Archives for category: Osaka

Last week I went to Osaka to visit the Insatsu (Printing) Expo (印刷エキスポ) which, despite its name, is more than just about printing. It was also a showcase of papers and design. The Expo was at Paper Voice (ペーパーボイス), the gallery of Heiwa Paper (平和紙), and as such, I was not surprised to find that most of the items on display were made with papers by Heiwa Paper. They have an amazing selection of paper with various finishes, weights, and textures, and if you are in search of something other than washi (though they have a collection of that as well) it’s not a bad place to start.

The Expo was presented as a classroom. I loved the community blackboard where visitors could leave comments. And the iconic randoseru (ランドセル) reproduced in paper! Elementary school students are immediately identifiable by these backpacks. Usually only found in red or black, it was novel to see them in so many different colors and patterns. What kid wouldn’t want one of these?

And all of the visitors, including myself, found ourselves playing musical chairs as we moved from desk to desk to see what treasures lie within. It was a terrific idea. Not only is there a sense of discovery as you pull out the drawer underneath, there is a space for you to lay it out and a chair for your viewing comfort. Great use of an everyday object.

And true to its theme, there were hands on activities. This is the letterpress corner where you could print your own name tag.

Of all the great design I saw there, my favorite are these boxes. Instead of simply being a container for something precious, the box itself is precious, being both vessel and subject. These boxes were not made to hold objects — they were made to hold an experience.

The thing that really made the Insatsu Expo shine was its open invitation for visitors to touch and engage. It was more than just a showcase — the Expo offered an experience, a memorable encounter with creativity.

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Last Friday, I visited Osaka for the first time. My destination: Meiko Insatsu Kabushiki Kaisha (明晃印刷株式会社). That’s the official name. We’ll just call it Meiko.

Meiko is an old publishing company that specializes in letterpress printing. For the past five years, Kenji Takasaki has been running the company and doing all the printing himself. It was at his invitation that I made the trip from Kyoto to Osaka.

Meiko is located in a quiet lane. A simple sign hangs above the unassuming entrance. Upon entering is a small open space where friends and designers often gather to hang out and exchange ideas. Another doorway leads you to the one-room shop, housing several kinds of printing presses and racks of Japanese movable type.

Being from the United States, I’m use to the flat type cases that are stored in stacks like drawers. Here, the cases are vertical and on rails so that you can slide them back and forth to reveal the cases in the back (as shown in the video above). Ingenious! No cases to carry! That was my first thought. Though perhaps not so practical for alphabet type.

Letterpress printed sheet music

It was exciting just to see the print shop itself, but meeting Takasaki-san made the trip even more worthwhile. At Meiko, he does print jobs for companies all throughout Japan. However, he also wears a second hat as the head representative of the organization Kansai Movable Type Club (関西活版倶楽部).

Letterpress print shops have declined drastically over the years, but Takasaki-san is really passionate about establishing letterpress as a contemporary process — to make it a living tradition instead of a dying one. He’s the mover and shaker behind many of the letterpress events in Osaka, and he’s always thinking of ways to engage and interest the public community in letterpress printing.

Detail of a letterpress printed announcement for an event at Tokyu Hands Umeda

He sometimes brings a small platen press with him to events so that people can experience typesetting and printing for themselves, often on these postcards (also letterpress printed) designed so that each person can add his or her own message.

He’s also hijacked a toy vending machine (you know — the kind with toys in plastic capsules) and turned it into an omikuji machine. Omikuji are the fortunes written on narrow strips of paper. You can find these at pretty much any shrine and temple in Japan. Usually, you draw a number and trade it for the corresponding omikuji.

Takasaki-san’s special vending machine spits out plastic balls containing squares of paper with numbers (letterpress printed, of course). And you trade it for your omikuji.

It was very novel to see something so ubiquitous letterpress printed. Everyone in Japan has drawn omikuji before (probably numerous times). Even if you don’t believe in fortune-telling, it’s still a special experience. I sometimes keep mine, and I will certainly cherish these letterpress ones!

Besides omikuji, there’s also another vending machine that dispenses charms made from Japanese type. The one here shows the character for small (小), backwards of course, as all type are.

I’ll be meeting Takasaki-san again in Osaka in mid-August for the Insatsu Expo (insatsu means “print” or “printing”). I can’t wait — It sounds like a great event!