Setting Type in Japanese

Jared Benson's picture

I'm working on a client web site right now where I'll need to set all the words on the screen (ie. buttons, marketing text, etc) in Japanese. Has anyone had any experience setting type in Japanese? Beyond the words themselves, what other sensitivities should one be aware of?

They'll translate the text for us - It sounds like they'll most likely send over a Word doc with the Japanese text. Is it as easy as cut and paste, and tweaking the font from there?

In a related question, isn't there a Japanese cut of Univers?

Thanks
jb

hrant's picture

> It has tiny 'spikes'

Could you please show a visual on that?

hhp

capthaddock's picture

Jared,
I know a little Japanese, and I recently had to do an identity package in Japanese. Here are a few rules, to the best of my non-native knowledge:

Japanese can be set two ways, in vertical columns from right-to-left, and horizontal rows from left-to-right. Vertical columns are the "proper" way and would be used for nearly all books, newspapers, and comics; and most magazines. The limitations of the Web usually restrict you to horizontal text.

Japanese is set on a grid of squares with monospaced characters, as opposed to the lines and variable-width letters of Roman languages. Horizontal lines will profit from extra leading, and you'll probably want wider tracking than Web-browser default.

Hinting tends to be bad on small or aliased text. Like Keith says, use a generous point size.

Punctuation is supposed to hang, although you probably can't do that with HTML. Punctuation in Japanese is also limited to the circle-stop, a comma-like character (often unnecessary), and Japanese brackets. These are not like Roman periods, commas, and quotes, so don't use them!

There's no word spacing, of course; and unlike English, you can wrap after any character; thus, most lines of text will be exactly the same length (which looks great on a grid layout).

Japanese composition doesn't use paragraphs in the same way Western languages do. They do, however, use small groupings of sentences (often couplets), and the breaks between these should be indicated by carriage-returns or extra spacing. Be sensitive to these if you're setting long bodies of text.

Avoid Roman letters if possible. They really break up the rhythm of Japanese text.

That's all I can think of at the moment.

Paul

eomine's picture

there's something here:
http://www.l-h.co.jp/lhcontents/fontindex.html

(i guess you must have Japanese language support installed).

eomine's picture

more precisely:
http://www.l-h.co.jp/PDF/Hira9810.pdf
(pages 8 to 16 for Hiragino Gothic).

John Hudson's picture

I second Keith's suggestion of Hiragino Kaku Gothic Pro.

Another thing to watch out for is that the Japanese and Chinese forms of the same character may vary slightly (the 'simplified' Chinese forms will vary more, of course), so don't be tempted to use a Chinese font if you find one in a style you like.

hrant's picture

Thanks Eduardo.
Keith, why do you think it has those flares?
Was this face originally designed for photosetting?

hhp

keith_tam's picture

Thanks for the link, Eduardo. There are some really great Japanese types there.

My version of Hiragino Kaku Gothic seems to be from Adobe for some reason... I think it was installed with InDesign.

Hrant, I meant flares, really. Download this PDF and see... pages 8 to 16 http://www.l-h.co.jp/PDF/Hira9810.pdf

> Japanese can be set two ways, in vertical columns from right-to-left, > and horizontal rows from left-to-right. Vertical columns are the > "proper" way and would be used for nearly all books, newspapers, and > comics; and most magazines. The limitations of the Web usually > restrict you to horizontal text.

I love vertical setting... In mainland China, horizontal setting became the norm during the Cultural Revolution, when it was strictly enforced. Everywhere else (Hong Kong, Taiwan, overseas Chinese communities) kept the vertical tradition. And now even newspapers in Hong Kong have changed to horizontal setting (to bring it closer to the standards in the mainland, after the change over?). It's really a pity to see these fine traditions disappearing one by one...

> Punctuation is supposed to hang, although you probably can't do that > with HTML. Punctuation in Japanese is also limited to the circle-stop, > a comma-like character (often unnecessary), and Japanese brackets. > These are not like Roman periods, commas, and quotes, so don't use > them!

Do they always hang in Japanese? They never do in Chinese, just because no one cares, or no one knows better. I'm sorry to say that a lot of Chinese people (writers included) use Western punctuation in Chinese text, which, to me is totally unacceptable. The comma-like character is not unnecessary (I think we're talking about he same one)... it's a different type of pause, often used in lists. A brief, rather abrupt pause. There are a few Japanese typesetting features in Illustrator and I think even Chinese setting benefit a lot from them. I wish they have them in InDesign. There's no Chinese version of InDesign, but only a plug-in called InChinese.

> Another thing to watch out for is that the Japanese and Chinese forms > of the same character may vary slightly (the 'simplified' Chinese > forms will vary more, of course), so don't be tempted to use a Chinese > font if you find one in a style you like.

