Japanese Graphic Design: Not In Production 5

Japanese Graphic Design: Not in Production focuses on the activities of highly active designers, type foundries, distributors/retail spaces and Japanese design publications from the past ten years. The goal of this section is to help promote cognizance of graphic design activity in Japan — acknowledgement of such activity is often hindered by the linguistic and social differences between Japan and the rest of the world, yet this gap is lessening.

Booklet Press

A non-profit, small-scale press and independent publishing library located in Minato-ku’s Shibaura House. Run by architects Morishita Yu and Évita Yumul, Booklet is a free library devoted to small press initiatives, focused primarily on ‘zines and cultural publications.

More: http://bookletpress.org

Okano Kunihiko

A recent graduate of the TypeMedia program at the KABK in the Netherlands, Okano stands as perhaps the most nuanced and rigorous designer of Latin typefaces and lettering in Japan. His most recent typeface is Quintet, a layered script family available via House Industries’ PLINC system. Quintet demonstrates his years of experience studying the nuances of calligraphic lettering.

Kunihiko Okano’s approach represents a calligraphic-based approach that emphasizes legibility and readability in creating Latin character sets that complement the Japanese character sets for the typefaces he designs. A tireless and thorough craftsman, Okano is an unrelenting force in the Japanese sphere of typography. His work speaks for itself — graceful and poised type designs that retains the springy qualities of pen-rendering.

The AXIS Font family, much of which is the work of Okano, is the typeface family utilized by Apple, Nintendo, and Mazda to express the brands’ typographic voices in Japan. NTT Docomo, the largest mobile phone carrier in Japan, also utilizes AXIS as the default typeface for its handsets. Despite the contemporary styling of the AXIS Compact family, whose Latin forms follow the formal evolution of humanist sans serif typefaces such as Frutiger and Myriad, Okano is no mere default Modernist. His work exercises multiple perspectives — the chopped terminals of punch cutters, deep ink traps of the 1970s and 1980s, and exaggeratedly differentiated counter spaces enhance readability with one foot in the past and one solidly in the present. Okano’s typefaces move your eyes — some almost somnambulantly in their refinement, while others insinuate a rhumba, moving optics along in steady, surprising succession.

Okano’s logotype work operates in different terrain, often that of contemporary nostalgia — a national obsession with better days (given form via the 1995 movie Always — San-chôme no Yûhi, a gauzy, soft focus look at the post-War obsession with the automobile and the electric conveniences freshly offered to the general public at that time). While in no way overt, many of Okano’s works mine history for aspects of their base forms, then update them with the sharp angularity offered by an incisive sense of the contemporary. Okano is no retro revivalist offering up readymade solutions; his work is that of one who understands history, then synthesizes and sublimates the lessons of the masters into brave new form.

More: http://shotype.com

so+ba

This design studio in the Kyodo area of West Tokyo was established in 2001 by Swiss partners Susanna Baer and Alex Sonderegger. so+ba is active in the fields of graphic design, art direction, and sound visualization. Both partners teach typography and design at Tama Art University.

More: http://so-ba.cc

Dainippon Type Organization

Partners Tsukada Hidechika and Tsukada Tetsuya operate a hybrid typographic design practice and product design studio devoted to typographically-themed toys. Their “Toypography” project is a system of colorful, modular curved, and straight shapes for creating Latin and Japanese characters. Their playful take on connotative bilingual lettering treatments for corporate and commercial clients is both evocative and masterful, despite veering wildly from style to style.

More: http://dainippon.type.org

Yorifuji Bunpei

Mixing twee, oddball illustration, accomplished typography and pop color schemes, Yorifuji Bunpei’s work is omnipresent throughout Tokyo. Yorifuji-designed posters for the Tokyo Metro train system adorn every station and his public awareness campaigns for Japan Tobacco dot the streets of the city, reminding citizens of the potential good manners of smoking. His large-scale worked is backed up by the design of innumerable intimate art and photography monographs for small publishers like Nanarokusha (ナナロク社), Akagokusha (赤々舎).

