What happens when you bring a bunch of vintage manual typewriters, stationery and vintage stamps to Japan for letter writing events? A lot. Below is a summary of Type Bar Japan and a thank you at the end of this page for a huge unexpected gift given to the project. Read more about each event here: Just Another Space, Nikko Coffee (with the arrival story), and NED Academy.
Two Type Bars were planned. It was a collective effort of so many people. So many thank you letters are on the “to-type list” now that we’re home. A third Type Bar was added, when we were asked by a Just Another Space guest, to bring the experience to NED Academy in Nerima, Thanks to Ken and Yumihito, a couple dozen English students got to try their hands with these antique machines and we had a mini typewriter assisted English class.
One of the attractions of the Japan Type Bar was that all letters were mailed from the U.S. with vintage postage. Watching the excitement guests had for our stamp selection was a joy in itself. In addition it was for most people, the first time they had ever used a typewriter. Very enjoyable to see them catch on.
We asked artist, Jun Sugawara to provide original drawings to include in the letters. These were a hit, and found themselves being mailed out to all parts of the globe. Type Bar has been asked to return. Hopefully we will be able to involve more artists and letter writers in the next installment.
One guest also brought gifts of vintage Japanese postage and letters for the Type Bar archives. Hooray and thank you Miki! These were not the only gifts for the project this visit, there were some heavy additions to the collection.
So what really does happen with Type Bar international? We learned a lot about logistics, baggage weight limitations, customs, and where the elevators are in the metro stations! And I also recognized that letter writing is still a regular practice in Japan, more so than in the U.S. Especially on the occasion of New Years. According to this Japan Times article, 13% of the annual mail consists of nengajō or New Years Mail. It was that time of the year, so once the announcements were made, people really did ‘get’ what were doing and came out of their way to type letters. Most everyone had messages prepared to be typewritten and stories they wanted to include. Slow Communication has not lost its following in Japan. Normally written by hand in one’s best script, the typewriters added an extra layer of complexity to these letters. Though they weren’t strictly New Years Letters, the occasion could not have been better. A couple were even typed completely in Romaji. Way to work with what you have.
But back to this journey…. First, was the act of fitting the portables into the luggage, with enough room to still bring a few changes of clothes and toothbrush. For these events we had one Olivetti Lettera 32 already carried to Tokyo. We also brought two Smith Corona Skyriters, a 1926 Corona and a very heavy 1965 Olivetti Underwood. So this made five machines total. Once the luggage was packed, there was the second challenge of getting through crowds and borders. Navigating transit rooms like the ones in the photos with three rolling bags takes quite a bit of energy and inertial planning. If it wasn’t all done for art, it would have been frustrating. There were moments of course, when we took a taxi, but for the most part, getting to the Type Bar was an art project in and of itself. Thanks to my friends for their help, seriously. And thanks to the customs guys both going and coming who wondered what I was doing with so many suitcases for such a short trip. They checked out the typewriters once I opened the bags and really didn’t know what to make of them. Though of course on the way back to the States I received a Homeland Security inspection notice. Surely all the moving parts in the luggage must have caused them to look again. This probably calls for a thank you letter as well, noting that they didn’t seem to damage anything.
Also during the trip, Type Bar letter requests were still coming in via the website. So I carried the lightest typewriter with us to Kansai during our tourist activities. We had occasion while in Kyoto, to post some things from the Japan post office too. The gentleman at the counter was as excited as I was about having the chance to place multiple stamps on the letters to the U.S. It’s the little things, I guess. Or that geeks everywhere are mostly the same.
We were fortunate to have help from English speakers to translate and transcribe. Thank You! You know who you are. As of Jan 20, some of the letters have arrived at their recipients and some are still on the way. Letters to Japan, Canada, the U.K., the U.S. and Brazil were in the bunch. I mailed them 30 minutes before the post office closed from the historic Kenmore Station, while still en route home from the airport.
And now. For the incredible gifts that were given to the Type Bar. In that unexpected way that the Japanese call “en” or 縁 and in the U.S. we may call kismet or luck…. We were out socially with Kauru and Toyoda Shigeo of the bog, “British Handbuilt Lightweigt Bicycles, Cine lenses, Old Guitars“. At a greasy tasty kushiage restaurant in Ebisu, the Suntory and soda soon led to talk of the Type Bar. Toyoda is a life-long collector of really cool things as you may see by his blog. One of the things he had in his storage were four old typewriters. And seriously, these were each unique. Upon experiencing my surprise and joy at seeing these old machines he suddenly gifted them to the project. Really.
I could not believe my ears. They were all pretty mucked up from storage and disuse, but I could see that with love and repairs they would be great additions to the Type Bar collection. As it turns out, one machine, an Olivetti Valentine (I’m still in awe) cleaned up so quickly we were able to use it two days later at NEC School. So as of now, a mega type bar thank you letter will go out to Kauru and Toyoda. I don’t think they have any idea how many people they will touch with their offerings. We have yet to clean and repair the other machines, but here are some images.
Hope you enjoy.
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