John is absolutely right. Never use Chinese fonts for Japanese text, and vice-versa. I'm so tempted to use Hiragino Kaku Gothic Pro! All the Chinese characters seem to be there though (maybe except colloquial Hong Kong or Taiwanese Chinese). But it's still a bit risky.

I'm sorry (and ashamed) to say that the Japanese is far more advanced in typography than the Chinese. I often wonder why. My lingering question is perhaps calligraphy is too highly valued in Chinese culture, that the mechanical ways of setting text is regarded as lowest of the low? I emailed the company who sell the InChinese plug-in and they couldn't answer me a thing about the specifically CJK typesetting features that I'm looking for in the product!

K.

keith_tam's picture

> Keith, why do you think it has those flares? I often wonder about that. Monotype's CHei is also flared. It's probably one of the earliest hei/gothic types. Hei/gothic types were first introduced in Japan, maybe in the 20s? I really don't know much about it, but I'll do some research. The flaring really give the type life and make it less clinical looking, which I like very much.

hrant's picture

> It's really a pity to see these fine traditions disappearing

Yes - very much. On the other hand, some traditions suck! :-/ The nature of the human retina/eyesockets/neck, and possibly even our "environmental firmware" make horizontal setting much more functional.

> perhaps calligraphy is too highly valued in Chinese culture

A very likely explanation. The Chinese should look to the Arabs for developing strategies for experimenting towards a greater shift away from chirography and towards typography. (You guys are nuts if you think I would have passed up this opportunity! :-)

hhp

keith_tam's picture

The nature of the human retina/eyesockets/neck, and possibly even our "environmental firmware" make horizontal setting much more functional.

I don't agree with that. How long is an average line? If you have to move your eyesockets or neck so far that it hurts, then I would say the line is too long! I grew up with both horizontal and vertical text, in both Chinese and English, and I really don't have a problem with either. If anything I read Chinese faster than I read English (well, Chinese is my first language). The beauty with CJK scripts is that there is a lot of flexibility for arrangement graphically. We shouldn't impose too many rules (or simply adopt to the Western way of doing things) to limit the possibilities.

The Chinese should look to the Arabs for developing strategies for experimenting towards a greater shift away from chirography and towards typography.

I don't see a move away from chirography. They are not mutually-exclusive... it's rather a continuum.

hrant's picture

> If you have to move your eyesockets ...

You can move your sockets?! Report yourself to CIA BlackOps immediately! ;-)

1) The retina has a strong horizontal asymmetry.
2) Our eye sockets are positioned horizontally.
3) Our eyeballs move better horizontally.
4) Our neck (when it has to move during reading - rare and undesirable, I agree) favors the horizontal.

All of this must certainly be due to evolution: threats come (or at least used to come...) largely from the sides.

> flexibility for arrangement

Yes, and for display typography that's great. But for conveying text the greater efficiency of horizontality must be taken as a very important factor.

> They are not mutually-exclusive.

You just said it's holding them/you back!

hhp

keith_tam's picture

You can move your sockets?! Report yourself to CIA BlackOps immediately! ;-)

I thought maybe you could ;-)

Yeah, I agree with your points, but it could be a matter of habits, I guess.

You just said it's holding them/you back!

It's a speculation. But perhaps they could co-exist in harmony? I don't know.

John Hudson's picture

The Chinese should look to the Arabs for developing strategies for experimenting towards a greater shift away from chirography and towards typography.

That's kind of ironic. I hear Arabic designers complaining about their own tradition's over-emphasis on the calligraphic far more often than I hear Chinese designers make the complaint. Looking at the popularity of 'Gothic' type styles in China, I'd suggest that in visual terms the Chinese are less bound to calligraphy than the Arabs. I believe Keith is talking less about design than about the relatively low cultural prestige of typography compared to calligraphy in China.

keith_tam's picture

I believe Keith is talking less about design than about the relatively low cultural prestige of typography compared to calligraphy in China.

Thanks, John. That's exactly what I meant. While the Japanese take their typesetting very seriouly, Chinese designers tend to treat everything as picture and go wild with effects. Not many people really care about text typography. No research is being done, and virtually no good text typefaces are being designed any more. All the foundries produce are display types, mostly calligraphic ones based on some historical sources, and some imported from Japanese. This really makes me envious of the really thoughtful contemporary Japanese text families like Hiragino Kaku Gothic. The Chinese doesn't even have a concept of what a type family is!

I'd suggest that in visual terms the Chinese are less bound to calligraphy than the Arabs.

That's very true, John. But I guess it's fashionable. They basically imitate what's going on in the West. Gothic = sanserif = modern. But calligraphic types such as Kai are popular too. Calligraphy is never going to go away. Calligraphers are still frequently commissioned to do architectural 'lettering' and mastheads in China. Chinese designers, though, do have a lot of freedom with their characters and are not afraid to take some risks, because they are not bound any typographic rules or rigid traditions. That could be a good thing, but it's also bad in some ways.

hrant's picture

John, I've seen a lot more experimental, anti-chirographic Arabic type than Chinese - haven't you noticed the strong wave in the last few years? BTW, having worked with both Arabs and Chinese people, I can say that the former do complain more in general, so maybe that explains that? :-)

> the relatively low cultural prestige of typography compared to calligraphy in China.

