The Weekly #1

July 27, 2021

With so little real news to write about these days, I’m trying out a weekly digest format instead of individual itty bitty posts. Sticking with a mundane regular schedule is also good practice, we’ll see how it goes.

Tokyo 2020 TP Transit Card
Foreign media (already in Japan as opposed to those coming for the event who are limited by protocols for the first 14 days) covering the Tokyo Olympics were issued a special ‘TP Card’ limited transit pass covering Tokyo region transit July 10~ August 11. Dan Orlowitz who covers sports for the Japan Times tweeted some pictures of the pass. Look carefully at the transit gate display screen, there are some very interesting things going on: (1) The display language is English (nice touch), (2) The card balance is 0. The card itself is issued by JR East and is a Suica commuter card with a 1 month pass and the balance turned ‘off’, that is to say that TP Card numbers are ‘block listed’ for any recharge function.

The TP Card shows a way forward for Transit IC (Suica, PASMO, etc.) that started with Welcome Suica: more flexible options, discount and special passes for all kinds of users and uses. The next important step will be getting these, along with 2 in 1 Region cards, on mobile.


Is Apple Pay Overrated?
What technology works and doesn’t work for people in everyday life is always a fascinating subject. Mike at Tech702 asks a good question: is Apple Pay overrated? For Mike in daily Las Vegas life, yes Apple Pay is completely overrated. I saw much of the same during my Salt Lake City summer stay in 2018, although Smiths grocery had just started taking Apple Pay at the time. Did they pull the plug? It’s a good reminder that retail chains and banks in America switch loyalties without notice and the payments infrastructure is all over the place, witness Targets changing their accepted credit card lineup when I was in Salt Lake.

Some snobby Europeans like to look down on America and other places they perceive as not being up to speed with contactless payments. The truth is when Japanese journalists like Junya Suzuki take a good look at state of European contactless payments, it’s not so great either. The state of contactless payments around the world is still very much a touch and go thing.


iOS 15 Beta 3 Score Card
iOS 15 reached beta 3 last week. Here’s how it’s panning out:

Apple Maps new cartography continues to evolve. Japanese roads were decolorized, railway lines are different and drawn in harder to see light blue. Overall I think dark mode is works better than light mode (better contrast, easier to pick out details, etc.). See Justin O’Beirne‘s page for details. Transit Notifications are also improved slightly but still only work for surface transit. Forget about using it on the subway. Despite the fancy redecoration Apple still refuses to label the Sea of Japan (since 2020). Unnecessary, dumb and insulting.

Weather App: still only shows temperature maps which I think are useless. Forget about precipitation which is the killer feature for any weather app worth using. Air Quality doesn’t apply to Japan as there is no national standard.

Last but not least, Apple Music and Apple TV are basically useless in iOS 15 b3, more 3rd party app are crashing too. Hopefully b4 will be stable.


Ossan’s Love in Hong Kong?
Just when I thought the Ossan’s Love franchise had run out of gas, it seems the Hong Kong version of the Japanese series is also a hit and making waves instead of giggles, although calling it “sugar-coated marijuana” is pretty funny. If the Hong Kong version is anything like the Japanese one, it is sugar-coated silliness. For my money the other Japanese hit gay themed series ‘What did you eat yesterday?‘ was not only a lot more engaging, funny, serious and thought provoking, it was also useful as a cooking show. Kinda like Shinya Shokudo (Midnight Diner) with better interior decorating and worth the time investment.

Have a good week and enjoy the Olympics.

Stroke Fonts Forever

The start point is the end point. The first time I saw Japanese stroke fonts in action, I had the same revelation Steve Jobs did when he visited Xerox PARC and was blinded seeing the first Graphical User Interface: this is the way it’s supposed to work. Stroke fonts are the way digital Kanji based CJK fonts are supposed to work. But they don’t work that way.

When one set of cultural priorities drive a technology standard, everybody else outside that culture is forced to adapt. This is the duality of technology and context at play. In one context a technology can be constructive and foster innovation, in another context the same technology can be stifling or even destructive. When DTP and PostScript fonts (the baseline font metrics layout model) were brought to Japan (the virtual body layout model) in the late 1980’s, it was both. It brought some innovation, but didn’t address important market needs because the technology was western centric and deemed ‘good enough’ for everywhere else.

