Japanese font use in international websites

Hello! I am doing a transportation design website + a map about trains. I am looking for a Japanese-latin typeface.

Can you please recommend something, preferably free, but I am open to buy too.


This is a very good, and not so easy question to answer these days. It much easier to answer in the pre-smartphone desktop era where there were more limitations and far fewer choices: just work with the default installed Japanese fonts. All Japanese fonts come with built-in latin characters that might not be what you are looking for, but are designed to work well in mixed Japanese/Roman typography situations. That’s still basically true today but web designers have to deal with the split between Apple, Google and Microsoft platforms, and the different Japanese fonts they bundle.

As a rule of thumb, Japanese fonts are much more adept dealing with mixed encoding/character pages than letting the designer designate different Japanese and Roman based fonts for each language. Only go that route if the designer is very experienced using Japanese fonts on the web in mixed language pages and extensively test Japanese font choices on different computer platform web pages.

In the pre-iPhone internet era the Japanese + Roman choices were basically: Hiragino on OS X and the Ricoh designed MS Ryumin/MS Gothic on Windows XP. The very nice Meiryo came along with Windows Vista, and Microsoft Word for MacOS, but the ubiquity of the XP installed base kept Meiryo sidelined for a long time.

And then came iPhone. iOS, iPadOS and macOS all have the same basic set of Hiragino fonts but there are differences. The Japanese system font is Hiragino Sans ProN (Hiragino Gothic in Japanese) but the Roman characters are SF Pro. If a web designer wants to use the ‘native’ Roman characters of Hiragino Sans ProN, they need to designate the Hiragino font name, not the system font. Hiragino Sans is always a good overall choice for the iOS side if the designer isn’t familiar with Japanese fonts. It’s ubiquitous and reliable.

Japanese iOS default fonts

The Android side is more complicated. The default Japanese system font was Motoya (MotoyaLMaru W3?) which was replaced with Noto Sans CJK in Android 6. This upset a lot of Japanese web designers because Noto Sans CJK is a lousy font design. Most CJK ‘all in one’ fonts are shit. If you want quality, choose a font that is optimized for each region…not easy to do with Android. The current Android system font is Roboto for Roman and Noto Sans CJK for Japanese. OpenType Variable Fonts were supposed to solve the CJK limitations of OpenType, but it hasn’t panned out so far. There are better solutions out there but…we are where we are. And no, CSS is no magic bullet solution either.

Here are some handy Japanese font resources to help web designers:

Japanese iOS default fonts

iOS default fonts

Japanese default fonts by platform

Lawson Bank app adding Mobile Suica recharge in 2022

See, I told you that when VISA Japan finally signed on with Apple Pay it was just the latest shot in the digital banking wars. Today we have another one: JR East announced that Lawson Bank will add Mobile Suica recharge support to their app in spring 2022. In addition to Lawson Bank, other bank apps will also offer Mobile Suica recharge using the Lawson Bank platform for direct recharge from a bank account…to the Mobile Suica platform. The current list is Kiraboshi Bank, Hachijuni Bank, Tochigi Bank, Kochi Bank, Tomato Bank, Kirayaka Bank, Kagawa Bank. More bank apps will be added before the service starts.

So why are these regional banks adding Mobile Suica recharge support to their apps? On one level it shows JR East growing the Mobile Suica platform footprint as one more mobile ‘something pay’ that can be used everywhere. On a deeper level I think it relates to the Abe government blockchain strategy for regional banking as well as JR East blockchain plans. There’s a lot more going on the backend than just Mobile Suica recharge (which is important because it is mobile only), and that will be interesting.

Sayonara to the last switchback bus terminal

Niigata Station Bandai Entrance Bus Terminal was the last surviving major switchback style bus terminal in Japan. Service ended October 8 as the old station is demolished and rebuilt as a raised station with a new rotary style bus terminal.

