Japanese fonts

I’m not a designer, so I don’t use fonts too often in my work. That said, I was thinking about Japanese fonts and typography. Typography of the English alphabet is very attractive, but somehow, for me,  Japanese type not so much. (Excluding some exceptions, like custom display fonts from the Meiji era.)

Maybe one reason is the immense number of characters in the Japanese language. To make a very, very basic font you’d have the 46 hiragana characters, 46 katakana characters, punctuation marks and stuff, and about 1000 kanji characters to cover the elementary school level. But this would be only usable for maybe children’s stuff. They say the number of the most common kanji characters used on a daily basis is 2136. A font would need much more to cover the not-so-common-but-necessary characters, kanji variations, special characters like fish names, and who knows what else. A quick search on the Internet brought up the number 20,317 for a standard font commonly used in Japan. (I’m not an expert so don’t quote me on the numbers.) Who in their right mind would design a Japanese font? It would take forever. Or do they have a way to batch-process large numbers so they don’t have to work on each character? I have no idea. But in any case, I imagine that these numbers would limit the ability (or will) to fine-tune and perfect a font face.

So these people and companies that design Japanese fonts are incredible and maybe they are gods. But still… I don’t go ooh-ing and ahh-ing over Japanese font designs. Could it be that the Japanese alphabet is just meant to be hand-written? This letter, a simple note sent to my parents from an acquaintance, made me think so. It’s just beautiful, and natural.


I visited a letterpress studio in Osaka once. The designer proudly showed me his collection of moveable type for a Japanese font. It filled one entire stand-alone wall, and he said it was not even complete. It was awesome, but I still spent more time inspecting the English alphabet drawers. Am I ridiculous?

Oh, and the studio made some prints out of my illustrations. That was fun!


letterpress 2

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