Letterpress Print Shop Mikazuki-dō: Star Bookmarks

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Letterpress Print Shop Mikazuki-dō: Star Bookmarks
Author: Sanae Hoshio
Specifications: ISBN  978-4591150412
311 pages
10.8 x 15.2 cm / 4.3 x 6.0 in (WxH)
Category: Fiction
Publisher: Poplar Publishing Co., Ltd.
Tokyo, 2016
Buy now: amazon.co.jp


Four linked tales centering on an old-fashioned letterpress print shop called Mikazuki-dō tell the stories of customers who find solace for their personal difficulties in the print jobs they come in to request. It is the first volume of an ongoing series that casts a warm gaze on mutually supportive interactions among people.

The shop is located in the city of Kawagoe in Saitama Prefecture, to the north of Tokyo. Streets lined with historic structures that retain the appearance and atmosphere of earlier times have earned the city the nickname of Koedo, or “Little Edo,” after the pre-1868 name of Tokyo. Among these buildings, Mikazuki-dō stood unoccupied for quite some time after the death of its proprietor—until the recent return of his granddaughter, Yumiko Tsukino. Having learned how to operate the antique equipment from her grandfather as a little girl, Yumiko, now 28, has decided to revive the place as an artisanal print shop. In an era when most printing is fully digitized, working with a variety of old presses using movable lead type set by hand is far more labor-intensive, but it allows her to control the color and quality of both print and paper one sheet at a time in ways modern techniques cannot—to better fit the words and sentiments each customer wishes to have set in print.

The first tale introduces a mother who is sending her son off to a distant university. Since her husband’s death, Haru has carried on his freight-forwarding business as she continues singlehandedly to raise their son Shintarō, who is now about to begin college in Hokkaido. She comes to Mikazuki-dō to place an order for a special stationery set she can use to correspond with him. She remembers how her own parents had given her just such a set when she graduated from high school. In her first letter written on the stationery, she recounts memories from when she got married and gave birth to Shintarō. As she reads his reply expressing gratitude to her for being his mother she is deeply touched by how grown-up he has become.

In the second story, it has been two years since the thirty-something Okano took over his uncle’s coffee shop. Still looking for ways to really make the shop his own, he hits on the idea of having some custom coasters made at Mikazuki-dō. Having dabbled in haiku while in college, he decides he wants the coasters to have haiku printed on them. Selecting the haiku to use reawakens the unrequited feelings he’d had for a girl at the time, and also leads him to realize that he’s been too fixated on running the shop the way his uncle had run it.

The third story (the title work) centers on two high-school girls, best friends belonging to the Literary Club, who have a falling out. The president of the club, Koeda, is jealous of Yūka for her effortless facility with words and the highly distinctive works she turns out with such complete ease. Then she learns that Yūka is very much in need of a sympathetic ear as she struggles to come to terms with her parents’ divorce and its disruption of her home life. To let her friend know she is there for her, Koeda has some lines by author and poet Kenji Miyazawa printed on some bookmarks as a peace offering.

In the final story, librarian Yukino is preparing to get married. She feels nervous about quitting her present job in order to accompany her fiancé to his new work posting, but she senses their hearts becoming one as they set the type for their wedding invitations together and feels reassured about taking this new step in her life.

Stationery, coasters, bookmarks, and invitations are each imprinted by Yumiko’s presses with words that convey the heartfelt sentiments of her customers, and the personal touch of the letterpressed words gently loosens the customers’ tightly wound feelings, bringing them relief. When she first reopens the shop, Yumiko herself is withdrawn, feeling alone and forlorn as she grapples with the death of her father and the breakup of a relationship, but through her contacts with these four customers and the process of making sure every detail is just so in carrying out their print jobs, she, too, is able to put her past behind her and begin moving forward again. As the new proprietor of Mikazuki-dō she will do everything she can to build the business back up.