Limitations of current outline font technology and the Japanese glyph set problem
When writing Hiragino Shock, it struck me how little things have changed, that 20 years later the most basic problems of digital Kanji fonts are still with us: a poor imitation of traditional virtual body layout using inadequate baseline font metrics, large files for each different weight of the same font family, confusing collections of different glyph sets. Regarding the last one I wrote:

For many developers (Adobe included), creating larger and larger fonts was not the best solution to handle the ever-evolving character standards. Adobe did go on to create more Japanese glyph collections but their ability to rally the industry around them diminished over time. Back in 2002 I thought that most Japanese fonts would probably stop at AJ 1-4, leaving Apple in the enviable position of giving users a industry standard super-font with every copy of Mac OS X…not a bad place to be. It’s pretty much how things panned out.

Former Apple MacOS text and layout architecture engineer Yasuo Kida echoed the same opinion and nailed it in the Hiragino Shock interview:

Another regret was that we should have created a solid subset (or subsets) of Apple Publishing Glyph Set / Adobe Japan 1-5. Applications that really need the whole set of APGS are books. Display typefaces obviously do not need the whole set, nor do magazines and so on. We were concerned that font developers might think it necessary, or be pressured from customers to develop whole AJ 1-5 or whatever whole set for every single font that they have when it is not really necessary.

To demonstrate this was not the case, we intentionally left some of our bundle fonts with a smaller subset. But it was not enough, it did not establish a solid character set category that everyone can follow. I should have worked with Adobe to develop a good standard subset based on X 0213 and give it a name. AJ 1-4 is not a good subset as it contains itaiji that many of applications do not need, and it does not contain important characters from JIS X 0213. AJ 1-4 is effectively used as a fallback subset right now.

The necessary glyph set depends on the job. Japanese book publishers need the Adobe Japan 1-5 glyph set, Japanese newspapers publishers need Adobe Japan 1-6 or 1-7, most magazines can make do with Adobe Japan 1-4 while most digital device display for apps only needs Adobe Japan 1-3. The situation is similar for all Kanji based CJK font collections in their respective markets and countries.

Font creation and end-user dilemmas
So what are customers supposed to do? Buy the most expensive font license subscriptions with the largest variety of glyph collections for each and every computer? Mix and match? And how much time and effort goes into managing all that when the production line or designer is juggling many different jobs that require many different fonts?

Going back to the original list of problems, let’s look at large glyph collections and large font file issues as one problem, and examine that problem on the font creation side and the font use side.

First of all you have to create all those Kanji glyphs. One of the glaring deficiencies of current outline technology is that every single Kanji must be traced and tweaked extensively. A ‘Standard’ Japanese font has 9,354 glyphs, the Adobe Japan 1-4 character set has 15,444 glyphs, Adobe Japan 1-5 has 20,317 glyphs.

Take that total and multiply by each weight (light, demi-bold, bold, etc.) that has to be designed and tweaked. It can and does take years to create a high quality Japanese font family, and so it goes. You have an idea of how much work goes into font-making and why Japanese fonts are so expensive. Last but not least the font files themselves are large—anywhere from 3 to 8 MB each—because the basic outline model is not efficient for complex shapes like Kanji.

Font file size is one of the problems that TrueType GX née OpenType Font Variation format (OFVF) is supposed to fix, but none of the major Japanese font vendors has released anything in OFVF. It’s a lot more work to do OFVF with Japanese fonts and the payback on all that extra work just isn’t there.

Put another way, if your business choice is using limited resources, do you use those limited resources: (1) to create new font designs that delight customers using the same production methods, or (2) to update and re-release old fonts in a slightly more convenient web font format? It’s a no-brainer that font development resources don’t go into OpenType Variable fonts.

The stroke font solution: taking outline fonts to the next level
Any solution has to be two fold: better tools to create large collections of Kanji based CJK fonts more efficiently and economically, and better ways to use them on devices that capture that same efficiency and economy. Stroke fonts address both of these problems.

