The last letter engraver Kinnosuke Shimizu.

January 11th, 2010

The type event in 2010 started with the letter engraving demonstration at the Ota Bunka no Mori, in Ota Ward, Tokyo. An engraver craftsman Kinnosuke Shimizu, who turned 88 years old on that day, is one of the last letter original engraver craftsman in Japan.

Left: Ota Bunka no Mori center in Ota Ward where the demonstration event was held. Right: Attendees were gathering around Shimizu’s table.

When I entered the room, he already started cutting letters sitting on the floor in front of a wooden work table. A bunch of attendees were gathering and crowded around his table. A desk lamp illuminated his fingers, but it is hard to see how he cut the letter because the metal stick he was going on was very small. Sometime, the stick he picked was shining in his fingers. Using an old loupe, Shimizu gazed at the stick. He sometime rotated it, and the tiny chisel was slightly moving on the top of the stick. He showed superb technique and made letters slowly one by one. He seemed to be very fine. It was hard to believe he turned 88 years old today.

Left: Shimizu was sitting on the floor toward his work table. Right: Shimizu explained how to curve letters to attendees.

While he concentrated cutting letters, often said that “Let me know if you have a question, I can answer them working on demonstration.” So I hesitantly asked him some questions.

According to him, he started cutting letters when he was 14. He worked hard all the day, it took about five years to cut letters well. The workshop he joined had five craftsmen, included him but it had few dozens craftsmen at peak, which produced about fifty letters per day.

I expected cutting tiny letters such a ruby, so called Rubi in Japanese and is used for a furigana superscripts, takes a longer time than larger ones such Shogo 初号. But he told me that “Cutting smaller letters are easy. Rather, large size letters need to take a time. They require accurate quality, so, it took much care for cutting them. While cutting average small letters takes about a twenty minutes, but average large size letters such Shogo take a few hours. Of course it depends on its size and complexity.”

Left top: He gazed at the stick through the loupe. Right top: A tiny stick he picked was shining in his fingers. “Cutting reversed letters is easier than writing normal letters. I can’t write normal letters well,” he said with a smile.

“Do you have any pupil or is there any followers to try to make it?” I asked. Then “No, there’s no demand for engraving letters at all, but I can teach you if you want,” he answered with a smile. “Because of appearing new technology, (might be the Benton cutting machine and a photo type setting technology) most of punch cutters had to retire, then he left the job about fifty years ago. After some decades passed, however, some type designer asked me to demonstrate cutting letters at the letter press event. At first, I denied because I forgot, plus I no longer had tools for that. But my wife still had all of them. So, I tried to do that, then I could,” he explained.

“I would like to say thank all of you guys. Thanks to everyone’s help, I have been a craftsman for a long tome and am able to show this demonstration today. It was a pity when I lost a job because of new technology, but I’m happy I can show you guys cutting letters due to all of your interests,” he added.

Left top: A T-formed loupe stand he customized. Right top: Hold a letter stick like this. Left bottom: Left hand which holds a letter stick is set on the end of the horizontal bar, and right hand which grabs a chisel is put on the right side. Right bottom: An enlarged letter stick reads 鶴龜 pronounce Tsuru Kame, means crane and turtle, which are the symbol to bring happiness. 鶴 has 21 strokes, and 龜 has 16 strokes within about 5mm square each.

Left: A grind stone, Right: All chisels he uses are made by himself. He customized them to fit his hand and fingers. Meanwhile, counterpunches are used in making Latin alphabet punches, Shimizu grave letters without any counterpunch. Almost of Kanji letters have many complicated crossing strokes, which create thousand kinds of counter shapes. That’s why, making counter punches to fit all kind of counter shapes is not economic way at all.

When we are talking about a font regardless of digital or letterpress, we tend to focus on type design or typography, which is to say what we can see only. However, the fonts we have now and letterpress on an old book were provided by the collaboration between designers and engineers or craftsman like Shimizu. Without craftsman/engineer’s skills and big efforts to making fonts, these are never provided to users. When we get a font, I think we have to imagine not only designers but also craftsmen and engineers who had worked hard to make it.