Yorifuji has simultaneously produced multiple self-initiated projects. The yPad is a series of iPad-sized sketchbooks filled with grids, typographic tips, and project scheduling calendars intended to help designers. His bestselling self-published books The Catalogue of Death, Master of Imagination & Drawing and The Catalogue of Unco mix quirky illustration, oddball humor, and prose with appealing, well-considered typography and design.

More: http://www.bunpei.co/

Ian LYNAM
October 2, 2012

Ian Lynam is a graphic designer living in Tokyo and the art director of Neojaponisme. His website is located at ianlynam.com. His new book, Parallel Strokes, on the intersection of graffiti and typography is available now.

Japanese Graphic Design: Not In Production 4

Japanese Graphic Design: Not in Production focuses on the activities of highly active designers, type foundries, distributors/retail spaces and Japanese design publications from the past ten years. The goal of this section is to help promote cognizance of graphic design activity in Japan — acknowledgement of such activity is often hindered by the linguistic and social differences between Japan and the rest of the world, yet this gap is lessening.

Typecache.com

A repository of type from around the globe broken down by style and foundry — an excellent resource provided by Yumiba Taro and Yoshino Akira.

More: http://typecache.com

Tsunekawa Ryochi

Tsunekawa is a thorough designer of nostalgic Latin display typefaces. Mixing Art Deco, post-War advertising, and early Modernist sensibilities, this former architect-turned-full-time type designer continually releases highly appealing, poppy type designs informed by history.

More: http://dharmatype.com

Oubunshotai & Oubunshotai 2

Linotype’s type director Kobayashi Akira has published two excellent books on the use and nuances of Latin type written in Japanese, published by Bijutsu Shuppansha.

More: http://www.bijutsu.co.jp

THA

Nakamura Yugo’s interactive design studio is one of the most revered in the world, blending generative software, broadcast direction, web design and development, module device user interface design and self-initiated projects like the Framed electronic artwork system.

More: http://tha.jp

W+KTokyoLab

Advertising agency Wieden + Kennedy launched their W+K Tokyo Lab record label and Tokyo office in 2003. The office releases CDs and videos of contemporary Japanese pop music alongside highly expressive videos of the label’s artists. W+K Tokyo Lab has released music and visuals by instrumental hip-hop pioneers Hifana, beatboxer Afra, emcee Chinza Dopeness, electronic artist Jemapur, and a number of others. Co-founded by Wieden + Kennedy partner John Jay, it was taken to its full form under the direction of fellow co-founders Eric Cruz and Bruce Ikeda (both no longer with Wieden + Kennedy) alongside form-giving collaborators Gino Woo and Shane Lester.

More info: http://www.wktokyolab.com

Ian LYNAM
October 1, 2012

Ian Lynam is a graphic designer living in Tokyo and the art director of Neojaponisme. His website is located at ianlynam.com. His new book, Parallel Strokes, on the intersection of graffiti and typography is available now.

Japanese Graphic Design: Not In Production 3

Japanese Graphic Design: Not in Production focuses on the activities of highly active designers, type foundries, distributors/retail spaces and Japanese design publications from the past ten years. The goal of this section is to help promote cognizance of graphic design activity in Japan — acknowledgement of such activity is often hindered by the linguistic and social differences between Japan and the rest of the world, yet this gap is lessening.

Black Bath

Following a handful of years working alongside the expat design duo Namiki, Tamenaga Yasuyuki launched his studio Black Bath, focusing on graphic and interior design. Of particular note are his interiors for the offices of Google Japan.

More: http://black-bath.com

AQ

AQ is a digital design firm and consultancy based in Tokyo run by Chris Palmieri, Eiko Nagase, and Paul Baron. The firm founded Tokyo Art Beat, Tokyo’s online guide to visual culture events and create dynamic web design for a wide array of cultural and commercial clients.

More: http://aqworks.com

Art Space Tokyo

Written by Ashley Rawlings and Craig Mod, Art Space Tokyo acts as a 272-page personal guide and interpreter, connecting the reader with the neighborhoods and figures behind some of the most inspiring art spaces in Tokyo.