Stroke fonts have been around for a long time in various forms. The beauty and eternal appeal of the technology is that it is very efficient at creating a large number of glyphs from a small reusable library of parts. This makes them perfect for small, power and memory contained devices, like Apple Watch. In 1995 Fontworks International was busy developing stroke based Japanese fonts of their library that used their built customer font scaler and OFA. What’s that? Let me back up and explain.

Anybody who has studied Chinese or Japanese knows that although each Kanji is unique, certain parts, i.e. strokes, occur again and again, recombining to create new characters. You can get a good feel for this by looking at Chinese or Japanese calligraphy. The brush is the most natural way to write Kanji, and with a little study, you quickly comprehend the order of strokes.

A group of researchers at Stanford in the late 70s~early 80s created prototype ‘Chinese vector fonts‘ based on the Metafont79 system that attempted to use Kanji stroke parts for computer display complex fonts in the extremely restricted memory and storage environments of early computer systems. Don Hosek started a project to refine and enhance those concepts based on Metafont84 before abandoning it for lack of financial support.

One of the real groundbreaking but unnoticed features of QuickDraw GX was Open Font Architecture, OFA for short. It was a simple but powerful concept: plug-in digital font scaler architecture that let font developers create new font technologies that ‘just worked’ by adding plug-in scalers: a plug-in scaler for PostScript, a plug-in scaler for TrueType, a plug-in scaler for stroke fonts and so on. Asian font developers such as Fontworks and DynaLab used OFA to create GX stroke based fonts.

In a similar way to Chinese and Japanese calligraphy and vector font concepts, Fontworks International and DynaLab broke down their Kanji outline fonts into parts that loosely correspond to brush stokes. The crucial difference of these GX stroke fonts was that instead of earlier primitive ‘vector fonts’, they took outline font technology to the next level: smart outline stroke font technology for Kanji based fonts.

These smart outline stroke parts were kept in a library that the stroke-font scaler used to draw the character, resulting in a much smaller and more efficient font. At the time the Fontworks technical director, said that stroke technology “allows us to do weight variations over the full range from Light through Ultra Bold without losing typographic details all in a 4 MB font.” An equivalent OpenType Kanji font family can weigh in around 18 MB although a single OFVF file would likely reduce the size somewhat.

Stroke technology shines is character creation. Once a base library of stroke parts has been created, a designer can create high quality Kanji quickly and easily make adjustment and modifications. Fontworks then applied what they called ‘recipes’ to create different weights from the basic stroke part library. A key feature of the stroke font approach is that it preserves the stroke width as the part is scaled, which is impossible to do with regular outlines. This means efficient high quality blending is possible over the entire rage of font weights, difficult to with OpenType Kanji variable fonts.

Smarter stroke fonts take outline fonts to the next level

Post GX stroke font development
Tomihisa Uchida was the lead font engineer for the Fontworks stroke font project that had two goals: QuickDraw GX stroke font versions of the Fontworks library to be bundled by Apple in Copland OS, a font productions tool suite called ‘2X2’ that used stroke technology for glyph creation and editing, but could export in multiple formats (Illustrator, etc.). After Apple hit the kill switch on Copland, Fontworks scrapped their GX stroke font project. The 2X2 production tool morphed into Gaiji Editor that shipped in 2000. Unfortunately Gaiji Master was killed in 2001 when Uchida san left Fontworks and joined Iwata KK to lead their font engineering team.

Since retiring from Iwata, Uchida san is working again on a stroke font based production tool. He showed it to me in 2019. The video I took shows some the features: the ability to switch between ‘full outline’ and ‘stroke outline’, intelligent point handles for efficient part editing and much more. Watching it in action is like seeing his entire Japanese font engineering career knowledge compressed into an application.

