Japan Society of Fairfield County
Shaberu Kikai, Oct. 24, 2007
The Beginnings of Telecommunications in Japan 1875-1900

all set up      On October 24th 2007, The Japan Society of Fairfield County and Western Connecticut State University were treated to a lecture on early Japanese communications technology by Dr. Thomas G. Hedberg, a neurophysiologist associated with Albert Einstein Medical School. Dr. Hedberg, who has shamelessly used frequent business trips to Japan to study 19th Century telecommunications titled the presentation “Shaberu Kikai” (or more precisely: “kikai de shaberu”) which, in Japanese, means "talking with machines".
     In the 21st Century the legions of Tokyo teenagers texting each other ferociously at every other Starbucks rarely do anything but talk with machines. However there’s nothing particularly new about this; in fact, anyone who has seen “The Last Samurai” knows that the final days of the Japanese Shogunate were a time of social and political strife punctuated by the heroic but doomed final stand of the samurai class. Less well known is the fact that some of these samurai wound up slicing into their opponents under the shadows of actively humming telegraph poles. A decade or so later a few would shout recollections of their fiercest battles into the gaping horns of wax-cylinder phonographs.
      When Commodore Perry opened Japan in 1854 he left a number of technical gifts which showcased American technology. These were avidly studied by the Japanese and quickly influenced their view of the western world. An interesting presentation of the Perry expedition is on MIT's Visualizing Cultures site: Black Ships and Samurai.
     The first telephone call conducted in Japanese occurred in Boston in January 1877 when visiting Japanese students were given an opportunity to use the new instrument in a demonstration that would be difficult to fake. Phonograph recordings were popular in Japan and the Victor corporation's operations in Japan grew into JVC. The first Japanese-American joint technology venture was started in 1899 and has grown into the global electronics giant NEC. The presentation also featured rare century-old moving pictures of geishas made following the Chicago World’s Fair, vibrant sound recordings from the dawn of audio technology, and what is probably the first anime.
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