Over at Language Log, linguist Victor Mair has written an nice article about how a manual “typewriter” in Chinese/Japanese works complete with two YouTube video demonstrations.
The video shows how time intensive it was, and I would also say that it’s not so much a type writer as a miniature printing press. Blocks for characters are stored in a tray and an operator moves the imprinting device over the correct character to make an impression on the paper (hunt and punch?). One tray holds about 2,000-3,000 characters, but extra trays are available with additional, rarer characters. Wow.
Computers have changed the process because many Japanese and Chinese typists can enter a Romanized syllable equivalent (e.g. “MA”) and then select from a list of appropriate characters. In Chinese characters are further organized by stroke radical in many input methods. In any case, these methods allow users to use a smaller, Roman alphabet type keyboard, but there’s still an amazing amount of computer and human processing.