Demo of Tomihisa Uchida’s stroke outline font editing tool. The ability to edit and switch back and forth from full outline to stroke parts might look mundane to the untrained eye but can greatly accelerate Kanji glyph creation

Stroke fonts saw quite a bit of action in Japan in the pre-iPhone handset era. The explosion of 3G Internet capable Symbian OS Japanese handsets with Docomo iMode and compatible services, leap frogging display sizes and specs demanded high quality scalable Japanese fonts that fit tiny storage and memory requirements. With their tiny overhead using a library of font parts to create a large variety of fonts, stroke fonts were the perfect solution. There were many handset stroke fonts: Morisawa had KeiType, Ascender Corp (later bought by Monotype) had Compact Asian font technology and Taiwan font developer DynaComware had DigiType.

Stroke fonts: a perfect match for smart devices
As far as I know, none of these are still used in the smartphone era. However the advantages of stroke font technology grow exponentially as device sizes shrink. Apple Watch, health trackers, AR glasses. Tiny compact high quality Kanji fonts with a wide variety of weights are essential. There are other non-Roman writing systems that could benefit as well. In 2016 industry sources said Apple was actively searching for “the best stroke font technology.” Maybe Apple plans to do something with it, maybe not.

The problem with OpenType fonts is not the technology, it’s simply that the current OpenType standard is a desktop era solutioin that has not evolved: it has not evolved to address the western cultural priorities that inform the standard, it has not evolved for the smart device era with storage and memory constraints. Let’s assume Apple is doing something with stroke fonts. They can fix a few problems:

  • Stroke font scaler and format: a stroke based system font doesn’t have to fit within the restrictive OpenType format, but it can be developed in mind to be upwardly compatible, if and when OpenType evolves.
  • Solving CJK glyph set confusion: because stroke fonts reuse the same basic library parts, supporting the largest CJK glyph sets is not a problem. It also makes CJK all-in-one fonts practical and also solves the problem with current CJK fonts: one design doesn’t fit every culture sensibility, what looks good to Chinese users does not to Japanese users and so on. Glyph variation ‘recipies’ for different cultural regions correctly display the versions that look best.

In addition to this there is one last problem not immediate to stroke fonts but related to vertical layout. As Adobe’s Nat McCully pointed out, ‘real’ vertical layout is impossible to do across apps and on the web with the current OpenType baseline model:

  • No font metrics for virtual body/em-box glyph space placement: everything has to be accomplished with baseline metrics
  • No reliable space control
  • No reliable line breaks
kanji box 3
A virtual body Kanji with approximate baseline overlay red line.
character spacing@2x
Character spacing and tracking are different concepts in Japanese typography as well.
Kumihan character spacing is the amount of space measured between outer virtual box boundaries, the 10% red area
On the other hand tracking, ji-tsume in Japanese, is the amount of space measured between type face boundaries and virtual body boundaries, the blue area

Right now InDesign J is the only application that does real vertical layout because Adobe created proprietary Japanese font table metrics for virtual body layout. There needs to be open standard virtual body metrics included in font tables for robust real vertical layout that works across applications and on web pages because using CSS will never cut it. Along with the stroke fonts Apple could deploy new AAT tables incorporating virtual body metrics, again in mind to be upwardly compatible at a later time, just like TrueType GX variation font AAT was for OpenType variable fonts.

Not that any of this will happen, but I wanted to write about it one last time in the hope that by laying out the issues, the solutions can somehow live on. The end point is the start point.

Many thanks to Tomihisa Uchida and many other great folks from Fontworks, Iwata, Morisawa, Adobe and Apple who shared their time, thoughts and opinions over the years. It was a blast.

ありがとうございました!

Apple text layout architecture evolution: TextKit reboot

No matter what kind of fancy fonts you have, they look bad with poor typography.

Tomihisa Uchida, former lead font engineer of Shaken, FontWorks, Iwata

As I wrap my typography related writing, it’s fitting to post about Apple’s text layout architecture evolution one last time. There have been a few changes over the decades. Actually it has been nothing but changes, going forward, pulling back, going forward again in bits and pieces instead of one united comprehensive vision.

Part of my current job includes dealing with lots of vertical text Japanese documents with lots of traditional Kanji characters that juggle different Japanese encoding standards depending on when the documents were created. For that reason I’m keen on robust vertical text layout and easy to access, easy to use high end Japanese font typography features. InDesign is there but its high end page layout features are overkill and time consuming when a good word processor will do.