Each of the featured spaces has been rendered as a striking illustration by Takahashi Nobumasa. The book covers art spaces in neighborhoods such as Ginza, Yanaka, Gaienmae, Omotesando, Harajuku, Roppongi, Asakusa, and more. The neighborhood surrounding each art space has been meticulously mapped with recommendations for the best food, coffee and sights to enjoy in an afternoon of art viewing.

More: http://artspacetokyo.com

Akiyama Shin

One of Japan’s most prolific designers, Akiyama Shin has designed books for innumerable contemporary artists. He runs a Niigata-based practice and self-publishes his and others’ art and design projects via his edition.nord imprint.

More: http://akiyamashin.jp, http://editionnord.com

Axis type family

The definitive Japanese gothic typeface, designed by Type Project in conjunction with Kobayashi Akira and Okano Kunihiko.

More: http://www.typeproject.com

Ian LYNAM
September 28, 2012

Ian Lynam is a graphic designer living in Tokyo and the art director of Neojaponisme. His website is located at ianlynam.com. His new book, Parallel Strokes, on the intersection of graffiti and typography is available now.

Japanese Graphic Design: Not In Production 2

Japanese Graphic Design: Not in Production focuses on the activities of highly active designers, type foundries, distributors/retail spaces and Japanese design publications from the past ten years. The goal of this section is to help promote cognizance of graphic design activity in Japan — acknowledgement of such activity is often hindered by the linguistic and social differences between Japan and the rest of the world, yet this gap is lessening.

Matsuda Yukimasa

Matsuda Yukimasa’s books have presence amid the veritable sea of published books in Japan. His works have a near-magnetic pull on bookshelves — slim in stature, handsome in finish, and painstakingly detailed in quality. As objects alone they resonate. The choice of fine papers, docked page edges, die-cut wraparound covers, and exquisite choice of colors and type speak to the tastes and vision of their creator. The form of his books always directly correlate to the content within — honoring it and extrapolating upon a visual theme in a contemplative, poetic, and non-literal way. To say they are “beautiful” books is an understatement — they are the types of books that would make designers of yore weep in testament to their immaculate execution. This is not hyperbole — the work of Matsuda Yukimasa is rugged, assured and holistic in scope inside and out.

Having first delved into the world of editorial design in the 1980s alongside Sugiura Kohei, Matsuda’s path has been one that is ascendant, yet immersed in the development of private projects — unceasingly wide-eyed in his pursuit of research and exploration, applied form and deliberate choice. He creates work that pulls from history as much as contemporaneity to inform the structure of each page with an emphasis on functionality as much as beauty. Highy focused, yet wide-ranging in subject, they would sit easily in the Books On Books section as well as Graphic Design, Typography, Anthropology, or Art.

Of particular note is his self-authored and designed ZERRO, published in 2003. A compendium of extinct, exploratory, ubiquitous, and imaginative visual languages and symbols that ranges from the nonsensical to the exceedingly rare, ZERRO displays the singular mind at work behind his Ushiwaka-maru publishing imprint. Each spread contains an example of a visual rubric, a short history of said collection and a visual example — some painstakingly redrawn and others reproduced immaculately. From Cree Script to the set of symbols deployed by the Japanese Navy to the Cipher of Alchemy to revisionist scripts from Japanese history at moments where orthographic reform felt so immediate and necessary to a handful of individuals, ZERRO offers thousands of entry points for further research. At the very least, it is a neat collection of inspiring reductive visual form and at its most a virtual camera obscura looking unto the world of sign, symbol, and meaning.

Each of the projects that Matsuda undertakes reveals his fascination and curiosity with language and natural form, with history and synthesis, and with curation and contemplation. Agnostic in style, yet florid in execution, his work is a wonder to behold — the books embrace life and experience in a way that few do.

We are at a moment in the continuum of graphic design where self-initiated projects carry as much weight as client-based projects and Matsuda fits more than neatly into this. More an archetype than a follower, Matsuda’s work enriches Japanese design culture in an active way — as a historian, a writer, an editor, a form-maker, a designer, and a publisher. His work is of near-utopian synthesis and each aggregate part is completed with acumen. For content, form and production to be so neatly folded together so tidily and yet so exuberantly is a treasure.

