Some fantastic insight into the hidden details of Japanese typography, brought by the essay written by Émilie Rigaud. Focusing on the figure of Motogi Shōzō, these findings by Émilie are pretty valuable as the author notes that there are only few sources in english or in french about the development of japanese typography, I want to share here some of the elements I discovered [on my essay].
The comparisons between Motogi and Gutenberg are inevitable, but here’s the side we don’t often hear: while Europeans have immortalised Gutenberg as the father of the moveable type, the Japanese have done the same for Motogi:
“After years of toil and experiment, [Motogi] invented types for Japanese characters and for the first time made printing a business. We owe, indeed, to him alone the success and prosperity of Japanese typography in modern times. He is therefore most deserving of our esteem, as the Father of Japanese Typography.”
So who is this Motogi and why haven’t we heard more about him?
Motogi Shōzō, born in 1824 in the city of Nagasaki (at that time the only real link between Japan and the rest of the world), as the descendant of a long line of interpreters. Immersed into “Dutch learning” he was committed to foreign knowledge, thanks to his studies and to his job as an official interpreter of the bakufu. Dutch learning (rangaku, 蘭学) is the interest of Japanese intellectuals in western techniques that lead to the diffusion of knowledge in a wide range of fields, such as medicine, astronomy, mathematics, biology and chemistry, geography and military strategy.
Therefore, Motogi grows up in an environment rich in links with Western countries, whether it is by reprints of western books, by Dutch people passing by Nagasaki and with who he can talk, or by russian ambassadors that he is in charge of.
But there’s more to this story, which follows into the foundation of the Japanese Tsukiji Foundry in the 19th century:
Using the way of making type taught by Gamble during his stay in Nagasaki, Motogi can now start a standardized mass-production of metal type. He opens his own letterpress workshop and prints textbooks and newspapers. This workshop, called the private course of Shinmachi (shinmachi shijuku, 新街私塾) is the base of what will be the first type foundry of Japan, the Tsukiji type foundry, created in 1873, two years before Motogi’s death.
While this story may be a bit too niche for most of us, it is certainly a breath of fresh air to hear more about the evolution and attempts at type casting from a place that’s, well, not Germany or Italy. Keep reading for more juicy details.