Tokyo stationery mu­seum has all the write stuff

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - WORLD - By Kazuyoshi Nakaya Ja­pan News/Yomi­uri

The Ni­hon Bungu Shiryokan (Ja­pan Stationery Mu­seum) dis­plays about 600 stationery items from through­out the ages. It in­cludes me­chan­i­cal pen­cils, writ­ing brushes and ink­stones, type­writ­ers and cal­cu­la­tors.

Stationery, which has sup­ported Ja­pan’s ed­u­ca­tional and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, is a wor­thy fo­cus.

The Ni­hon Bungu Foun­da­tion for Science & Tech­nol­ogy, a group of stationery mak­ers and re­tail­ers, is the par­ent or­ga­ni­za­tion of this mu­seum, which opened in 1985 in the Asakus­abashi whole­sale dis­trict in Tokyo.

Most of the items at the mu­seum were do­nated by spe­cialty stores and in­di­vid­u­als. The mu­seum pur­chased a few valu­able items, in­clud­ing hang­ing cal­lig­ra­phy scrolls writ­ten by Katsu Kaishu, Ya­maoka Tesshu and Taka­hashi Deishu, a trio known for their skilled writ­ing who were col­lec­tively called the “baku­matsu san­shu.”

Also on dis­play are portable brush-and-ink cases first used dur­ing the Ka­makura pe­riod (late 12th cen­tury to early 14th cen­tury). About 30 of these dis­tinc­tively Ja­panese stationery items, which fea­ture a small inkpot joined to a brush case, are on dis­play at the mu­seum. These writ­ing sets orig­i­nated when sa­mu­rai warriors put ink­stones and brushes in the quiv­ers they used to carry ar­rows. Over time, the cases were made to be tucked into an obi sash. Dur­ing the Edo pe­riod (1603-1867), many of these cases were dec­o­rated with intricate pat­terns, and they be­came a fash­ion ac­ces­sory.

The mu­seum has an in­trigu­ing col­lec­tion of pa­pers that were wrapped around lead pen­cils that sold from the Meiji era (1868-1912) un­til the Showa era (1926-1989). They fea­ture il­lus­tra­tions such as an ele­phant sit­ting on the Earth or a smil­ing Ebisu, the god of com­merce. Some of the pa­pers pro­vide a snap­shot of the at­mos­phere dur­ing the war, dec­o­rated by ex­pres­sions re­fer­ring to chil­dren on the home front and a song for the

ad­vanc­ing mil­i­tary.

There are pen­cils that claimed to be “for use in ex­ams,” “for use in self-taught train­ing cour­ses” and “for use by fe­male stu­dents.”

Rikio Sato, who is in charge of the mu­seum, can guide vis­i­tors around the fa­cil­ity upon re­quest. “Although I of­ten end up learn­ing things from peo­ple who know more about these items than I do,” said Sato, 67.

The mu­seum is open on week­day af­ter­noons only and re­ceives about 1,200 vis­i­tors each year.

Most are re­searchers, el­derly peo­ple and ju­nior high and high school stu­dents on school ex­cur­sions.

Pa­per, brush, ink and ink­stone that orig­i­nally came from China are col­lec­tively known as the “four tra­di­tional writ­ing ma­te­ri­als,” and in 1989 a mon­u­ment to these ma­te­ri­als was built at Yushima Ten­jin shrine, which is ded­i­cated to the god of learn­ing.


Rikio Sato shows some of the portable brush-and-ink cases dis­played at the mu­seum. They are made from ma­te­ri­als such as wood, bam­boo, me­tal and ivory.

The de­signs of pa­per for wrap­ping lead pen­cils re­flect the era in which they were made.

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