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You are here: Home / Type & typography / Hiragana & Katakana: the voice of Japanese typefaces

Hiragana & Katakana: the voice of Japanese typefaces

Osamu Torinoumi, Reiko Hirai ATypI 2016 • Warsaw, Poland Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw ASP

The Japanese language is unique in that its written form combines four different scripts concurrently: Hiragana, Katakana, Kanji (Chinese characters) and Latin. The huge character set and the complexity of the composite Japanese script make its explanation challenging, with the result that most explanation are either basic or partial. This presentation digs deeper. A comparison of the frequency of use of Hiragana, Katakana, Kanji and Latin character in a Japanese text shows the dominant role of Kana (Hiragana and Katakana). This means that Kana most influences the tone of a paragraph, and determines the characteristic of a typeface. In spite of this importance, Kana presents challenges to designers, as there are no defined alignments like those in other scripts. Within the singular guideline of a square which encloses the form, there is considerable variation of form. Osamu Torinoumi argues that the key to understanding Kana design rests in the history of the script, from its inception in the 8th century, to current digital forms. The importance in designing Kana is to consider the inherent shape, stroke and rhythm of each Kana letter. Translation and English presentation will be handled by Reiko Hirai from Monotype.

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