Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien
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The Invisible Hand of the Writer: The Advent of the Japanese Typewriter and the Anonymity of Information Exchange in Japanese Corporations
February 27, 2013 / 6.30 P.M.
Raja Adal, Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Information Studies, University of Tokyo
With the rise of corporate capitalism in 1910s Japan, a growing number of company employees began to entertain impersonal relationships with the management of increasingly large firms. The company came to be compared less to a family and more to a giant machine in which information circulated up, down, and across managerial hierarchies. In 1916, Japanese corporations began to write office documents using a new instrument: the Japanese typewriter. Although the Japanese typewriter featured more than 2300 keys and was notoriously impractical, it was a commercial success selling more than twenty-thousand machines within a few years. This paper asks why the Japanese typewriter was so successful. It argues that a crucial aspect of the Japanese typewriter’s appeal was its ability to facilitate a more impersonal circulation of information. With its uniform and anonymous script, the typewriter hid the gender, class, and education of the writer, leading, among other things, to women’s entrance into the workforce. Through research in the press, in teaching manuals, in the archives of Mitsui Company, and of the Japan Typewriter Company, among others, this paper will explore the relationship between the forms of information exchange required by a nascent corporate capitalism and the anonymity which the typewriter gave to this circulated information.
Raja Adal is currently a Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Research Fellow at the University of Tokyo Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Information Studies. He received his Ph.D. in History from Harvard University and in August 2013 will become assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati. He is currently completing a manuscript on education, aesthetics, and nationalism in Japan and Egypt. His other project is a global history of the typewriter outside of the world of Latin characters.