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Printing Museum
Closes in 39 days

Each year in Japan, some 90 billion business cards are given out, with the average person using 12 per month. That’s a lot of cards for a tradition that started around 206 B.C.

Originally used as calling cards by wealthy Chinese who visited their emperor, business cards or meshi as they are called in Japanese, didn’t arrive here until the Edo Period (1603-1867). Surprisingly, though, they only took on their current role until the Meiji Era (1868-1912), when Japan tried to Westernize itself.

Unfortunately, “An Exhibition of ‘Introductory’ Business Cards,” now showing at the Printing Museum (printing-museum.org) does not display the historical development of meshi in Japan, but for anyone interested in contemporary meshi or new developments in printing, this show may be of interest.

Divided into two halves, it displays cards that are currently in use, as well as imaginary ones that Toppan Printing, the museum’s owner, can print. In the imaginary section, gimmicky shaped ramen noodle and rice-ball cards are on display, complete with sheets of dried and pressed laver. Another card, normal at first glance, actually contains six buttons tough enough to be sewn onto a shirt. Some of the cards shown that are currently in use are equally creative, with their use of chewing gum and toothpicks. Others use the traditional meshi size — 91×55 mm — and squeeze in as much information as possible.

Although the exhibition is small, and limited by its lack of English explanation, it does provide a realistic glimpse into what’s out there. It’s not ground-breaking design, but it’s real. In any case, the show provides a good excuse to visit the hidden Printing Museum, where if you want, you’ll be able to have Printing House help create something of your own.

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