More: http://www.matzda.co.jp

Torinoumi Osamu/Jiyu Kobo

Born in 1955. Graduated from Graphic Design Course of Tama Art University. In 1989 Torinoumi founded Jiyu Kobo with Suzuki Tsutomu and Katada Keiichi, where he now works as both the CEO and type designer.

Torionumi has designed typefaces like Hiragino series (for Dainipon Screen Mfg., Ltd.) and the commissioned Koburina Gothic. He also designed more than forty typefaces, focusing on text type designs, as well as producing his own house brand The Yu-shotai Library whose releases include the Yu-Mincho family, the Yu-Gothic family, Yu-tsuki Midachi Mincho, and Yu-Kyokashotai M.

Jiyu Kobo received the first Keinosuke Satou award for its activities, the Good Design Award in 2005 for their Hiragino family, and the Tokyo TDC Type Design Award in 2008. Torinoumi teaches in the graphic design course at Kyoto Seika University.

More: http://www.jiyu-kobo.co.jp

Too Much

Subtitled the “Magazine of Romantic Geography,” Too Much focuses on cities through the lens of urbanism and the poetic. Founded by Tsujimura Yoshi of OK Fred Magazine and Cameron McKean of Paper Sky Magazine, Too Much treads an edgy path through the bywaters of global cities.

Excerpted from an interview with Cameron McKean:

After leaving New Zealand and moving to Tokyo in 2007 my ideas about what constituted “design” ballooned out, past all the commercial projects I’d done or seen, past art-making, and this ballooning-out eventually popped sometime around 2008. This was when I started writing as a way of taking things back to the beginning – just thinking and words. Later I started taking photos. My “practice” is one of demotivation and finding a single solid place to start from rather than a desire for interdisciplinarity or variety. Although we might have forgotten lots of the practical general skills our grandfathers knew, it seems that creative freelancers these days are generalists of a different kind — there are just too many possible spaces for design to exist in. Having a varied practice is just a necessary evil these days — how nice it would be to truly specialize!

More: http://toomuchmagazine.com

Utrecht

Situated in Tokyo’s bustling Omotesando neighborhood, Utrecht focuses on small publishing, both releasing their own titles and their bookshop housing a wide array of design — and art-oriented publications from all over the world.

More: http://www.utrecht.jp

Shirai Design Studio

Acting art directors and designers of Idea Magazine, Shirai Yoshihisa’s studio team are typographically rigorous, formally evocative, and gentle in treatment of ornament. Projects for Robundo, Ryobi, Seibundo Shinkosha and many other private concerns make up their body of work, celebrated in their recent book Typography Suite and the accompanying exhibition of the past two decades of graphic design work. Shirai is faculty at Musashino Art University.

Ian LYNAM
September 27, 2012

Ian Lynam is a graphic designer living in Tokyo and the art director of Neojaponisme. His website is located at ianlynam.com. His new book, Parallel Strokes, on the intersection of graffiti and typography is available now.

Japanese Graphic Design: Not In Production

Japanese Graphic Design: Not In Production

A week-long, seven part series about contemporary Japanese Graphic Design. Today’s initial post offers a critique of the current international graphic design retrospective exhibition traveling across the United States and its disavowal of graphic design culture outside of America and Western Europe. This will be followed by a series of posts highlighting contemporary Japan-based graphic design activity of interest, introducing assorted designers, design studios, and other, more wide-ranging practices.

2011 saw the opening of Graphic Design: Now in Production, a massive, sprawling exhibition at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with the exhibition set to later travel to the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York, the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, and the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art in North Carolina.

Accompanying the exhibition is the release of a catalog with the same title. Andrew Blauvelt of the Walker Art Center and Ellen Lupton of the Cooper-Hewitt curated both, with Ian Albinson of artofthetitle.com, Jeremy Leslie of magCulture.com, and Armin Vit and Bryony Gomez-Palacio of BrandNew/Under Consideration in additional curatorial roles.

The catalog’s introduction reads that the book is “Gently inspired by The Last Whole Earth Catalog,” mixing “short chunks of text with images from contemporary practice, anchored by a series of longer essays.” The introduction speaks about the pitfalls of attempting to shore up a recent history, in particular the past decade, of graphic design as a sphere of activity and production, and in this respect, the catalog falls far short of its attempt at documenting graphic design on a truly global scale.

