As much as I would love to find a typewriter that was owned by the late Japanese movie director Akira Kurosawa (I’m guessing he did own one), this typewriter listed on the Japanese Yahoo auction site (12,000 yen, approx. 150 AUD) isn’t any such thing …


Kurosawa’s Typewriter in this context refers to a Japanese typewriting handbook (40 pages with illustrations) published in 1957 by Keiichi Kurosawa.

Keiichi Kurosawa is the son of Teijiro Kurosawa.

Teijiro Kurosawa was born in 1875, went to Seattle in 1890 and stayed there for several years while studying mechanical engineering. In 1899 he built the first typewriter with hiragana symbols. A typewriter with katakana symbols followed shortly after.

It’s important to remember that hiragana and katakana are syllabaries not alphabets.


When he returned to Japan, Teijiro took with him a dozen American typewriters, and didn’t just open a shop “Kurosawa and Co” in the Ginza area, he also built the building it was housed in — the first three-storied, reinforced concrete building in Japan — and built it without the aid of a professional architect. The building survived both the 1923 earthquake and World War II. Its wired glass contributed to the protection of the treasures within (antique typewriters, old clocks, documents and photographs) that are still a part of the Kurosawa collection today. One special typewriter, eventually returned to the Kurosawa family as a gift, was made for the Emperor Showa in 1931.

In 1914, the Osaka Central Telegraph Office started to use an English typewriter to print incoming telegraphs. The Osaka Central Telegraph Office then decided that typewriters should be used for Japanese telegraphs as well, and asked Mr. Teijiro Kurosawa, then the only importer and maintenance provider of typewriters in Japan, to make a prototype Japanese typewriter suited for Japanese telegraphs.

The English-speaking girl Teijiro hired as a trainee typist, shortly after setting up his business in Ginza, became Japan’s first typist (and his wife).


Teijiro Kurosawa died suddenly on January 26, 1953, at the age of 78 due to a brain hemorrhage.


The Japan Times

Google Books

The Ginza Kurosawa Building


It is possible in a manner of speaking to write Japanese on a western typewriter. To do this “word sounds” are spelt out using letters of the Latin alphabet.

The most commonly known system is the Hepburn Romanization system named after the Reverend Dr James Curtis Hepburn, who used it to transcribe the sounds of the Japanese language into the Latin alphabet in the third edition of his Japanese–English dictionary, published in 1887. But perhaps the man who should be given the most credit for this invention, is the man depicted on this Japanese postage stamp …


Japanese physicist Tanakadate Aikitsu developed a way to write Japanese in the Latin alphabet called Nihon-shiki or Nippon-shiki Romaji in 1885. Tanakadate visited Europe many times, and from 1888 to 1890 worked with Lord Kelvin at Glasgow University, where some of his papers are still kept.


Hepburn Romanization has always competed with the alternative Nihon-shiki romaji, which was developed in Japan as a replacement of Japanese script. In 1930, a Special Romanization Study Commission was appointed to compare the two. The Commission eventually decided in favor of a slightly modified version of Nihon-shiki, named Kunrei-shiki, which was proclaimed to be Japan’s official romanization for all purposes in 1937.

In 1972, a revised version of Hepburn was codified as ANSI standard Z39.11-1972. It was proposed in 1989 as a draft for ISO 3602, but rejected in favor of Kunrei-shiki. The ANSI Z39.11-1972 standard was consequently deprecated on October 6, 1994.

As of 1978, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, and many other official organizations used Hepburn instead of Kunrei-shiki. In addition The Japan Times, the Japan Travel Bureau, and many other private organizations used Hepburn instead of Kunrei-shiki.

Tanakadate may not have got the recognition he deserved in this respect, however he did have an asteroid, 10300 Tanakadate, named after him in 1989. Trump that Hepburn!