Left top: Shogo 初号, engraved directly by Shimizu. Right top:Original letters made by Shimizu were displayed at the corner in the room. Visitors were able to see the superb skills Shimizu had. Letters were shining and glaring and had sharp edge. Left bottom: He prepared these letters for this event. Right bottom: Rubi letters. Katakana letter within 2mm square.

As I mentioned above, it was the Shimizu’s 88th birthday. After the demonstration event, the birthday party celebrates his Beiju “米寿, 米 consists Kanji numeral 八十八, reads eighty-eight, and 寿 means celebration” was held nearby the event place. That’s too bad, I couldn’t join the party, but I was sure the party must be exciting. I hope to see his demonstrations again. Congratulations, Mr. Kinnosuke Shimizu.

To know some terms for letterpress and electrotype, I asked typophilers about them here. I would like to say thank to those who helped me out.

The Tiger year 2010.

January 5th, 2010

2010 has come. In Japan, we generally exchange a New year’s card with friends, colleagues and relatives instead of a Christmas card. Here is my card. When we design a new year card, we use an image of animal to express new year, which is called Eto 干支. From mouse to wild boar, twelve kinds of animals are the members of Eto, which is also known for the Japanese ancient counting way not only years but also the day and time by using these twelve animals, which revolve every year one by one like Duodecimal. Tiger “寅:tora” is the symbol for 2010.

Left: My new year card in 2010. Right: I bought a white arrow when I went to first visit to Tomioka Hachiman Shrine. And a lovely tiger ceramic bell my brother gave me.

The later part of last year, I couldn’t provide any articles to update my blog. I don’t want to excuse it was because of the hard schedule. But as I concentrated on the type design project I joined, so some type design works were available by the end of last year.

Thanks to the people who interested in this blog, I could get some comments and email last year, which encouraged me a lot, and I found those who are interested in Japanese font and type design all over the worltd. I was glad to hear from all of them. I’m sure I’ll post topics related to Japanese type design and typography in 2010. I wish we meet again and hope to get your interests to this site. Thanks.

Automotive Designers’ Night Tokyo

October 21st, 2009

A bunch of designers were coming to Automotive Designer’s Night Tokyo which was held at AXIS gallery, in Roppongi, Tokyo, titled Kurumaza 車座, literary means sitting in a circle, 車 means car in Japanese, as a pre-event of Tokyo Motor Show 2009. The room was packed and loud, so it was hard to catch what neighbors are saying. Attendees might discuss and talked about something hot topic related to car vehicles or ecology issues. The medias reported the Tokyo Motor Show was shrinking because of the withdrawal of Euro and US car makers, but the room was warming up and seemed to be no sign of descending car market but filled with emotions to the future.

The sponsor companies showed its products there, Denso previewed Good Design Award 2009 Frontier Design Award Winner Driver’s font and provided the series of business card-sized papers to applicants. They could get the cards with their name printed by Driver’s font. It contained 4 cards, 3 styles of Driver’s font, Driving, Neutral and Sports Mode, plus a serial number card. There seem to be a lot of hurdles in order that Driver’s font will be available in automotive instruments, but I hope the fonts will be welcomed by car makers.

The series of cards provided by Denso at Automotive Designer’s Night Tokyo.

Tokyo Motor Show 2009 will be held from October 23rd through November 4th.

Three font-related works got the Good Design Award

October 1st, 2009

Japan Industrial Design Promotion Organization announced the results of the Good Design Award 2009 on October 1st. Good Design Award is the only annual comprehensive design commending system in Japan, and the award-winning works get the right to show the G-mark for its promotion on the several kind of media by paying annual fee. The award winning works in 2009 contained three font related works.

Driver’s font
Driver’s font designed by Type Project collaborated with Denso, is the supplier mainly car equipments and air conditioner, got the Frontier Design Award.

Driver’s font was designed to support car drivers in 2007 as a prototype work, which is now in progress to develop, based on the assumption in light of the research for driver’s situation.

