 edition of the Evening Bulletin of San Francisco, California. I would imagine it was reprinted from the Printers Register - from somewhere in Asia would be my best guess… and the Bulletin's editor was too lazy to amend the short article.

By the way… I hate that old time crap of adding a period at the end of a headline. Headlines are not full sentences, so a period to denote the end of a sentence is a waste.

Whatever... this piece describes Japan and its newfound industrial revolution via Europe and North America.

It may be of primary interest of some of the readers of the Printer's Register to hear what is going on relative to the typographic art in this distant part of the world.
We have therefore collected the following jottings, and present them to your readers.
Some of the trade in England must be aware of various shipments from time to time of printing material for this country.
To follow the career of these "plants," we have to look among the natives, and we find that European printing offices in apparently a flourishing condition really exist.
There are now some six offices in Yedo alone (now called "Tokio," i.e., Eastern Capital), and none but Japanese are employed in them.
They turn out Elementary School Books, to meet the large demand that now exists among these progressive people: to be used as the means for acquiring a knowledge of English and other European languages.
It would, perhaps, surprise some at home to learn to what extent the Japanese and all classes are educating themselves according to European ideas, and how thoroughly and quickly they are adapting themselves to our manners and customs.
Filled with this laudable ambition, it can well be understood how necessary they have found it to bring printing to their aid.
It is a great trait in Japanese character to be self-dependent, and they display this in the management of their printing offices.
In this business, none but their own people are employed.
They work at "press" and "case" with a willingness and a desire to learn, that soon makes them competent hands in the business. In European offices at Yokohama we find them very useful as compositors, pressmen, etc.—and they are well worth their wages of fifteen to thirty dollars a month/
The work in their own offices is not confined to the books alone, but they have even got so far advanced as to publish several newspapers.
These of course, are in their own characters, but the type is cast on a regular body, to English standard, and in a Japanese type foundry at Nagasaki.
We have a native office in Yokohama publishing such a paper, and on a visit there the other day with a brother professional, we found all the paraphernalia of a complete office.
We observed several frames of European type from one of he well known type founders in London, and the native characters, consisting of Chinese, and the Japanese "Hirakana" and "Katakana."
The Chinese characters are arranged in cases with very narrow divisions of the width of the body of the type: these were placed in the divisions on their feet, with their face upwards.
In their press-room we found a German double demy machine, demy and post-folio Colombian presses, and even one of Bern's small presses.
The career of the proprietor, who kindly showed us over his establishment—and who, by the by, was a specimen of a thorough Japanese gentleman—is an instance of the great change brought about in Japan by the advent of foreigners.
Formerly he was one of the two-sword officials (a Samurai) whom you have no doubt geared so much about in connection with the history of Japan.
He has now thrown his swords aside, and will talk to you about trade affairs (that is, if you can talk Japanese), and seems to express himself that he thinks the printing business will pay in Japan some of these days.
At present he gives employment to about twenty hands. His newspaper, or rather, gazette, is the Government organ, and if you could read the copy we beg to inclose, you would find it contains, among other matter, extracts of European news, European and native shipping intelligence, Government announcements, native and foreign advertisements, customs returns, rates of exchange, market reports, and local news.
It is perused before publication by a Government censor, and it may be pronounced to be a credible and energetic undertaking for a first attempt at a public press in Japan.
So much for the Native Press, and now about our own.
Out of a population of about seven hundred, we have five newspapers, out of these one is a weekly, and the rest are published every evening. There was to have been a sixth started a short time since, to be called the Rising Sun—facetiously, we suppose—but somehow it never did arise, but was arranged in the birth, no number having been issued.
We can hardly say that we have a Thunderer, even on a small scale; and, curiously enough, in a cosmopolitan community like this, there is little distinction of a national character, the papers being all English but one—a French one.
If there is a distinction at all, the Japan Gazette is entitled to it, and consists in its holding aloof from the petty quarrels that the other papers always seem to indulge in.
The Gazette presents to its subscribers a sheet of four papers, and, to use rather a stereotyped phraseology, is a creditable specimen of typography, with a claim a la the London Telegraph, to—not the largest circulation in the world—but the largest in Yokohama.
Of course, in a place like this, the papers have a jobbing office attached, and in there is at present a considerable amount of business; the new Government railways and other public works have tended to this. The work of these offices is under European superintendence, with native, Portuguese and Chinese labor.
Do not encourage any of your typographical friends to come here for employment, as we have enough and to spare of laborers; but we may with confidence draw the attention of typefounders and manufactures to this market which they may look upon as an every-day increasing one; and before many years it will be one of importance, and an advantage to those who take an early opportunity of preparing it.
From the shortness of the distance of San Francisco, we are able to import largely from that place.
—Corr. London Printers' Register.

Movable type set used in Japanese letter press printers - in the days before computers.
I just thought it would be cool to see how another foreigner, some 140 years removed, saw Japan. I like how it was put forth that the Japanese like to hire Japanese, so no foreigners need apply for a job. It's something that has hardly changed.

Yes, exceptional gaijin/foreigners are employed in jobs in Japan other than as a hostess, English teacher or bartender, or terebi tarento (television talent), but how many are the boss? Zero, I'd bet.

Thanks to Vinnie for sending me a copy of the original newspaper story from the Readex "America's Historical Newspapers" database. Click HERE for more on Readex, an important library of historical knowledge.

Andrew Joseph
PS: Image above is an ukiyo-e print depicting Nihonbashi in Tokyo in 1871, as drawn by Yoshitora.

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