Unfortunately there are very few choices outside of the Creative Suite world. Japanese high end features in Word are clunky and confusingly scattered around the UI, Pages vertical text and advanced font feature UI is a joke. The best Japanese word processor on macOS is egword Universal 2, egword has a long history and has used every single macOS text engine at some point. It’s a miracle that it survived. Why it is so hard to get international savvy, insanely great typography and layout features that should be standard and universal?

QuickDraw GX is the start point for built-in high end typography on personal computers. Thought it was short-lived, GX parts and concepts live on in Apple OS platforms to this day such as the SF variable system fonts. It’s hard to explain how revolutionary GX was in the Asian markets and how much exciting development was going on at that time, utterly impossible to comprehend from the western biased wikipedia entry. Suffice to say GX was the first multilingual internationally savvy text layout architecture where all writing systems, languages, various font technologies, scripts and layout models were equally and very well supported, right to left, vertical, contextual and so on.

After Copland OS was cancelled in August 1996, GX text technology morphed into Apple Type Services for Unicode Imaging aka ATSUI. ATSUI along with Apple Advanced Typography (AAT) font tables were some of the technology that made the Hiragino Apple Publishing Glyph Set feature, aka Hiragino Shock, possible in OS X 10.1. The better performing Cocoa based 64-bit Core Text replaced 32-bit Carbon ATSUI in OS X Leopard. macOS Lion AppKit finally gained some vertical text support but it wasn’t very robust as was demonstrated later when TextKit functions migrated to UIKit in iOS 7. The lead font engineer of Iwata Corporation had this to say:

UIKit (TextKit) doesn’t support real vertical text layout, the Japanese punctuation and glyph spacing are all wrong. The easiest thing for an app developer to do is bundle a display only Japanese vertical font just for displaying vertical text in the app. Go ask the programmers at Monokakido, I’m sure that’s what they have to do for their iOS Japanese dictionary apps.

‘Real’ vertical text layout remains a low level Core Text coding exercise which Apple really doesn’t encourage unless, “you must do text layout and font handling at a low level, such as developers of layout engines. You should develop your app using a higher-level framework if possible.” In other words, use TextKit.

I suspect one reason for Apple’s recommendation to use TextKit instead of Core Text whenever possible, is the parade of Core Text rendering bugs and security leaks that started cropping up in 2013 and continue to trickle. Therefore high level TextKit in iOS UIKit and macOS AppKit is the preferred text layout method as it abstracts away Core Text grunt work and exposing potential Core Text rendering and security bugs.

There’s a trade off however: TextKit is 30 years old, far older than Core Text, older than GX even, and shows its age. It’s the last NextStep holdout that never got an upgrade, its text layout features and performance are good enough, but not very good. Apple recognizes this and is finally doing something about it: TextKit 2, Apple’s next-generation text engine.

The best place to start for all things TextKit 2 is the WWDC21 video: Meet TextKit 2. The big new takeaway points are:

Non-linear viewport-based layout: TextKit 2 only lays out the appropriate text area that needs to be displayed • edited unlike linear layout which does the whole text document sequentially. You are probably familiar when scrolling long text documents and it takes forever for the text to render down to your current location, like standing on the beach waiting for the last tip of a wave to creep up and reach your feet. That wait is gone in TextKit 2.

TextKit 2 does this using viewport-based layout and rendering. When I saw the WWDC video my first reaction was ‘this reminds me of that shitty new WordPress block editor.’ Other developers had the same reaction. The thing is, once you get used to the shitty WordPress block editor, you don’t want to go back. It’s way more convenient even if the performance isn’t great.

The new TextKit 2 block editor approach promises to deliver convenience and high performance along with, “a robust set of customization points, making it simple to extend the layout system and add your own behaviors” that “also lends itself well to mixing non-text elements into your text layout.” Great, just what I wanted, more emoji + text + whatever-you-want-to-insert-here mishmash.

