new book opens with a balloon ride and closes with a record-scratching cat, and in between it offers a fascinating history of Meiji media focused on technologies of writing and script. Inspired, in part, by the work of Friedrich Kittler, Writing Technology in Meiji Japan: A Media History of Modern Japanese Literature and Visual Culture
(Harvard University Asia Center, 2015) traces the story of shorthand in Japan. First introduced for recording political speeches and the conduct of the state, by the mid-1880s shorthand was used to transcribe popular theatrical storytelling and enabled a kind of unvarnished vernacular writing that was the forerunner of genbun itchi
, the unification of speech and writing, or the unified style. Its history interweaves in important ways with the histories of standardization movements, script reform, the rise of communications systems like telegraphy and the postal system, and the development of new literary styles of realism. (Also, in case you missed it above: there's a record-scratching cat.) Jacobowitzs study spans fiction, photography, visual art, and more, and its highly recommended for anyone interested in the histories of writing and literature in Japan and beyond.