While driving a car, a driver needs to concentrate gazing forward and have to glance at information on the equipment panels such a speed mater or car navigation system. The driver recognizes the information by remembering the image what the panels showed after glancing at the panels. The driver repeats these actions concentrating forward. The interval to check panels will change depends on its car speed. To keep the impressions that driver imprinted, the letters needs to be required clear legibility and generating strong impressions. Driver’s font gives driver stabilized visual images by modulating letters along with car speed. When the car in high speed, the letters become a bit bolder to enhance strong images to the driver, on the other hand, the car is staying, the letter looks calm by showing the letter thinner.

Driver’s font has three styles, Urban mode and Enthusiast mode, plus Enthusiast Italic “Power Band”mode for Sports mode. The letters in Enthusiast mode enhanced the characteristics of the letters such as the terminals and thickness of the strokes and serifs, compared with the Urban mode, which helps drivers be able to easily catch the letters on the panels in high speed.

Reference: AXIS magazine vol. 136 contains an article on Driver’s font.

Iwata Universal Design font
Iwata Universal Design font got the Life-Scape Design Award. This font is the pioneer of the Universal Design font trend in Japan. Universal Design font, abbreviated UD Font, is becoming popular in Japanese typeface market after Iwata’s UD font was released in 2006. Above all, Product design field welcomed to use UD fonts designing products with Universal Design philosophy. Iwata collaborated with Panasonic, is the major home-electronics, audio and visual device maker, to make its UD fonts in order to help those with weak-eyes and aged-eyes. The other type foundries followed to make UD fonts.

Fontpark 2.0
MORISAWA Fontpark 2.0 designed by Yugo Nakamura (tha ltd, in 2008 is a unique attraction interface. User can play to draw a picture using strokes and elements of letters from Morisawa Font Library. And it is available to save the picture to the web site, then visitors can watch the archives replaying making process of the work. Enjoy this font park.

A short trip to celebrate the Centennial for Tomi-no-oka vineyard

September 26th, 2009

At nine o’clock sharp, the JR Shinjuku station the Chuo line track 10, I got on the Limited Express Azusa #9 bound for Kofu, Yamanashi Prefecture neighboring Tokyo, to join the event cerebrated the centennial anniversary of Tomi-no-oka vineyard by Suntory, beverage and liquor maker. As I designed a logotype for the vineyard’s centennial anniversary, I’ve been thinking to visit there during the centennial events would be held by the end of this year. The event I submitted included a tour in the winery and a special dinner with five Tomi-no-oka wines.

As the train approached Kofu, vineyards spread along with the track, Yamamashi is known for producing some kinds of fruits, especially Kofu, where is the land suitable for vineyard.

After arriving at the Kofu station, to waste a time until the tour would start, I came by Yamamashi Museum to see the Millet collection. Taking a lunch with Houtou noodles, famous as popular food for Yamanashi people, then returned to the Kofu station.

Getting on the shuttle bus to the vineyard, it took around twenty minutes, then the buildings in the winery covered with white wall appeared among the mountain. After an entrance procedure, the tour started with the guidance by Mr. Shounai, Brewery Manager.

As the tour started from the evening, all production line in the factory had already finished, we just went through the brewery facilities to see all rooms one by one and arrived at the wine cellar in the tunnel of the Tomi-no-oka hill. A hundreds of wine casks were laid quietly and waiting for bottling. The next room preserved the thousands of wine bottles waiting for the release date.

After watching the facilities, we got on the bus again and went to see the vineyard. The bus went through the forest, then the vineyards appeared in front of the bus. The vineyard spread on the southern slope on the hill with direct sunlight. From the top of the Tomi-no-oka hill, I could see the Kofu Bonchi Basin surrounded by high mountains called Minami Alps mountain chains, named after the Alps in Switzerland, but unfortunately, clouds covered Mt. Fuji.

Shounai allowed the tour members to bite grapes in the vineyard, known as Merlot for red wine, where would be harvested soon. “Wow! Delicious and Sweeeet!!” I didn’t expect the grape for wine is very delicious.

Then, evening twilight has come, the sky turns dark, the town lights in Kofu area started to lit up. The twilight dinner started and served beautiful and brilliant skilled dishes by the ingredients in Kofu with five Tomi-no-oka wines. We enjoyed the marriage with delicacies and wines. I was very glad to find the vineyard is excellent and fantastic place, and it was a great chance to work for the vineyard. To the next hundred years of Tomi-no-oka vineyard, Cheers!