Traffic News has an interesting article that describes the Niigata layout, and traffic challenges. Switchback bus terminals were standard in pre-war Japan but in the postwar era as cars and taxicabs become commmonplace, switchbacks were replaced with rotary style bus terminals. While switchback does have downsides, one advantage is that many buses can park in a small space as explained in this interesting Japanese video, and because the layout is compact, it’s easy to transfer.

One unusual aspect of Bandai Entrance bus terminal was that not all lines terminated there. For some bus lines it was mid-point, through passengers experience the switchback maneuver en route. The Niigata drivers did this many time each day and backed up the bus easily, quickly and precisely. I was lucky to video it in the last weeks of operation.

The new Niigata Station and bus terminal will undoubtedly have advantages when it come to making bus to train connections, however the easy old ‘walk to the bus parked next to me’ bus transfer will not be one of them.

Is Apple Siri-ous about the larger cohesive vision?

A Japanese friend asked me about Apple Watch hand washing notifications that goes off every time he washes vegetables, “Is this how stupid Apple’s AI is?” Unfortunately yes, this is how stupid Apple AI technology is. Siri has made some progress in English but Japanese Siri still lags far behind Amazon’s Japanese Alexa which has made Siri-ous bilingual progress.

The Apple Watch hand washing notification is one of those ‘this is neat’ features that Steve Jobs would have nixed in development because it doesn’t fit the bigger vision of what a good product should do. All hand washing notifications do is make Apple Watch look like a dumb, incompetently designed product, which it is not. This kind of lapse, adding a feature or service when it clearly isn’t ready, or doesn’t fit the bigger vision, is becoming all too common in this ‘forever beta’ era we live in.

Apple Music and HomePod mini are in a similar Siri situation. Japanese Siri does not yet have multiple user support. This is annoying enough using the current HomePod mini since different requests from different family members get tossed together, but the lack of multiuser Siri support will be a downright embarrassment if Apple releases the new Apple Music Voice only tier in Japan without it. Let’s hope the dwindling reserves of Steve Jobs focus potion hold out at Apple HQ for a little longer to nix the Apple Music Voice plan rollout in markets without multiuser Siri.

Apple Maps Japan mislabels cemeteries, digs own grave

Dear Apple Maps JP team: this cute rabbit stone lantern in front of Myohoji temple main hall is not the cemetery

In the latest Apple Maps Japan installment of how not to run a digital service, we can now add graveyards to the long list of things done poorly or incompetently. About a month ago I noticed new Point of Interest icons appearing on temple buildings close to traditional ‘manji’ Buddhist temple Point of Interest icon marks. The new POI is a western style gravestone with a flower, but the new icon names are in English, not Japanese. As they appeared to be duplicate Point of Interest information I reported them as duplicates which is not easy to do in the current Apple Map problem report mechanism.

Soon the new icons were everywhere and I realized that Apple Maps was attempting to mark cemeteries inside temple compounds but making a mess of it: randomly labeling temple halls as cemeteries instead of correctly identifying cemetery areas in temple compounds or nearby in separate plots of land. As you might expect there are also problems with the POI information, web links don’t always work, addresses are incorrect for contacting cemetery offices, etc. And then there are user ratings.

As a rule Apple Maps locks user ratings for public and religious institutions, limiting them to places of business (restaurants, etc.). This is the sensible and right thing to do. Unfortunately the new cemetery POI allows user ratings. I can only imagine this is a system error that needs to be fixed.

The whole affair is classic Apple Maps Japan: Apple signs up a new POI data provider but doesn’t vet any of the data quality, loads it into the system and boom. Duplicates and mistakes all over the place, literally, that can stick around for years. Currently Myohoji temple in Koenji has: 2 manji POI, one from Recruit Jalan that marks the temple office, one from another public based source that marks the cemetery, and 1 new English only cemetery POI icon that marks a nice little stone lantern in front of the main hall.

It’s a mess that could have been avoided with a minimal amount of data verification and vetting, not even checking to make sure the data is localized for Japanese. Wasn’t the new Apple Maps supposed to fix this? I guess Apple doesn’t consider it a problem. I say it again, the more I use iOS 15 Apple Maps, the less I like it.