Glyph Abstraction: aka correct rendering for complex scripts because Apple does the grunt work (in Core Text) so you don’t have to. It removes the drudge. On a practical level text selection will work correctly no matter the script or language. With UIKit•TextKit 1, text selection is never reliable even for Japanese.

Safety aka more abstraction: there’s a huge middle section that discusses the bulk of the new TextKit 2 calls and how they work, the goal being using layout ‘elements’ instead of glyphs, strings, paragraphs, etc. Like glyph abstraction, it’s another kind of abstraction and illustrates the TextKit 2 mantra of using higher level objects to control layout. Eliminating the many TextKit 1 layout details developers have to juggle is a good thing.

Inclusive layout yes, but is it high quality layout?
TextKit 2 is the start of a long term migration. When it is done I think we’ll just have TextKit 2 that is simply called TextKit. For now, most of TextKit 2 is ‘opt in’ for compatibility. macOS 12 has all TextKit 2 functions, on the iOS side, UITextField (single-line editable text) has been updated to use TextKit 2 but UITextView (multiline text) has not.

The migration is going to take a while. I don’t think we’ll get the full TextKit 2 story until WWDC22. Once the transition is complete I suspect Core Text 2 is next. We’ll see. Japanese developer reactions have been muted along the lines of, “Apple wants to be inclusive, which is nice, but it doesn’t look like a high end solution.” After all, Japanese developers have been down this road many times before.

And so we circle back to my original question, does TextKit 2 finally deliver international savvy, insanely great typography and layout as standard universal features all developers can implement easily in apps? Definitely maybe…for apps, but never for the web. That’s a whole other story.

Obon Okuribi 2021

It’s a shame that the famous Kyoto Okuri-bi send off bonfires will be limited again this year. It’s an outside event and I don’t see the point of caution. Hopefully the souls of family ancestors will still be able to find their way home and back again in these dark times. A friend of mine, Rev. Sensho Komukai wrote a nice article that describes the event and the Buddhist tradition behind it. Hopefully the bonfires will burn in full glory in 2022.


August 13-16 is the traditional Obon period, when the souls of deceased family members are believed to return home from the other world. A fire is burned as a guide sign to welcome our ancestors on the evening of the 13th (mukae-bi) and to send off the spirits on the 16th (okuri-bi).

Great okuribi bonfires are seen on five mountains in Kyoto on the evening of August 16th. Each bonfire has a different character as follows: Dai (大), Myo (妙), Ho (法) a boat shape, and a shrine gate shape. At 8:00 p.m. the character of Dai is lit first. Myo and Ho are then lit ten minutes later.

Myo and Ho bonfires have been prepared for centuries by the Nichiren Shu supporters of Yusenji Temple and Myoenji Temple of the Matsugasaki district in North Kyoto. Myo has 103 burning woodpiles, and Ho has 63. Each woodpile has been traditionally allotted to a family member of the two temples.

One woman who came to Matsugasaki after marriage said with a sigh,

“It is still hot in August. When the bonfires are lit, there is no refuge area from the heat. I was all sweaty, dying of thirst. I helped the bonfire event out of a sense of obligation. Once we finished, I went down the mountain with a sense of great relief. However, when I arrived home, my grandmother-in-law had brought a family ihai tablet out into the garden and was holding her palms together in Gassho toward the bonfires on the mountain, I felt ashamed of myself. People in Matsugasaki respectfully send off their ancestors with all their heart. Their religion and culture have been handed down with high esteem. It was my mistake to think so little of the bonfire event.”

After the bonfires of Myo and Ho burn out in 30 minutes, the Bon dance starts in the precincts of Yusenji Temple. The dance originated in 1307, when a Tendai priest, Jitsugen, who was very impressed by Nichizo, converted his faith to the Lotus Sutra and Nichiren Shu teaching.

All village people of Matsugasaki became devotees of Nichizo and Nichiren Shu. Priest Jitsugen felt joy chanting the Odaimoku while beating the drum. The villagers began to dance, and this “Daimoku dance” became the origin of the Bon festival dance. In modern times, people dance with simple beating of the drum and quiet chanting rather than a joyful dance. They want to think back deeply to the days they spent with their beloved families and silently express gratitude toward their ancestors on the Obon send-off day.