Methodologically, putting together a paragraph about assorted practices, projects, methodologies, and visual trends is a fairly easy task. As a practicing graphic designer, I was aware of an easy ninety percent of the projects covered within the book. Sure, it takes time to write 500 short paragraphs about 500 subjects, but all within are easy targets.

As usual, Experimental Jetset get a disproportionate amount of coverage and fills it with a cocky, one-trick pony, having distilled a “punk rock” reaction to design practice and history and then slathering it with an easy quote from a dead theorist.1 Åbäke get their usual turn, as well — their poor form and “exploratory” practice2 backed up with the somehow still “cool” “parasite magazine” hogging up a handful of pages. I do not disagree that Experimental Jetset and Åbäke should be mentioned and get their fair due — I mean, where would we be in this contemporary age overwrought with Helvetica without EJ?3 — but are they so important as to trot out visual and semantic equivalents of a wet fart as “premium” content for this catalog and have it go unmentioned? And wouldn’t the Åbäke parasite magazine reduced to a photo with a blurb jutting from the gutter of one page be enough?

Then, there are the glaring omissions. Where is the wild and exciting form-making of Universal Everything/Matt Pyke? Where are Craig Mod‘s lovely paeans about electronic publishing and design? Where are Nieves and the current trend of content-lite chapbooks masquerading as zines? Where is the @font-face/webfont revolution? Where are Northern Mexico’s amazing DJ logos? I mean, the church-burning black metal cult get their moment via Christophe Szpajdel‘s Bic pen acrobatics, but what about the blissed-out folks surrounded by terror, yet exercising none themselves? And why the hell is the Linux logo in there? No graphic designer gives a shiiiiiit about that thing. In short, the state of graphic design is on fire (or at the very least is being subjected to an overwhelming amount of shortsightedness), but everyone’s too busy Tweeting and “starting up” and mimicking old Archis layouts to get down to business.

What is truly lacking in the book and exhibition is a sense of scope: Graphic Design: Now in Production represents a North American/Western European worldview toward graphic design that eschews the labors of much of the world. Notably absent is much mention of recent graphic design activity in Africa, Asia, and the South Pacific. With short-format writing the dominant trend at the present moment, solid strategic thinking should be present in initiatives to represent any holistic approach to an area of cultural production. Sure, the writing can be short and pithy, but it should be far-reaching in the material covered.

If observed on a macro-level, certain countries get the short end of the stick. Korea, for one, is wholly unrepresented in the catalog. The most influential graphic designer in that country Ahn Sang-Soo receives no mention despite the fact that his work has revolutionized and energized graphic design as an area of intensified interest. Younger, well-known Korean graphic designers whom have studied abroad such as Sulki and Min Choi also do not appear in the book, even though they have instigated a very defined and widely-published aesthetic and methodological approach4. Less well-known, but equally influential and highly participatory projects such as Ondol/A Few Warm Stones5 are also ignored. In essence, the message from America being sent is, “Thanks, Korea. We’ll gladly take your study abroad students, but we’ll be damned if we’ll acknowledge any contributions from your country.”

Also lacking are contributions from so many other countries — the effect of easily available software and computing on Ethiopian and Eritrean music packaging, the Thai signage landscape, branding in Singapore, and innumerable others. New Zealand gets a random single hit through the work of David Bennewith‘s monograph on Joseph Churchward, but nowhere is Kris Sowersby, New Zealand’s immensely popular leading type designer.

Japan, the country in which I reside, gets a mention in the catalog, though one that is fleeting and not wholly correct. The activity of the Morisawa Corporation gets a brief writeup by curator Andrew Blauveldt:

Morisawa
The Japanese language employs three different language systems: kanji, hiragana and katakana, representing thousands of characters. This reality, coupled with the complex nature of character strokes, makes font design for the Japanese language especially difficult and demanding. Japan’s leading maker of fonts is Morisawa, a company whose roots reach back to 1924. Morisawa typically spends up to four years to meticulously render its typefaces, which can be found throughout the country in use on everything from signs to screens.