Left: The bottle cerebrated the centennial anniversary for the Tomi-no-oka labeled with the logotype I made (Not for sale). Creative director of Suntory send me them after the tour. Right: The quarterly magazine published by Suntory titled “クォータリー: Quarterly” Vol.88 described the history of Tomi-no-oka vineyard.

Kinshachi Font Project

September 21st, 2009 announced that the Kinshachi font project has started and will out draft sketches for the Kinshachi font on November 1st. The teaser advertising for the project designed by Openends also showed on its web site, which has a major impact. This striking and interesting photo was taken in front of the Kinshachi.

What is the Kinshachi? Kinshachi, abbreviated from Kin-no-Shachihoko means a Golden tiger-headed with a dolphin body, is a symbol decoration usually on the top of the Japanese old castle. The gilded body Especially, the pair of the ones on the top of Nagoya Castle, located in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture,  central part of Japan, are the best known ones in Japan. So speaking Kinshachi, it reminds me of Nagoya Castle.

The organized by Type Project started the project to make a font for a city in Japan. It launched about three months ago and now they are looking for the city which wants to make an original font.

The founder of the cityfont project, Isao Suzuki, is also a founder of Type Project, started this project with the designers who will join the Nagoya Design Week and those who based in Nagoya city. Suzuki also came from Nagoya city and now bases in Tokyo. In 2010, Nagoya city will mark the 400th anniversary of the old Nagoya Shogunate town launched in 1610. To mark the occasion, they planed this.

Making an original font for a city becomes one of good solutions for the city which is likely to have its own specialty. A city font will work like a dialect which expresses a specific characteristic of the region, which will work as a tool of the brand identity. That’s why, it makes sense to use the Kinshachi as a motif to express Nagoya city.

I’ll follow the project and report it when the draft sketches out.

Torinoumi gave a presentation at UD publishing collegium.

July 25th, 2009

The talk show began with showing a photo taken Mt. Chokaizan volcano, located on the border Yamagata and Akita Prefecture in Tohoku Region, the Northern part of Japan. Snow on the top of the mountain is brilliant and beautiful, rice fields spread around the foot of the mountain, beautiful rivers run through the field. This place is known as the location of the Academy Award winner movie Departures. Torinoumi was born and raised there.

Osamu Torinoumi is the head of Jiyukobo Inc. (字游工房), is known for designing Hiragino font family bandled on Mac OSX. After working for Shaken, was the biggest photo-type setting machine maker in Japan, as a type designer, he was the one of two co-founders of Jiyukobo under ex-boss Tsutomu Suzuki, was founder of Jiyukobo and passed away in 1996, and now leads the office.

When Torinoumi was a student of Tama Art University, he visited Mainichi Shinbun Co., Ltd., (The Mainichi Newspapers), to see a workplace for making typeface for its newspapers. Torinoumi decided to become a type designer by the word from Masahiko Kozuka, a type designer giant in Japan and worked for there at that time, that “For Japanese people, Letter is like rice and water.” He might remember the scene in his childhood.

Left: The event was held at Japan Braille Library (日本点字図書館) in Takadanobaba, Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo. Right: The event room displayed the slides Torinoumi provided.

The talk show had three parts. First, Torinoumi introduced the history of Letter in China and Japan briefly, then talked about the issues titled “About the topic on the body text which make users feel annoyed.” He showed the tips for how to choose a proper Japanese typeface for body text comparing several kind of typefaces, for example, the balance of black and white, body size and the balance with the Latin alphabet. As for the balance of black and white, usually, Kanji letter becomes darker as its number of strokes is increasing. When setting all Kanji characters, you have to pay much attention to the contrast of the texture. If the contrast is high, it’s not good for a body text. The typefaces Jiyukobo made were really well-balanced and moderate texture. The references he showed were very clear to find the differences among the typefaces.

“I believe that typefaces for body text have played an essential role for developing Japanese culture after Meiji era. In order to provide the contents on the several kinds of medias such as books, comics or magazines, typefaces on these medias must have clearly showed its contents to readers, which means typefaces were a pillar part of Japanese culture,” Torinoumi said. “I hope to make a typeface which can be used for these medias for a long time,” he continued.

