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4–7 September, 2019

Thursday, 5 September | | Innovation Hall

Talk | Presented in Japanese

Rediscovering the Beauty of Kana

Today’s Japanese texts differ greatly in appearance from those of 150 years ago. Back then, publications were printed with wooden printing blocks. This process allowed letters to be more varied in size and proportion, with each letter having its own unique features. In addition, scripts were always written in cursive, with connecting strokes between characters. This diversity of lettershapes was key to the rich expression of written Japanese. With the onset of modern typography in Japan, punchcutters had to drastically change Kana characters to adjust to new technology. Letters once delicately fused together were now forcefully disconnected from one another, each made to uniformly fit the standard type size of em. From this point forward, characters became something to be designed individually in squares, radically changing Kana’s appearance. This principle remains unchanged even in today’s digital fonts. The em-based system has played an important role in achieving efficiency, facilitating calculations for typesetting, and enabling the horizontal spelling of Japanese texts. In exchange for convenience, however, the traditional beauty of Kana has been sacrificed significantly. This presentation looks back at the history of Kana and explores the possibility of restoring its classic grace.