A more accurate description is that the Japanese visual language is comprised of a number of other systems, as well as including Latin characters and analphabetic symbols.6; To be ignored is one matter, but for a whole country’s activity to be given a glossed-over, under-informed conflation through the prism of a sole company/easy target is just as insulting. Sure, Morisawa is the biggest type foundry/distributor in Japan, but the company is by no means the best. The past decade has seen Morisawa’s primary advance be a push for annual font licensing through their Morisawa Passport subscription program, not the development of excellent typefaces. Many smaller type foundries have popped up or refined their game, offering far more formally thorough typefaces that render better at smaller sizes than Morisawa’s. In essence, an attempt at an easy summation and a lack of sophisticated understanding is provided in lieu of in-depth cultural analysis. (Moreover, if the Morisawa entry was not included, this whole essay most likely would have never come into being.)

Morisawa is an odd choice as the representative of design activity in Japan. Known quantities/old guard such as Hara Kenya and his work for Muji, Groovisions, Nakajima Hideki, and Sugiura Kohei are not mentioned. Newer Japanese practitioners whose work is widely respected and whom have helped shape global aesthetics over the past decade such as W+K Tokyo Lab (in the realm of formally rich, detail-oriented motion graphics), Dainippon Type Organization (operating at the intersection of concept and modular typography/lettering), and Nakamura Yugo’s THA (trailblazing web-based aesthetics and practices7) also go unmentioned. In their stead, the reader is lobbed an easy, sloppy catch — akin to summing up American graphic design as summarized by Adobe or British graphic design as being exemplified by Monotype Imaging Ltd.

Aside from purely typographic and orthographic concerns, Graphic Design: Now in Production neatly mirrors the lack of regard and research exhibited by graphic design-oriented writers and researchers toward areas other than Western Europe and North America since the establishment of a body of writing about graphic design as a practice.8 Graphic design is not merely an America/Euro-centric First World pursuit, and the cultures and histories surrounding the development of graphic design elsewhere are worthy of pursuit.

It is with this disregard for acknowledgement and discontent with the cultural viewpoint expressed in Graphic Design: Now in Production that we have put together Japanese Graphic Design: Not in Production. Gently inspired by a myopic worldview of graphic design activity, and mimicking the form and format of Graphic Design: Now in Production, what will follow shortly is an overview of contemporary Japanese graphic design practices in a mix of short-format texts accompanying images with outbound links in the version here.9 The focus of this feature is equally myopic, showing only a number of important projects and practices from within Japan that have surfaced in the past decade. It is my hope that it will act as a localized supplement to the greater understanding of design activity.

Japanese Graphic Design: Not in Production focuses on the activities of highly active designers, type foundries and Japanese design publications from the past ten years. The goal of this section is to help promote cognizance of graphic design activity in Japan — acknowledgement of such activity is often hindered by the linguistic and social differences between Japan and the rest of the world, yet this gap is lessening. The activity of publications like Idea and +81; Japan-based international designers like Helmut Schmid and AQ; and internationally-minded Japanese graphic designers like Hara Kenya have helped to increase the communication and awareness of Japanese graphic design as a sector of culture and cultural production. It is my hope that the follow-up feature helps serve the same purpose. It is by no means a holistic, comprehensive collation of all important graphic design activity in contemporary Japan, and pointedly veers in the direction of smaller, more critically-oriented practices and publications.10

A culture having a different language and a divergent history does not make the culture off-limits for international review. This should be a challenge to individuals examining graphic design as documentarians — the world is larger than navel-gazing information graphics analyzing one’s personal consumption habits, as popular as that may be. Other languages and cultures are intensely more interesting in the long run. In particular, Japan’s history in regards to graphic design has been under-analyzed in the English language, both in the historic and contemporary schemes11. It is worth straying from the comfortable and easily understood to cast a wider net: observing and analyzing graphic design from a wider perspective. It is also worth questioning what is presented in officious formats: because something is plated does not make it food. In the case of Graphic Design: Now in Production, this analogy may not be wholly apt, but I, for one, left the dinner table still feeling hungry.