In addition that, he told us an interesting episode about typeface design. “I can say typeface has dignity because I know most of people think typeface has dignity,” he said looking back the presentation he gave before. “I asked the attendees whether you think Ishii Ming-cho from Shaken (well known for one of the excellent design) has dignity? then, ninety percent of them answered ‘yes’. I thought it meant typeface is able to have dignity. In order that typeface lives for a long time, it needs to have dignity, I thought we have to take care that point when we design fonts.”

Torinoumi also mentioned about the UD fonts (Universal Design font). UD font is becoming a hot topic in Japanese typeface market because of the design trend in Japan. Especially Product design field tends to design products with Universal Design philosophy. About the trend, “I hope you had better to take care where the UD fonts should be used. I don’t think the UD fonts are versatile. Some of UD fonts might be good for titles, signs or interfaces for electronic devices, but I don’t think they would work for body text of books or magazines,” Torinoumi said.

The second part was a presentation about the project making original Kana font for the printing company, Caps inc. The project started by the request from Caps Inc. for its exclusive use. Torinoumi made two sibling Kana fonts, the one named “Bunrei-Kana (文麗仮名)” is for Japanese literature, especially early-modern literature, the other named “Soukyu-Kana (蒼穹仮名)” is for translated foreign literature. Because the word came from overseas such as character’s name are expressed with Katakana in Japanese language. There are thousands of Katakana words in the sentences on Translated literature. Soukyu-Kana featured distinguished Katakanas compared with Bunrei-Kana.

Before starting to make letters, he read the book titled Kokoro by Soseki Natsume, the one of famous Japanese old literature, to develop design images. The story described character’s compassion, so Torinoumi wanted to make letters one-by-one with much compassion.

Usually, Torinoumi draws draft design with a lettering method. But in this project, he decided to challenge the way he never tried before. First, he drew the skeleton of letter on the 20 millimeter squared guide lined paper with pencil. Then he drew draft design with a brash with method of Calligraphy. By drawing letter with a brash at once, he thought the letter got natural forms featured specific brash movement. At that moment, he thought “I’m fabulous and no type designer who is able to draw such these excellent letters.” However he had to change his mind soon.

Left: The draft design on the drawing paper with 20mm-square guideline. Right: After enlarged them to 48mm square, then input them into PC.

After digitizing the draft letters as a prototype font, the result of the setting was really worse, which made him disappointed. The Kanas he had thought excellent were no good at all. Torinoumi analyzed the reason and found that the draft drawing based on brush handwriting was too close natural forms of Calligraphy. Typeface had to work not as Calligraphy but as a typeface. Having too much handwriting letter forms didn’t contribute to readability. Calligraphy method didn’t work to design Kana letters than he expected. He repeated to revise them, and the revision counted 13 times, which created sophisticated design and elegant forms.

And at last, he demonstrated inking Bunrei-Kana letters with brush.

Above: Demonstration an inking letter technique for the draft drawing. No straight line in almost of Kanas. To keep the draw point head-on, he rotated the paper. He learned this method at Shaken Inc.

Left: Inking with a guide scale, Japanese Menso painting brush and Japanese ink. He inked the Kana with superb skills about 5 or 6 minutes per letter answering visitor’s questions. He rotated the guide scale along with the curve of the letter. Right: After drew outlines, filled inside. You can see a wonderful technique from here (Note: QuickTime Movie).

Left above: The specimen book of Bunrei and Soukyu that Caps Inc. provides. Right above: Bunrei-Kana. The consequence stroke form at the top of letter ”あ” in the draft sketch was erased.
Left bottom: ぶんれい Bunrei-Kana. Right bottom: そうきゅう Soukyu-Kana.

Related article: Type seminor in Kyoto
Related article on Jiyukobo Inc.: Talk show with two type designers, Kataoka & Okazawa.

Shueitai will bundele on Morisawa’s Passport.

