TUG 2013 – Day 3 Excursion

TUG 2013Here now the recollections from the third day, the excursion day, of the TUG 2013 in Tokyo. For the first see TUG 2013 – Day 1, for the second see TUG 2013 – Day 2

The third day of the conference was dedicated to an excursion to the Tokyo Printing Museum housed in the Toppan Printing Company’s building. Divided into three groups we took turns in three activities: a guided tour through the museum, a letterpress printing workshop, and a calligraphy workshop.

Printing Museum

After arriving in the museum with the bus and first introduction the three groups started off into their courses. My group started with the guided tour, and I was responsible for translating the guide’s explanations from Japanese to English for our foreign guest. I have to excuse myself at this point for the poor and incomplete translations.

Before entering the main exhibition space we were guided along a wall filled with replicas of famous objects related to writing. From a copy of the stele of the Code of Hammurabi (actually produces in the Louvre), over ancient Chinese and Japanese prints, to a the Gutenberg Bible, from French cave drawing over Japanese Hanga art to modern books and ads, all in replicas, all to be touched, all to be experienced. It is the second time that I am there, I still think this is an interesting and funny idea. Of course it is impossible to have all the originals, but the collection along the timeline creates and interesting effect.

The guided tour was followed by some free time to explore the exhibition space and a lunch at the restaurant in the same building.

Calligraphy Workshop

Satisfied with the morning and stomachs filled we were off to the calligraphy workshop. An initial introduction and welcome message followed by two teachers showing us the variety of calligraphy by writing the Japanese letter for wind 風, and let us compare their two writings. One I could recognize without any problems, the other on the contrary looked so stylistic that I had no chance to recognize it – and even Japanese colleagues nearby slightly twisted their heads while trying to decipher it.

After that we were shown how to make ink, how to use the brush, some techniques on drawing lines etc. And then we dived into practice. All of us had a bunch of exercise papers which we filled more or less eagerly with our own inspiration. I for myself was a complete newcomer to calligraphy. I remember the only time I had to write with a brush was during my wedding in a Japanese shrine, and I was so nervous that I not even managed to write the most simply things, not to speak of thinking of calligraphy and style. So I considered this my first trial, and consequently filled page after page with simple Kanjis – or Kanjis I thought to be simple: 山 (mountain), 岳 (peak), 水 (water), 道 (path), and words like 山岳 (moutains) etc. (I realized that I have an inclination to moutains, strange enough.)

After having practiced for some time – and me actually running out of excercise paper due to my frantic writing – we were told that now is the time to create our masterpieces. Meaning that we got a nice (and bigger) paper, and a bigger brush, and should decide on something to write, meditate on the meaning of this particular word or sign, and then draw it full of our own feelings. After everyone has finished this and some signing and stamping a seal onto the masterpieces everyone stood up and explained what he wrote and why.

はじめの書道I choose the path 道, with a quite wild look and the character somehow running out of the frame. For me it was a bit like my future, unclear on how and where. Others wrote words related to printing, to feelings, to their families. All very interesting and nice pieces of personality, if not to say of art.

After packing up all our exercise sheets and masterpieces we were sent of with more presents – a calligraphy written by one of the masters, candies, and origami – and returned to the printing museum.

Letterpress Printing Workshop

setting-the-typeReturned to the printing museum we had more free time. Some explored the exhibition space as well as the temporary exhibition on the first floor, some retreated to the coffee house for relaxation. But soon we all gathered together for the last acticity today, the letterpress printing workshop. We were about to set our names in katakana and print bookmarks with it. We started with putting the metal types into the composing stick. This wasn’t so difficult if not for the small metal types and my clumsy fingers.

printingAfter having managed to compose our names and centering it (and getting my name’s spelling corrected – after 4 years I still have problems), the names were transfered into a bigger frame by the instructor, put into the letterpress printing machine, and after some trial runs we were ready to print our bookmarks. Splitting them carefully and packaging them up, we had to wait for a day or so, but now all of us have three beautifully printed bookmarks with our names – self made!

real-fontsPrinting finished we still had time to explore the surrounding of the printing workshop, where many strange and disturbing things could be found: Metal type of Japanese kana at 3.5pt – that is so small that I couldn’t even see the letters on it, not to speak of trying to move them. Also real type, I mean not the electronic fonts you download, but real metal types of hundreds of fonts. How beautiful. I could have spent hours digging through old fonts, and trying to print all kind of things by myself.

old-style-math-settingBut soon we had to leave for the last part, a movie on typesetting math the old style. Yeah, the printing museum actually set a page of mathematics in old style for us, made a movie and – incredible – a 3D animation how the setting was done – in which order, which pieces come in when. We were all deeply impressed, both by the hardship of setting math at that times, and the love to detail with which they have produced the movies. Here you see the final metal frame used to print the mathematics.

Filled with lots of new experiences we left the museum at around 6pm for the conference and hotel area. From the feedback we got already on the bus, everyone really enjoyed the time.


After this once again fully packed day, I ventured out with other organizers and spent the evening over excellent fish, delicious sake, long discussions about typography, the conference, and all that.

… to be continued soon … see TUG 2013 – Day 4

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