Printing Museum, Tokyo celebrates 20 Years

New academic field – Printing Culture Studies

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The Printing Museum, Tokyo
An exhibit focusing on the period from ancient times through the Middle Ages in the Printing Museum’s refurbished permanent exhibition—History of Printing in Japan. ©Toppan Printing

The Printing Museum, Tokyo, operated by Toppan Printing will celebrate 20 years since its opening on 7 October 2000. The Museum is marking the occasion by reopening on 6 October after renovation centered on its permanent exhibition.

It will also be launching Printing Culture Studies as a new academic field, based on the results of its research over the past 20 years. To coincide with this, a book titled History of Japanese Printing Culture will be published through Kodansha.

The concept for the Printing Museum was originally conceived in the 1990s, at a time when digital technologies began to permeate various areas of society, including the printing industry. Toppan sensed a need to preserve and pass on to future generations analog techniques and modes of expression related to printing culture that were at risk of being consumed by a wave of digitalization. The Printing Museum opened its doors in 2000 and has since worked to showcase printing as a medium of communication, collect historical printing materials, and preserve equipment and products that could otherwise be lost. Visitors to the Museum since its opening total more than 630,000.

Renovation of the museum has focused on the permanent exhibition, which is themed on the ‘History of Printing in Japan.’ The exhibition presents a broad perspective of developments around the world while taking a fresh look at the printing culture that has developed in Japan. It features a global history of printing in the form of a chronology as well as an exhibit dedicated specifically to technology. Although everything is accessible with a click here in the present-day world, a museum can gain a lot of attention. Beginning with the start of Japanese printing in the Nara era, visitors will be able to see how printing has developed from ancient times through the Middle Ages and early and late modern periods to the present day, learning about how it has grown from use by Buddhist temples to expand in wider society, becoming industrialized and then an essential presence in consumer society.

Printing workshop Print Museum Tokyo
The Printing Workshop within the Printing Museum will continue its efforts to preserve and pass down moveable type printing techniques while giving visitors a chance to try them. ©Toppan Printing
Graphic display, The Printing Museum, Tokyo
A graphic display presents an overview of the role printing has played in world history from ancient times to the modern day. ©Toppan Printing

Printing Culture Studies

The activities of the Printing Museum have led it to identify a need to bring together insights from a wide range of perspectives and pass on to future generations knowledge of the vital role that printing has played in society. Coinciding with the 20th anniversary of its opening, the Museum will launch Printing Culture Studies as a new field of academic research to shed light on what printing means for human civilization, take a fresh look at it from long-term cultural perspectives, and explore the activities of the people and societies involved. The results of research into the history and culture of printing will be exhibited in the museum and made available to the public.

Printing Culture Studies
A logo for a new field of academic research

A logo mark has been specially designed for Printing Culture Studies. Each of the five Chinese characters is expressed by layering 10 different types of characters on top of one another to symbolize the unique nature of the new academic field.

One of the first outputs of these activities will be a book titled History of Japanese Printing Culture, published through Kodansha on 7 October 2020. The book will trace historical events and the culture of printing and publishing in Japan from ancient times to the modern-day, covering such topics as Japanese printing’s origins in the Nara era, its expansion and connection to the samurai, the influence of first shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, reforms by the Meiji government, the impact on printing during wartimes, and the history of libraries in Japan. It will also include sections focusing on links with agriculture, the movement to reform Japanese script, and the shift from Japanese to Western binding techniques. An English version is due to be published as well as a book focusing on the collection of the Printing Museum.

History of Japanese Printing History of Japanese Printing Culture to be published by Kodansha ©Toppan Printing
History of Japanese Printing Culture to be published by Kodansha ©Toppan Printing

“We are delighted to be celebrating our 20th anniversary and offer our heartfelt gratitude to everyone who has been involved, supported us, and visited the Printing Museum,” said Koichi Kabayama, the Printing Museum’s director. “Over the past 20 years we have received a lot of valuable feedback that has enabled us to identify the direction for our activities to take and we believe that this renovation is a further improvement of both tangible and intangible aspects of the exhibition. Together with our new mission of Printing Culture Studies, we look forward to enhancing content and broadening our perspective to the research of printing culture throughout the world.”

The Covid-19 pandemic led to the country-wide lockdown on 25 March 2020. It will be two years tomorrow as I write this. What have we learned in this time? Maybe the meaning of resilience since small companies like us have had to rely on our resources and the forbearance of our employees as we have struggled to produce our trade platforms.

The print and packaging industries have been fortunate, although the commercial printing industry is still to recover. We have learned more about the digital transformation that affects commercial printing and packaging. Ultimately digital will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future.

Web analytics show that we now have readership in North America and Europe amongst the 90 countries where our five platforms reach. Our traffic which more than doubled in 2020, has at times gone up by another 50% in 2021. And advertising which had fallen to pieces in 2020 and 2021, has started its return since January 2022.

As the economy approaches real growth with unevenness and shortages a given, we are looking forward to the PrintPack India exhibition in Greater Noida. We are again appointed to produce the Show Daily on all five days of the show from 26 to 30 May 2022.

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