July 12th, 2009

Dai Nippon Printing Co.,Ltd. announced that Shueitai 秀英体 Ming-cho font family will be available to use with Morisawa’s Passport program. For a starter, Shuei Hoso Ming-cho (Light weight) will be released with Passport in this Autumn, and the rest of the Shuei Ming-cho family, Chuu Ming-cho (Regular), Futo Ming-cho (Bold) and Shuei Shogo Ming-cho (秀英体初号明朝) will be released in 2010. Normal family suite pack will be also released from Morisawa. Dai Nippon Printing, abbreviated DNP and is the largest printing company in the world, has been revised its exclusive font series named Shueitai to release as a retail font, and at last, decided to collaborate with Morisawa for providing Shueitai font series. Shueitai is known for one of two origins of Japanese typefaces, the other is Tsukiji-tai, which has been exclusively used for the products that DNP printed such novels, magazines, dictionaries, packagings and digital contents for over one hundred years.

Shueitai is known as an exclusive font for a long while, but, in fact, DNP already licensed Shueitai to the photo-typesetting maker Shaken few decades ago, which could be widely used for design works, especially publishing field. So designers who were familiar with Shueitai with photo-type setting would like to use them as digital fonts. To answer that request, DNP started the project called Heisei no dai kaikoku 平成の大改刻, means ‘The revival project for Shueitai in Heisei period’ in 2006 to revise Shueitai family for release into public as retail fonts.

Left: Morisawa’s leaflet for Shueitai. Right: DNP provided the catalogs and specimen sheets of Shueitai family to visitors to the business show, Tokyo Digital publishing fare to be held at Tokyo Big Site from July 9th to 12th.

Inside of the small specimen book in the above right photograph. Left: Shueitai Shogo Ming-cho’s Kanji characters. Right: A composition Shuei Shogo Ming-cho’s Kanji and Kana.

Shueitai has really handsome and classical typeface design. It contains Ming-cho (Serif), Gothic (San serif) and Maru-Gothic (Rounded), each style has two or three weight. Ming-cho style’s (serif style) Kana has Calligraphic strokes. Especially Shuei-Shogo-Ming-cho, is a Display Heavy style, keeps sequences of the strokes to emphasize the handwriting stroke forms like East Asian style Calligraphy. On the other hand, Kanji has also dynamic strokes, and I hope you take a look at the detail of the outlines of straight strokes, you’ll be able to find they are not straight but smooth and slightly curved, which gives Kanjis an enriched image and much beautiful impression.

I also would like to show you about what the Passport is. Morisawa’s Passport program is annual license system. It is available to use all of fonts which are included in DVD media by paying license fee (¥52,500 includes consumer tax.) every year. The Passport DVD contains over 350 fonts, not only full Kanji and Kana fonts but also Kana fonts for swapping Kana part of Japanese fonts. This license system is very useful and helpful for users who want to have a lot of fonts at once because it takes about 10,000 yen to 30,000 to buy an average full Japanese retail font. To collect all of fonts covered several kinds of styles, it will take over a few million yen. I can’t afford to buy them!

Left: Moriswa Passport Font Library Poster. You can use all of the fonts in this poster. Right: Fontworks LETS catalog and specimen book I’ve got last year. If you think Japanese fonts are too expensive, I recommend you consider to try Morisawa’s Passport or Fontworks’ LETS license system.

In Japan, an annual license font system is getting popular among designers in recent years. Fontworks inc. is the first provider to start the annual license program known as LETS, Leading Edge Type Solution, in 2002 before Morisawa started Passport program in 2005. Then, some of font vendors followed using similar annual license system. TypeBank and Iwata provided their fonts with LETS. Not only Japanese type foundry but also Housei, mainly deals with Chinese fonts, and JIKJISOFT, is a Korean company, also provides fonts with LETS.

Related article: Visiting the show room of Shueitai typeface.

The exhibition Tezuka Osamu ‘Messages to the Future’

June 21st, 2009

Tezuka Osamu (November 3, 1928 – February 9, 1989) has been the most celebrated cartoonist of the Shōwa era. He produced an unparalled number of remarkable works, contributing to give shape to what we commonly refer today as the “story manga”: Tetsuwan Atomu – literally “Mighty Atom” – known in English as Astro Boy, Janguru Taitei (Kimba the White Lion), Ribon no Kishi (Princess Knight), Black Jack, Hi no Tori (Phoenix) and many others, which had a huge impact on the child readers during the Showa era. This goes especially for Atom. Without Atom’s conception, we wouldn’t probably have had such a flourishing of animation and manga culture, as well as that confidence on science’s application, technology, of which we are witnessing such a development in the field of robotics today.

