Visit DNP Museum “Ichigaya Letterpress Factory”

Visual history of bookmaking and letterpress printing in the modern Japan

DNP’s Print Museum

Last June, visited the DNP Print Museum “Ichigaya Letterpress Factory” in Shinjuku, Tokyo. The museum is placed at the former Dai Nippon Printing factory which surrounded by large green zone named “Ichigaya Forest”. The facility is opened in 2020 in commemorating DNP’s 150 anniversary aiming to show the company’s history of printing and publishing business.

Museum’s Exhibition Hall

In the museum, a variety of printing machines and tools formerly used in the DNP factory are exhibited in rich, including letter-pattern making tools, casting machines, letter selecting and setting tools, printing machines which were long time worked since the founding of the company. The exhibition also tries to show how Japanese printing technology has evolved since the Meiji modernization period, not only suggesting the DNP’s own development activity.

Evolving Printing Technology

For the time being, when looking at the printing technology, it got drastically changed from letter-press to offset, photo, and laser printing system. And it shifted from just simple paper printing to totally advanced printing forms targeting on dynamic materials and various shapes. so, it could evaluate that letterpress and conventional typographic printing have already become old and antique style of printing method.

Epoch-making letterpress publication “Education” by Fukuzawa in Meiji period

However, letterpress or typographic printing are still a technical basis of modern printing even today, and they can illustrate the development history of printing technology in the world and Japan. They are a valuable industrial heritage when it comes to think of the political, economic, and social impacts on the modern society in the past and today. In this sense, the Museum could be eminent cultural and industrial asset for our society.
As a similar museum, we have Toppan’s “Printing Museum” (in Iidabashi, Tokyo). But this museum exhibits a general flow of printing technology and publication from different angles.

DNP Printing Museum “Ichigaya Letterpress Factory”
〒162-8001 Ichigaya-Kagacho 144, shinjuku, Tokyo
Tel: 03-4686-0555

Here, let’s consider a history of Japanese printing technology and printing culture, as well as development of printing technology of DNP, while referring to the exhibits of “Ichigaya Letterpress Factory”.

History of modern Japanese printing and bookmaking

  First, take a look at the characteristics and origins of Japanese printing culture.

<From calligraphic paint to woodblock printing>

“Suruga version bronze letter print” in 17th century

In Japan, the old Buddhist texts or official documents had been reproduced only by calligraphic copy or simple wood carving print.  But just before the Edo period, there was a trial effort to print the official document by letter-type typographic method introduced by overseas technology. For example, the documents of “Suruga version bronze letter print” in 17th century, and a special Christian text by Christian missionary around 1660s.  However, the letter-type had gradually disappeared and forgotten because the letter-type assembling work was too complicated because it should be handled with numerous kanji characters in Japan or due to the prohibition of Christian teaching.

“Ukiyo-e” pictures and “Kusa-zoshi” publications in Edo period

 Additionally, in Japan, many documents customarily were written by cursive calligraphic method (“Sosho”). So the printing by woodblock carved by craftsmen was well fit to the reproduction of documents and duplication of publication. It is a good contrast to the modern western printing system that made rapid expansion of typographic printing since Gutenberg.

Under this circumstance, in the middle of the Edo period, Japan’s original woodblock printing technology was flourished and well accepted among the general people. Then, “Ukiyoe” and “Nishiki-e” which were beautifully printed with delicate colors, and “Ninjo-bon” (humanity tales) and “Kusa-zoshi” (secular tale books) with variety of description and pictures were massively printed as entertainment materials. And even numerous professional publishers were emerged in this period too.

<Return to letter-type printing>

However, because of rapid process of modernization and radical social changes in the Meiji era, conventional woodblock printing became outdated fast and it was unable to catchup to the increasing social intellectual needs and education. In short, suddenly the time has come to adopt a new type printing technology in responding the new requirement.

Motoki and Hirano

To meet this demand, the modern printing method using metal character-type “letter-press print”, which is capable of systematic and mass printing work, was introduced.  It was an inventor, Shozo Motoki, who promoted this movement in the initial period.

Monument of the birthplace of letter-press printing” in Nagasaki

 Motoki, who had worked as an interpreter in “Nagasaki Dejima”, learned typographic printing technology from the Netherlands, and he invented a lead letter-type of Japanese Kanji by a unique method (a letter-type matrix mode manufacturing method called “a wax type electric matrix method”). In addition, in order to popularize this method, he even established a letter-press print training center in 1869.
To honor this achievement, it can find the “Monument of the birthplace of letter-press printing” in Nakasaki and a replica of the letter-type masterpiece made by Motoki is also exhibited.