But of course they're related.

--

> The Chinese doesn't even have a concept of what a type family is!

Which the Arabs now do.

hhp

eomine's picture

well, i know a little Japanese too (my grandparents are Japanese actually). and i agree with recommendations from keith, paul and john.

i guess this is pretty basic (and you probably already knows it), but don't italicize Japanese. there's a lot of advertisement around using (fake) italics, but it's just unnatural.

about the vertical setting: afaik, all papers in Japan/China actually use it, and i think most people don't care about it. but, in the other hand, magazines and books are set horizontally.
does anyone know if there is a reason for this?

keith_tam's picture

about the vertical setting: afaik, all papers in Japan/China actually use it

Actually, most (if not all) newspapers in China use horizontal setting, a common practice since the Cultural Revolution. I think it was in fact strictly enforced by Chairman Mao! In Taiwan and Hong Kong, they use both vertical and horizontal. But recently all (I think!) newspapers in Hong Kong changed to horizontal setting too.

Italicizing CJK type is just plain silly! There are ways to emphasise text or indicate book titles and things like that. All proper nouns used to be 'side-lined' or underlined in Chinese, but very few people do it now, except perhaps in school text books. Emphasis used to be indicated by dots beside (or below if set horizontal) the text, but again, it's not common now. Book titles are either indicated by a wavy side- or under-lines, but now it's more common to use double angled brackets. Of course, it's always O.K. to switch fonts, for example, if you need a bold within a Sung (equiv. to serif) running text, you could use a Hei font (equiv. to sanserif). Plus it is quite acceptable to change size even within running text.

keith_tam's picture

in the other hand, magazines and books are set horizontally. does anyone know if there is a reason for this?

I actually think a lot of books are set vertically...

One of the issues to think about is when you set text vertically, the lines run from right to left, so the publication has to open on a differnt side, i.e. from the western point of view the book would start from the back. I think from a production perspective it is rather cumbersome. But I could be wrong.

hrant's picture

> There are ways to emphasise text

It's a shame Latin typographers are so conservative in that area. If a [text] font doesn't have an italic, it won't be taken seriously. Idiotic.

hhp

eomine's picture

Actually, most (if not all) newspapers in
China use horizontal setting


i didn

Christian Robertson's picture

I have a question--while taking Japanese 101 a couple of semesters ago I played around a little with the Japanese options on os x and thought it interesting that the characters are entered using the romanji, which is then switched by the computer to the kana characters. Is this the standard for typing in Japan? I have heard that there are keyboards for the kana characters, but are they commonly used?

What is the format for text entry in Chinese?

eomine's picture

>characters are entered using the romanji,
>which is then switched by the computer to the
>kana characters. Is this the standard for typing
>in Japan?


afaik, yes.

John Hudson's picture

There are various text input method editors for Chinese (my Windows XP system ships with six different Chinese IMEs). These use phonetic input, in response to which the IME offers me a choice of possible Chinese characters. I usually use a Pinyin keyboard, which is based on a romanisation (similar to the Japanese system you described), but I believe some mainland Chinese keyboards are based on bopomofo, which is a Chinese syllabic system (i.e. similar to kana).

keith_tam's picture

Well, I think it really helps if you can read the language! But I don't think it's absolutely essential, as long as you have a good proof-reader!

One general thing to watch out for is the leading - it needs to be larger for CJK typfaces than Latin ones, since CJK fonts don't have x-heights as such. The type occupies a lot more space on the body. This would also mean that CJK fonts generally appear to be larger than Latin ones. But that doesn't necessarily mean that you should set CJK type smaller than you would for Latin type. In fact, many people set them too small. Some Chinese characters (Kanji in Japanese) are very dense, so generally speaking larger type is more comfortable to read. Chinese and Japanese books, until very recently (turn of the last century), were set with really large type (something like 24 pt!).

Since you're designing for web: anti-aliased or bitmapped? From my own experience, if you have long texts, anti-aliased text is much easier on the eyes than aliased. Chinese web sites look much better in Safari under Jaguar, with Quartz smoothing! If you have short things like menus, then aliased is fine. Again, don't making anything too small! Always 12 px or above, if not 14 px.

A Japanese version of Univers, eh? Japanese people call these 'gothic'. Chinese people call them 'hei' (black). I have a really good suggestion.... Adobe's Hiragino Kaku Gothic Pro is excellent... the best 'sanserif' CJK typeface I've ever seen! It has tiny 'spikes' (flares) sticking out of the terminals.

I'm not Japanese myself, and I don't know Japanese. I hope my suggestions based on Chinese typography help, since Japanese uses Chinese characters too.

K.

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