Word Stamps

Word Stamps
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Word Stamps
Moe Shimomura

The Language Exhibition Room in the National Museum of Ethnology in Osaka was renewed in March 2010.  GK Tech was commissioned to develop and fabricate “Sound and Word Stamps” as one of its exhibits.
The Sound and Word Stamps help visitors understand the relations between sounds and words through playing with them.  When a single stamp or a number of sound stamps combined from among the 36 different stamps are pressed on the table, a sound comes out according to the combination and the order of pressing sound stamps.  It can produce sounds of not only Japanese but also other languages.


Hiragana from sound stamps
Every stamp (alphabet and phonetic sign) has its own sound, and concave and convex parts on the sides.  When two sounds are combined with the concave and convex sides, they become a Hiragana.  Every Hiragana in Japanese is a single character, but the sound of each character consists of two phonemes, a vowel and a consonant, except for a, i, u, e and o.  For example, 「か」 is a composite of “k” and “a.”
Repeated two-letter words
The system can repeat two-letter words automatically so that interesting words can be made which are often found in Japanese mimetic or onomatopoeic words.  The meaning, usage and illustration of the word are seen in the visual display screen.
For example, when “sa” and “ra” stamps are pressed, a word “sara” appears followed by “sara sara” meaning babbling, bickering, dry, smooth, etc.  Visitors will learn that words from the same phoneme evolve to have different images at different stages.


Playing with “Stamps and Sounds”
Stamps are easily handled.  A visitor will try with one stamp, and combine two stamps in different ways.  The secret of this exhibit is to help visitors touch invisible sounds.  They casually pick up one stamp and press it on the table.  A sound appears.  How does it sound if these two stamps are connected?  In this way, the stamps intrigue visitors and their creative interest will expand.


Fastidious development process
To develop an interactive exhibit, we need to quickly repeat the process of making a prototype, using it, and improving it until we make a finished model.  With this stamp project, we poured our greatest energy into the enjoyment of stamping and hearing the sound to be smoothly synchronized.  We were concerned about the material for stamps that would give a softly rebounding sensation, the form of the handle to fit the palm and fingers, the way letters were pressed on the table in the way that ink permeated into paper, the animation of letters to give proper expressions of meanings, and the adjustment of the length of sound and the time of pressing a stamp.  We developed 36 kinds of markers and improved the recognition system.  We made minor adjustments a number of times until we felt contented with the quality.  Human senses will find out even a negligible gap.  Like closing the lid of a tea leaf box properly, GK Tech staff showed their persistence together in this project.
This is included in the permanent exhibits.  We hope that many visitors will try the Word Stamps to enjoy the worlds of words and sounds.


Exhibition on the scene
Interactive exhibitions have been on the increase recently.  However, maybe because of Japanese being shy, conversations among visitors such as “How does it work?” “It seems this works in this way,” “Let me try,” “Oh, it’s good,” hardly occur.  People tend to give a sidelong glance and imitate what others are doing.
In the Word Stamps exhibition, it was observed that people gathered led by children and people with curiosity, and timidly attempted to play with the stamps.  How far should we give instructions on how to play?  There are many grownups who cannot handle any devices without looking at the instructions.  But we wanted to give information just on initial steps and have visitors discover ways to handle it after trying many ways on their own.  If we provide too many ideas, their creativity would be limited, but if we provide too little information, then they would pass by without showing interest.  Through this project, we found difficulty in providing a well-balanced amount of information.



We observed an impressive scene.  A little boy, around two years old, was playing with the Word Stamps with his parents.  He brought stamps one after another and stretched his hand to press them on the table and was excited to hear the sounds.  His father wanted to show him illustrations, and combined two stamps a number of times.  His mother watched them smilingly.  The pleasure of creating tools to help families have this kind of experience is, no doubt, the source of motivation for GK Tech to design and produce exhibits.
The team staff consisted of members specializing respectively in developing furniture to furnish a space, hardware to recognize images such as projection systems, and software and graphics to integrate different mechanisms as smooth and exciting exhibits. They worked together in order to construct an integrated “living” exhibit.
Associate professor Ritsuko Kikusawa of the National Museum of Ethnology provided us with great support with her linguistic expertise, which was indispensable in this particular project.  We took an ideal process to develop this exhibit.  We hope many people will visit the museum to play with Word Stamps.

Moe Shimomura, GK Tech