Tokyo Tsukiji Letterpress Factory”

After that, Tomiji Hirano, a disciple of Motoki, established the “Tokyo Tsukiji Letterpress Factory” in Tokyo and started casting and manufacturing printing machines. (Hirano was also a founder of Ishikawajima Heavy Industries, current IHI.)  And, consequently Mitsuji Taniguchi also opened the “Taniguchi Printing Office” in Osaka in the same way. Then, through these movements, Japan’s modern letter-press printing technology, which started by Motoki, was greatly expanded by the increasing establishments of print manufacturing workshops.

Many publications printed by typographic printings in the beginning of Meiji

Since this period, there found a major shift from the conventional woodblock printing method to the modern printing technology in Japan. And almost of all academic books, newspapers, textbooks, and security papers have become produced based on the Western typographic printing technology since.

Typographic printing as a business and a start of DNP

<Born of Shueisha Printing>

S. Sakuma.
Shueisha Co.” in Ginza

   Many letter-press or typographic printing houses were established to meet big demand of printed documents and books in the Meiji social modernization movement. One of these houses was the former “Shueisha,” which was the original body of the current DNP Dainippon Printing. The Shueisha company was born in 1876 (Meiji 9) in Ginza, Tokyo, as a small letter-press printing shop equipped with a few letter-type tools and several printing machines. The founders were four businessmen, including Sadaichi Sakuma.

“Development of “Shueitai” font

After that, the company was successfully expanding its printing business encouraged by rising publications, such as newly appeared newspapers and common reading books in the urban area, like Tokyo or Osaka. And Shueisha tried to activate its business by setting up a new casting section in the company and facilitated multiple printing machines in growing publication market, such as installation of letter-type making machines, molding tools, stylization tools for various letters and characters. At the same time, the new letter pattern called “Shueitai”(DNP style of letter pattern.) was developed by the company. This pattern is still used as the most popular style of letter-types in Japan even today. 

Shueisha’s printing book “Saikoku Nishikokushi Hen”

   Then, in 1886, the company built a new factory in the Ichigaya area, Tokyo, in response to the rapidly growing business, and finally became one of the major printing and bookmaking firms. The company document said that it was the publication titled(“Saikoku Nishikokushi Hen” (a Japanese translation book written by John Murray), which brought success of Shueisha as a top printing firm in Japan. It also said that this best-selling book was Japan’s first domestically produced Western-style binding book. (Formally all Japanese book was made by Japanese traditional “Watoji” way, which is bound by simple thread and it seems difficult to make tough and thick volume books)

DNP HQ building

Then, in the wake of the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, the head office was relocated to the current Ichigaya area in adjusting to the further growth of its printing and publishing business.  In 1935, Shueisha merged with “Nisshin Printing” responding to new market conditions, and conducted reorganization to fit to the emerging business trend. Then the company entered the market of new literature book series, poster and advertising papers, color-print magazines, and various culture documents. Thus, the former Shuensha refurbished to the current “Dai Nippon Printing DNP Co.  

New printings by DNP

 After the war, the new period has come for the printing world, in that, many weekly magazines and new style of printing documents were beginning to be published in the boom. Under these circumstances, Dainippon Printing tried to facilitate many new equipment and machines, and made a great success along with “Toppan Printing Co.” as a major printing firm.

New DPN Challenge (P&I”)

  In addition, utilizing the printing technology since its establishment, the company has also entered into the new area since the 1950s, such as business in building materials, information industry, and culture and living industry. And the company has now entered in the electronics field, such as the market of displays and electronic devices too. The company name is also changed to DNP (Dainippon Printing), and boasts the company has shifted to the total innovation company, as it called “P & I” (printing and information) Company fully using the historically accumulated printing technology,

Exhibition of “DNP Printing Museum”

The purpose of ” DNP Museum” is to deepen understanding of typographic technology through practical exhibits by showing the origin of paper printing, as well as to introduce the DNP’s historical development.