The exhibition, titled ‘Messages to the Future’, was a memorial of the 80th anniversary of Tezuka’s birth. It was very nice and I thought it was worth watching. It showed original artwork taken from Tezuka’s manga works, including some draft drawings, presented in chronological order.

Left: The Edo Tokyo Museum is located in Sumida Ward, Tokyo, nearby the Ryogoku Kokugikan Hall, a famous site in the Sumo wrestling field. The museum has a huge diorama built around the theme of the downtown urban life in the Edo period, around 300 years ago. It’s a fascinating way to get acquainted with the old Japanese citizens’ lives and customs. Right: A billboard of the Museum. The building in the background is the Ryogoku Kokugikan Hall.

The opening part of the exhibition features the insects’ sketches done by Tezuka in his childhood. His name Osamu 治虫 was taken from those insects, called ‘osamushi’ (in Japanese it means ‘Ground beetle’). He really loved to watch insects. Even the small sketches in his pocket notebook show the insects’ body depicted in a very detailed way. Later on, he added captions to all of the pictures and compiled them into a book.

The exhibition represented a rare chance to see his early works while he was a college student. The characters in the early works were very cute. I was not familiar with them but I was surprised to see how they looked to me like ‘prototypes’ of his later, more famous, characters. It did not just show his more famous works, such as Atom and Janguru Taitei, but many later works I was not familiar with, and unfinished material as well.

On various artwork panels it may be seen the white-outs painted to conceal mistakes and spots, and the lettering was often added later on, done on separate pieces of paper and sticked on them. By looking at the surface of the drawing paper, I felt like I could almost see how he drew the lines and refine them with the black ink. The ink was really vivid and the balance between black and white was always achieved with very beautiful results. This reminded me of the balance between forms and counters of the letter we seek in type design.

Tezuka’s mastery was not just about in his figurative drawings, but also in lettering, for which he had a fabulous talent. His vibrant title logos on the colored covers reached my imagination and enriched the story’s world. Of course, all of them were made by hand, without any computer aid. Angular logos were dynamic and powerful, they often seemed to express certain features of Atom and Janguru Taitei, of the characters themselves.

Another part depicted Tezuka’s own daily life, showing familiar everyday objects such as pens, ink, erasers, glasses and his coppola cap (widely known as his iconic trade mark), all of them showcased on the desk where he used to draw, and there were photos with his family and the related manga works. The exhibition chronicled also the history of his many residences and relocations. I know that the Tokiwa-sou apartment was in Toshima Ward, which is nearby my town. But, I was surprised to know that the Mushi Production office is very close to my home. It seems it’s just within five minutes by bike! My town, Nerima Ward, is known as a manga town because many cartoonists live in here, but I’d never have told Mushi Production was located so close to my home.

I think that the generation of japanese people most familiar with Tezuka’s works should be now at least in its 40s, or older. I used to watch Tezuka’s anime such as “Janguru Taitei Reo”, “Fushigi na Merumo-chan” or “Ribon no Kishi”, but all of them were re-broadcasted as replicas in my childhood. Unfortunately, I have hardly seen Tetsuwan Atom, because the series was old and black-and-white, and rarely reprogrammed. My generation (people which are now in their 30s) preferred to watch robot anime such as Gundam or Macross instead. Coming to manga, I loved to read Doraemon and Toriyama Akira’s manga, Dr. Slump and Dragonball. They were a huge success for children in those days.

However, Tezuka’s manga had a great influence on me. They taught me a lot of things which I couldn’t get in school. For example, although its visual language may be a little strong, Fushigina Merumo-chan featured sexual education notions, while Black Jack gave me a strong sense of professional duty, humanity and compassion. As a child, I got interested in Black Jack because I’d sometime got sick and was forced to stay in hospital. My illness was not so serious but these stories encouraged me a lot. Of course I’m fine now.

