Japanese Typography in Web Design: Quick Guide

Illustration of an open notebook with a brush sitting on top of it. Inside the notebook the Japanese characters for Japanese are

As a website designer and experienced Webflow developer, I recently designed and developed a small website in Japanese over the weekend. Despite my limited experience with Japanese typography, I eagerly embraced the opportunity to explore the intricacies of using Japanese type in web design. This journey provided valuable insights that I'm excited to share with fellow web designers and developers interested in the fascinating world of Japanese typography.

Japanese Font Files are Massive

Working with Japanese typography presented me with a unique set of challenges. The first hurdle was the sheer size of Japanese font files. Unlike Latin character fonts, a single Japanese font file can easily double or triple in size due to the multitude of characters it encompasses. This extensive character set makes the design process time-consuming. Consequently, there are relatively fewer font options available for Japanese and Chinese compared to the vast array we have in English.

Web Safe Fonts are Almost a Must

Given the larger file sizes of Japanese fonts, relying on web-safe fonts that come pre-installed in various operating systems is a practical necessity. This ensures that visitors can seamlessly view the website's content without the delay of font downloads. Among the dependable web-safe Japanese fonts are Mplus 1p, Hiragino Sans, Hiragino Kaku Gothic Pro, 游ゴシック, 游ゴシック体, YuGothic, Yu Gothic, MS ゴシック, and MS Gothic. As a Webflow designer, I appreciated the importance of striking the right balance between aesthetics and functionality, especially when working with the relatively limited options available for Japanese fonts.

While exploring font options for the website, I came across two fonts that particularly stood out:

  1. Noto Sans JP This font offers an extensive character set and is available for free, making it an appealing choice for budget-conscious projects. However, it's essential to note that Noto Sans JP doesn't come pre-installed in most computers, so it might require users to download it before experiencing the website in its intended design.
  2. Hiragino Kaku Gothic This font is akin to SF Pro, offering a clean and modern design that is pre-installed on macOS computers. While it provides a professional and polished look to the website, it comes at a higher cost compared to free options but is also available through Adobe Fonts.

Legibility is a Bit Different in Japanese

Understanding the nuances of legibility in Japanese proved to be enlightening. While designers with strong typography skills can surely create beautiful layouts, some best practices differ from English typography. Here are key insights that I discovered:

  1. Avoid italics: Italics can render each character almost illegible in Japanese text, so it's best to opt for standard styling.
  2. Optimal line width: To ensure a comfortable reading experience, the recommended line width for Japanese text is around 35 characters per line.
  3. Line height: While a 150% line height is generally suitable for English, Japanese requires a bit more space. I settled on 185%, but many sites use 200% for a more balanced look.
  4. No word spacing: Unlike English, Japanese text doesn't have spaces between words, resulting in a flowing and seamless appearance that I quite liked.
  5. Embracing vertical text: Vertical text enhances visual appeal in Japanese and adds a touch of elegance to the design.

To Wrap Up

Designing and developing a website in Japanese opened my eyes to the unique considerations that differ from English typography. From navigating the challenges of font file sizes to exploring web-safe font options, I discovered the art of creating visually stunning and legible Japanese typography in web design. Embracing the complexities of Japanese type can lead to captivating web experiences.

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