<Exhibition of Main Hall”

Exhibition Hall

In the exhibition space on the first floor, there is a “Printing Workshop” that reproduced the practical scene of a former printing factory.  There, we can find a series of practical working process from the original letter-type character making, engraving of “mother” font, casting the letters, assembling letter-types, print board making, and printing and binding by machines.  Also, you’ll see a real scene, in which craftsman quickly picks up various letter- types from shelves (called “Uma”), and puts them into a flat assembling board.  There, we see how the print materials are arranged, assembled and printed.  And on the display panels placed beside exhibition tables, variety of printing tools are displayed in order to show printing and bookbinding process with elaborate introduction.

character design making process

Generally, the typographic printing consists of many processes, and the work should advance systematically, from letter design making, casting of mother types and shelving them orderly. After that, printing expert picks up letters to arrange them meaningful sentence on the flat boards, and put them neatly to fit the next step of printing. Finally, the real printing work will start using ink on it. If book making is needed, the binding process would come by putting front covers and binding at the next step. In the exhibition, the allocation of display is well designed to understand what kind of work are performed, how keep speed and accuracy are needed, what kind of skill and technology are required in the process. And you’ll see how evolution and development have done from Gutenberg’s printing art and how engineers have arranged it to Japanese style of letterpress printing in exhibits.

Mold and shape
Making Printing Board

Exhibition of tools and Panel Display

Of these, the most interesting was the designing process of Japanese Kanji characters which have thousands of variations of letter-types and the way of casting of these huge number of characters.  It is well known that Dainippon Printing has developed and cultivated a mother mold called “Shueitai character” since its founding.  So, the museum’s exhibition is quite fascinating because we’ll see what type of style and size of these various characters have been produced in the company’s R&D team.

Formerly used Printing Machine

Also, on the large exhibition floor at the first floor, various printing machines, which have been used in the factory, are orderly displayed and you can study how the printing machines have evolved historically. The basement is provided for the “Recording Room” that introduces the company history of Dainippon Printing, and on the second floor, the experimental corner is arranged for visitors to be able to engage in the real printing process by their own using small letterpress machine.

It is known that the museum is regularly conducting various events related to the printing and bookmaking.  When I visited, the museum offered a special exhibition called “Bookmaking 100 years ago”, and the exhibition showed how the bookmaking style has dramatically changed during Edo and Meiji period from Japanese-traditional ones to Western-style bookmaking.  Among the exhibition books, you can find many rare treasury books, such as the 1873 English-Japanese dictionary printed in 1873, the 1876 French Lan West Law Book in 1876, and the Japanese translation book “Self-Help” by John Murray ” in 1877.

Learning from DNP Printing Museum


   The area of Ichigaya, where the DNP’s “Print Museum” is located, is a place I had often been to, because it’s near my former workplace more than 20 years ago. It has changed a lot, but I can still remember a big Dainippon Printing building in a spacy compound there.  Now, this place has changed to a green area called “Ichigaya no Mori” green site, and it calls me up a certain nostalgic memory, and when looking at it, I felt some pleasure that a new valuable museum was born there using former DNP building to record printing history in Japan.

Japanese standard dictionary printed by DNP

This classic building was originally built around 130 years ago, but kept in good as an original appearance to harmonize the environment even being conducted several major mending and repairs. In addition, the inner facilities were maintained well to be able to show the former workplace as it were. So, the exhibits are precisely reproduced to show the evolution process of the printing activities of DNP and Shueisha company.

  The printing technologies have advanced beyond an ample typographic one now. However,
in the historic point view, we couldn’t forget that the development of typographic printing has given immeasurable impact on Japanese intellectual works, literature, education, and culture development in our society. The “DNP’s Printing Museum” mentions in a opening message that it will convey their founding philosophy through the exhibition, such as “Contribute society through the typographic technology to make rich of people’s knowledge and culture.”  The museum looks really social heritage in the way of showing intellectual activities in our modern society.


Major reference: 参考資料:

  • 大日本印刷DNP「市谷の杜 本と活字館」案内パンフレット
  • 大日本印刷DNP「館内案内マップ」
  •市谷の杜 本と活字館HP)
  • 大日本印刷DNP 企画展「100年くらいまえの本づくり解説」2020年6月
  • 副島八十六編 『開国五十年史附録』(開国五十年史発行所,1908)
  •近代活版印刷の父 本木昌造
  • “ぷりんとぴあ”日本の近代印刷術の祖 本木昌造 | 日本印刷産業連合会 (
  • 「近代活版印刷発祥の地-長崎からはじまった」「伝える」シリーズ【長崎市】
  • 秀英体の歴史|秀英体|DNP 大日本印刷株式会社
  • トッパンの「印刷博物館」を訪ねて
  • ミズノ・印刷ミュージアムを訪ねる

nd evolved into offset, photo, and laser printing. And current digital technology made possible of personal print by PC, and the letter-press or typographic printing is already an old-fashioned. However, its principle of letter-press or typographic printing would be still works as a technology base of printing and whole printing process today.

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