Daimoku Dance

Inside Hiragino: Hiragino Shock and Apple Publishing Glyph Set

The Hiragino fonts in OS X

The transition to macOS X was a very interesting time for the Japanese publishing industry. In his first official appearance in Japan after returning to Apple, Steve Jobs turned the publishing industry on its head when he announced at MacWorld Tokyo 2000 that Apple would bundle professional Japanese fonts licensed from Dainippon Screen with extended character sets: “Capturing the beauty and richness of the Japanese language and kanji characters has always been beyond the capabilities of personal computers. Now, with premium quality fonts and the largest character sets ever, Mac OS X will make high-quality publishing a reality in Japan for all customers—professionals and first-time users alike.” At the time I wrote a report for MacInTouch:

Steve Jobs made a very big deal about kanji fonts and making MacOS X “the best kanji operating system” by licensing 6 ‘Hiragino’ font designs from DaiNippon Screen. It played well in yesterday’s keynote and the demonstrations today. And it is exciting that Apple is addressing some basic problems of Japanese publishing. Apple said these new ‘X’ fonts will use the new Adobe Japan 1-4 and JIS encoding standards unveiled at the last Tokyo Seybold Seminars 1999.

The official unveiling of bundled Hiragino (also used as the OS X Japanese system font, still in use today) was the February 2001 MacWorld Tokyo keynote just one month before OS X shipped. Steve:

As you may know, there have never been good Japanese fonts shipped in a personal computer operating system. If you want want to get over 8,400 characters and if you want to get very beautiful fonts you have to pay a fortune to go license these fonts on a per computer basis.

What we have done is we have licensed the most beautiful Japanese fonts around and we are bundling them in every copy of MacOS X. 17,500 characters…characters that just don’t exist in normal computer font sets. Characters that you cannot get on a personal computer without paying a lot of money. All bundled into MacOS X. I don’t think we’ve seen anything like this before.

MacWorld Tokyo 2001 keynote

Indeed the market had never seen anything like it and coined a new word: ‘Hiragino Shock’.

The Japanese font problem
To understand Hiragino Shock, it’s important to understand what was happening in the Japanese print market. It was a strange post bubble time when the migration path to the newly announced OS X and ATSUI Carbon framework was not all that clear. Just before OS X launched I wrote about the situation for The Seybold Report.

Japanese DTP arrived with Apple’s NTX-J PostScript printer and Linotype’s first Japanese PostScript imagesetter in 1989. They came at the right time: The early ’90s economy was bubbling, companies had money to burn and Japanese DTP took off. It was a young, booming market and it forgave many mistakes that would haunt the industry later.

By 1996, the go-go days were gone and they would not come back…DTP tools (Quark Xpress, Illustrator, Photoshop and, to a smaller extent, PageMaker) had captured nearly 40 percent of the production process. For a conservative industry like Japanese publishing, this was phenomenal―until compared to the West. There, in the same amount of time, practically the entire industry converted to DTP production. Japan is still about 40 percent and holding.

The Second Wave of Japanese Desktop Publishing, The Seybold Report Volume 30 Number 6, November 2000

DTP growth leveled off because market leader Sha-Ken refused to license their font library for PostScript, keeping it locked to their proprietary hardware, and because the first Japanese PostScript font format had severe limitations: they were a 1 byte hack with horrible performance issues that had to reside on a hard disk attached to the printer, they had small glyph sets and were very, very expensive.

A single unlimited resolution Morisawa PostScript font for an imagesetter cost ¥218,000. A basic set of 5 Morisawa fonts was a requirement for every Japanese PostScript licensee. When I was the imagesetter product manager at Heidelberg PrePress (old Linotype-Hell) our #1 customer request was for imagesetters without bundled Morisawa fonts, but our hands were tied by Adobe Morisawa Japanese font duopoly licensing.

