Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Typewriters in Japan

Tokyo Typewriter Shop is a typical Japanese time capsule, tucked beside the railway tracks and smelling of ink and old furniture.

In business for more than 80 years, it still refurbishes typewriters and rents out or sells second-hand machines.

Manager Masayuki Oka hauls an Olivetti Lettera 32 from a rack. Its lowercase set types in katakana, while the shift key produces uppercase latin letters.

 "A katakana typewriter would be used by doctors when writing prescriptions," he says.

Some katakana typewriters omit the latin letters and offer a wider set of symbols instead. This is illustrated on an Olympia Traveller:

Most machines in the shop do not, however, offer Japanese at all. Typewriters spread in Japan mostly among those doing business with foreigners.

"These mostly have English keyboards," Oka says. "English typewriters were used by trading companies. Nowadays, of course, they use the personal computer."

Tokyo Typewriter Shop sells reconditioned typewriters for around $240 and ribbons for $12.60. It stocks replacement parts such as ball heads for electric typewriters and daisywheels for printers, and several dozen platens wrapped in yellowing paper are stacked in a corner.

The shop also stocks true Japanese typewriters, a redesign of the traditional typewriter to accommodate the roughly 2,400 characters needed to write common words correctly.

Several designs emerged, but all were slow to operate and required precision. It was simply more efficient to write longhand.

By contrast, the katakana and hiragana alphabets fitted neatly onto the traditional typewriter. The only modification needed was an asymmetric type head to print the two diacritical marks.

True Japanese typewriters are now frequently offered for sale on Japan's post popular auction site, along with the many conventional typewriters now abandoned by businesses and individuals.

Since most sellers accept payment only through the Japanese cash-on-delivery network or through Japanese banks -- which remain somewhat cut off from the global banking network -- they will often reject bids from overseas collectors.


Scott Kernaghan said...

*Gasp* one of these are high on my wanted list.

Rob Bowker said...

Gulp! Link followed (despite warning) and I found a full alphabet Japanese typewriter listed at Y1200. I make that £7 or £8 in Sterling. I didn't know about those mixed katakana/latin character sets - fascinating to learn about them.

Richard P said...

Fascinating, thanks!

I see there's an "Orivetti" for sale ...

I will add the shop to my list of typewriter repair shops on The Classic Typewriter Page right away.