Paper has a long and fascinating history, particularly in Japan. The Paper Museum in Tokyo traces this history and highlights the enormous contribution that paper has made over the years to human “progress” and communication.
The Paper Museum was established in 1950 in Horifune, Oji, Kita-ku, Tokyo, where the first western style paper manufacturing company was founded in 1873. The museum moved to its current location in Asukayama Park in 1998.
The new four-story building houses a collection of more than 40,000 historic items and approximately 10,000 books. Permanent exhibitions cover 2,000 years worth of paper history and include displays on traditional Japanese ‘Washi’ paper (Rembrandt used it!), modern western style paper, and recycled paper. There’s also an exhibit that explores current paper-related environmental issues.
We were fortunate enough to be toured through the Museum by head curator Hiro Nishimura.
The Modern Paper Industry exhibition gallery showcases maps, charts, raw materials and commercial and retail products that illustrate how paper is made and how it makes its way into our lives.
There are also large machines, tools and equipment on display that demonstrate exactly how paper is manufactured
The Learning Room for Paper features play stations for elementary school children focusing on paper structure, production and recycling. There’s also a special computer quiz kids can take with Q & As all about paper.
Once you’ve nerded out at the bookstores in the Jimbocho neighbourhood of Tokyo, you’ll want to go to Asakusa (浅草). It’s the centre of Tokyo’s shitamachi (literally “low city”), where a bustling atmosphere of old Tokyo survives. Asakusa’s main attraction is Sensoji, a very popular Buddhist temple,
built in the 7th century. The temple is approached via the Nakamise, a shopping street that’s been providing temple visitors with traditional, local snacks and tourist souvenirs for centuries, if you’re hungry, there are tonnes of cool little open air restaurants lining the surrounding streets.
Stroll over, join a ‘print party, and make yourself some woodblock prints! While producing a print to take home – with the assistance of the young Mokuhankan printing staff – is the main activity at a Print Party, it’s not the only thing to do: at the other end of the building there’s a printer’s workroom that you can visit and watch the work in progress. Not all the people working here speak great English, but those who can are happy to talk about their work (don’t bother them too much though – this is how they make their living!). And you’re not limited to just one shot at the Print Party bench – nearly all Continue reading “Carve and Print your own Japanese woodblock in Tokyo”
I never visit the Plantin Museum at Antwerp without feeling that I have come closer to the master-printers and their ideals. Here is the only great printing establishment of the past that time and the inroads of man have left intact. The beauty of the building, the harmony of the surroundings, the old portraits, the comfort yet the taste shown in the living-rooms, – all show that the artist-printer sought the same elements in his life that he expressed in his work. Entering from the Marche du Vendredi, I find myself face to face with a small tablet over the door on which is the device of Christophe Plantin, “first printer to the King, and the king of printers.” Here the familiar hand, grasping a pair of compasses, reaches down from the clouds, holding the compasses so that one leg stands at rest while the other describes a circle, enclosing the legend Labore et Constantia. Within the house one finds the actual type and presses, and designs by Rubens and other famous artists, that were employed in making the Plantin books. The rooms in which the master-printer lived make his personality very real. In those days a man’s business was his life, and the home and the workshop were not far separated. Here the family life and the making of books were so closely interwoven that the visitor can scarcely tell where one leaves off and the other begins.
If you listened to my Biblio File conversation with Jean Louis Maitre, you’ll know that Christophe Plantin was born near Tours, France and moved to Antwerp in the mid-1500s where he founded a printing company. After his death, it was taken over by his son-in-law Jan Moretus. The Plantin Moretus Printing company was sold to the city of Antwerp in 1876. Within a year the public was able to visit the living areas and the printing presses. In 2002 the Plantin-Moretus museum was nominated as UNESCO World Heritage Site and in 2005 was inscribed onto the World Heritage list.
The Museum has an exceptional collection of typographical material, the two oldest surviving printing presses in the world, many sets of dies and matrices, and an extensive library. All sorts of typographic masterpieces originated here, including the Biblia Regia, the Bibla Polyglotta and Ortelius’s atlases.
By some miracle the museum, located only feet from the river, twice escaped destruction. First during the Spanish invasion of 1576, second in 1945 when V1 bomb exploded outside the building. It should be mentioned that during the autumn of 1914 the Brits dispatched troops to protect Antwerp, among them were volunteers including Rupert Brooke, Douglas Jerrold and Charles Morgan. Ford Modox Ford published a poem entitled Antwerp in 1915. You can read it here.
Better known for its wines, the perfection of its local spoken French, its cathedral and chateau, the city of Tours France also has a surprisingly rich historical connection with printing and typography. I was in Tours recently and visited the Musee de la Typographie.
It may be small, but it’s full of all sorts of different kinds of old printing equipment and tools, typefaces, woodcuts and handmade paper. As one visitor put it:
“Muriel Méchin, the owner takes you on a personal discovery tour of his museum, including printing off some examples for you to take home on a press from the 1800s. I have been to many printing museums, but this is the first I have found that contains compositors tools such as the Moule à Arçon, a hand-held individual character casting device, that was the forerunner of the mechanical Monotype and Linotype machines hundreds of years later.You can actually handle many of the exhibits which most museums forbid.
Muriel has published a very informative book which we were able to purchase; it is chock full of historical information and illustrated with photos and drawings explaining the history of a most interesting industry that goes back many hundreds of years. The museum is free.”
Since Muriel doesn’t speak English, I sat down with his colleague Jean Louis Maitre to talk about the museum and the fascinating printing history of the region.
If you like English spoken with a thick French accent, you’ll love listening to Jean Louis.