The catalog and post cards that I bought at the museum shop.

Tezuka’s work represented a tremendous influence on the following generations of cartoonists. This means that I have read a lot of the manga which were influenced, directly or indirectly, by the work of Tezuka. I guess the influence continues to be carried on today, to the latest cartoonist, and flourished as animation and manga culture, which can now be enjoyed by many people across the world. He left a thousand of ‘Messages to the Future’ through his works. I would say Tezuka Osamu must be regarded as the father of manga.

Revised on July 19, 2009.

— Gratitude. My Type Design Pen Pal Claudio Piccinini in Italy revised my poor English text after I posted it to my blog, and translated it to Italy for Italian Tezuka Aficionado’s website. Thanks Claudio! —

Railway car designs and Letters.

May 10th, 2009

If you were a train geek and want to come to Japan, I do recommend you go to Kyushu island, in southwest part of Japan. If you were a typeface and letter geek, Kyushu is worth visiting to check railway designs. Eiji Mitooka is the most famous train car designer in Japan. Japanese broad casting company TBS (Tokyo Broadcasting System) run the program featured Mitooka last night, I’ve enjoyed to watch it.

I had been in Kyushu area several times. The one of the times was about four years ago to research the Hisatsu Orange Railway, which runs southwest coast in Kyushu island, and the last time was in last October to trip across Kyushu. Anywhere I would like to go to, I went to there mostly by train. The limited express trains designed by Mitooka such as Kamome, means gull, Sonic, Yufuin no Mori (Forrest in Yufuin) and Kyushu Shinkansen ballet train named Tsubame means swallow, are running across the Kyuhsu island.

Not only the limited expresses, but also commuter trains and the one runs across rural area were very cool and unique. When I was waiting for the next train was coming to the station in rural area, I was astonished that a strong red colored and unique graphic designed train was coming to the station. I thought they looked like European style train cars. The logotypes and typographies of the designs were also great and I was always excited to see them during my trip.

Above: Kyushu Shinkansen ballet train Tsubame. The logos are very cute. “つばめ” means swallows.

Relay Tsubame runs between Hakata and Shin-Yatsushiro, where is still under construction Kyushu ballet train line. Relay Tsubame connects to Kyushu Shinkansen.

Sonic series Nichirin Right above: The symbol mark comes from the design of the head rest of the passenger seat.

Above: The sightseeing limited express, Yufuin no Mori. Right: The script logo decal on the partition window between the passenger area and the cockpit.

The limited express across Kyushu. The trains run through the Aso volcano area between Kumamoto and Beppu (Oita pref.) The line contains switchback system.

The commuter trains are also unique and have urbanized design. JR group often uses Helvetica to show car numbers. However, Mitooka designs them like a numbering of the Robot Hero Gundum.

After starting my design office last year, my former-supervisor in Osaka introduced me to Mitooka, I had a chance to visit Mitooka’s office in Itabashi Ward, Tokyo. He talked about some stories and episodes of his works for over two hours. ‘I always couldn’t get enough budget to design these logotypes and graphic designs for the train. Mostly of the logo designs were voluntary works,’ Mitooka said. ‘I think it is very important to design logos and to design the layout of letters because train cars definitely need letters and numbers to show the train’s name and car number signs’, he continued.

Indeed, as he mentioned above, he did the best job to design letters and numbers even if they are in a hidden place. Besides, Mitooka always takes care of the design so that children can enjoy to see and to get on trains. In the TV program, he explained the chair he designed that this is the one I wanted (when I was a child). He is always considering designs for children.

When I was child I used to draw trains that run nearby my home town. I loved to see trains and wanted to become a designer for trains. However, I’m a type designer now. I still hope to work for the project for designing trains or railway signs from the viewpoint of a typeface designer in future.

Recommend book., Japanese only.
ぼくは「つばめ」のデザイナー—九州新幹線800系誕生物語』”Boku wa Tsubame no Designer”, means “I’m a designer of Shunkansen Tsubame”, Kyushu Shinkansen Design Story. 水戸岡鋭治著 Author: Eiji Mitooka.