1 I really, really wonder how “important” Experimental Jetset really are. They have a staggeringly huge body of work, but when conflated, it is often a simplistic collection: “One concept/visual style per project only, please move along…” This was discussed more at length in the essay “With A Spatula In Her Hand” in my self-published The Space Is The Place Supplement and reprinted in Slanted Magazine #19.

2 Åbäke have made it excusable for every half-baked cultural practice to parade itself as being somehow graphic design-oriented.

3 Their “self-critiquing” works have already been wrung and hung out to dry by Randy Nakamura in “On The Uselessness of Design Citicism”.

4 Notably, that of the Werkplaats Typogrpaphie.

5 Ondol is a student research project led by Chris Ro that explores Korean graphic design and typographic history in journal form also go unnoticed. With only two volumes published to date, Ondol has already greatly added to the discourse and body of Korean graphic design literature, education, and understanding.

6 The following is excerpted from Japanese Typography Part One: Building Blocks, published in Slanted #11:

The core components of the Japanese language:

kanji
This is the family of Chinese logographic characters imported to Japan which are utilized to write nouns and the bases of verbs and adjectives. Kanji are morphograms — visual symbols which represent words rather than sounds. They can be a bit confusing, however, in that the forms of Chinese calligraphy were borrowed and used to represent natively Japanese concepts and subjects. Some kanji are fairly direct pictograms, while others represent ideas. Kanji include huge numbers of compound characters, as well. Some kanji can have up to ten different readings (base meanings/morphemes).

There are over 50,000 characters that comprise the kanji system, though between 2,000 to 3,000 are in common use in Japan.

hiragana
The syllabic family of Japanese characters that can be used to spell out words phonetically, be that a form of kanji, or not, as is the case for many Japanese words to inflect language. Hiragana developed from Chinese characters used to aid pronunciation, a practice which originated in the 5th century. Originally, there was more than one hiragana character for each syllable in the Japanese language, but this was reformed in 1900, and one character (or character set) was codified for each sound. Hiragana, being simplified calligraphic characters, are formally fluid and graceful.

There are 46 hiragana characters currently in use.

katakana
The syllabic family of Japanese characters utilized for words from foreign languages, onomatopoeia, and to spell out difficult kanji-based words. Katakana were potentially developed from simplified Chinese characters as a form of shorthand, though a conflicting and disputed theory exists that they are a form of imported script from Korea.

There are 46 hiragana characters currently in use.

romaji
The Western alphabet, sprinkled liberally throughout written Japanese where appropriate for ease, atmosphere and communicativity. Latin lettering is often simplified in terms of the omission of macrons and circumflexes necessary to pronounce Japanese words correctly (which just leads to further confusion for all involved).

numerals
Based on Chinese numerals, there are a number of systems including a common one that utilizes a minimum of strokes per character, as well as a formal numbering system used for financial documents.

punctuation
Japanese punctuation is as highly developed as punctuation in Western languages, though very different formally. For example, in lieu of quotation marks, Japanese uses its own form, called kagikakko, i.e.:「Hello!」Western punctuation is utilized, as well, in particular question and exclamation marks.

non-alphabetic characters
Included in most Japanese digital typefaces is a large collection of marks and symbols used to delineate abstract ideas such as “postal code” (〒)

The Japanese language is a mix of all of these different systems, each with several subcategories.

7 i.e: Ffffound!, Pinterest’s precursor and archetype

8 That being said, despite many design educators’ grumblings, Philip Meggs and Alston Purvis should be praised for the brief history of Japanese commercial art that was folded into their History of Graphic Design.

9 The print version of this essay is bolstered by texts not applicable to Néojaponisme’s Japan-centric focus.

10 The work of more popular designers such as Hara Kenya and Nakajima Hideki get a fair amount of play in the contemporary global graphic design press at present.

11 Korea’s even less so.

Ian LYNAM
September 25, 2012

Ian Lynam is a graphic designer living in Tokyo and the art director of Neojaponisme. His website is located at ianlynam.com. His new book, Parallel Strokes, on the intersection of graffiti and typography is available now.