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Tuesday, April 10, 2001

PENCILING A SPOT IN HISTORY

Museum revels in story of stationery


Staff writer

Tired of gazing at computer screens and typing? Step into the Japan Stationery Museum in Tokyo's Yanagibashi district and get a different perspective on the art of writing.

This collection of hand-operated calculators is a popular exhibit at the Japan Stationery Museum in Tokyo's Taito Ward.

The items on display at the museum vary in size from a 1.7 meter writing brush to a 7.2 cm-long pencil. They also transcend time -- included are replicas of some of the oldest pencils in Japan.

Pencils believed to be used by Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616), who laid the foundation of the Tokugawa shogunate in the early 17th century, and by Date Masamune, a feudal lord who died in 1636, are just some of the features of the museum.

The writing utensils are considered historically significant as they give researchers a clue to Japan's first encounter with pencils, which remains shrouded in mystery, according to the museum. Masamune's bamboo-shaft pencil, which was discovered in his grave, is believed to be the first pencil made in Japan, the museum said.

The museum, operated jointly by makers, wholesalers, retailers and other stationery industry bodies, displays about 800 items from a 1,600-strong collection. Most were donated or are on loan from stationery makers.

The collection includes more than 100 paper knives from nearly 20 countries as well as antique fountain pens and ink bottles with colorful designs.

There is also a unique collection of "yatate," a portable writing tool consisting of a cylinder with a brush and Chinese ink that dates back to the Kamakura Period (1185-1333). The museum's 30 yatate show their development -- in both materials and design -- through the Edo Period (1600-1868).

"Visitors can trace the history of writing back to ancient times, when humans began recording information on rocks," said Junichi Masuda, a museum curator.

"Also, the display will remind visitors of things like the stylish fountain pen their grandfather kept in the outer pocket of his jacket."

Developments in stationery also tell us of the lifestyle changes throughout Japan's postwar rapid economic development, Masuda added.

"Old things were disappearing one after another during the period of rapid economic and technological development. We created this museum to preserve the good old things used by our parents' generation," he said.

The wide array of pre-electronic calculators on display are popular not only with older generations but also among high school students, Masuda said.

"People who actually used the calculators seem to feel nostalgia and show me how they can conduct complicated calculations using the machine, while students find interest in the basic system of the calculators," Masuda said.

The museum is a five-minute walk from Asakusabashi Station on the JR Sobu Line or Toei Asakusa subway line and is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily except weekends and national holidays. Admission is free. For more information, call (03) 3861-4905.


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The Japan Times

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