Adobe and Morisawa addressed some of the original PostScript problems with CID, the first 2 byte PostScript format as a forced upgrade. The per font CID upgrade was not only expensive and time consuming (the floppy disk era), it also changed font metrics and Kanji designs. At the time Morisawa admitted customer reaction to the CID upgrade was negative: “Our biggest marketing challenge is how to explain all this to customers. We understand how customer feel confused. Part of the problem was that Adobe took so long coming out with CID.” Another part of the problem is Morisawa changed the font spacing data in their CID fonts without really telling anybody about it. Designers and production line operators opened documents and discovered they had to redo everything. The resulting publishing industry uproar forced Adobe and Morisawa to pull the CID upgrade and release an update for the update called ‘New CID’ that incorporated both new and old metrics for compatibility.

Things eventually settled down but the CID upgrade disaster left customers feeling wary about yet another upgrade, this time to OpenType. The uncertainty was palpable when I interviewed font designer Osamu Torinoumi of Jiyukobo for the Hiragino profile piece in mid 2002. The beautiful Yumin font had just been released:

JB: You have a new font, don’t you?

Torinoumi: Yes, the Yumin font. We’re releasing it as an OpenType font. But it doesn’t have the OpenType Pro glyph set. We will add other glyph sets gradually as an upgrade. Adobe Japan 1-4 doesn’t have all of the Japanese Industrial Standard (JIS) X0213 glyphs. JIS X0213 has all the possible characters used in Japan so that is a standard that will probably be used as we go along. Apple’s APGS (Apple Publishing Glyph Set) has all of X0213.

Our Yumin is ¥100,000 for a single license, and that is just for the first year. The second year, it costs ¥70,000. We also have volume licenses. We have to have a business model so we can keep adding more features (glyph sets, etc.). I think Morisawa must be having a tough time with OpenType…We really don’t know how it’s going to pan out.

The OpenType business model
Torinoumi’s comments succinctly outline the challenges facing font vendors at the time. Japanese OpenType wasn’t just a font upgrade for end users, it was a whole new business model for Japanese font vendors.

Adobe’s OpenType Japan announcement at Seybold Seminars Tokyo 1999 was the first official sign that the Japanese DTP industry had to migrate away from the PostScript printer font business model Adobe created 10 years previously. OpenType Japanese fonts downloaded dynamically and did away with printer fonts, they were no longer necessary, Japanese fonts finally worked like Western fonts.

All well and good, but there was the catch: Japanese fonts are expensive to produce, and the market was relatively smaller than the western one. How would a font maker create revenue to pay for all the work involved in making large glyph sets?

Jiyukobo’s Yumin font was the first new OpenType Japanese business model concept. Instead of selling a software package, they sold an annual subscription. In exchange, users got free tech support and upgrades like Adobe Japan 1-4 extended glyph sets, advanced layout and any other features that came along later. In a way it was a return to the traditional business model with printers paying monthly royalty font fees for use on proprietary typesetters…without the typesetter.

It took a long time for the industry to realign. Fontworks Japan launched their LETS program in 2001, which stands for Leading Edge Type Solution. While users could still buy a packaged font for ¥18,000, a single LETS license covering use of the entire FontWorks library cost ¥36,000 a year per client in addition to a one-time LETS “membership” charge of ¥30,000.

Japan’s first and largest PostScript font vendor, Morisawa launched their first OpenType products as OpenType Pro at ¥26,000 per font in 2002. No OpenType Standard, no upgrades for CID or OCF users, take it or leave it. At the time I asked Morisawa product manager Nobuaki Nakamura for a comment and he practically sputtered, “That’s right, no upgrades; and we’re not going to follow anything Apple does because it’s non-standard. Print it.” The remark shows how angry Morisawa was at Apple for bundling the Hiragino font and creating the Apple Publishing Glyph Set. Morisawa eventually came out with a LETS-like subscription service called Morisawa Passport in 2005.

APGS Shock
The Apple Publishing Glyph Set (APGS) was a MacOS Japanese character set initiative, separate from but simultaneous with the bundling of Hiragino. APGS created a stir because it added another set of glyphs above and beyond Adobe’s AJ 1-4 specification. At the time, Japanese font developers grumbled about yet another Apple-created spec that, like QuickDraw GX, would go nowhere. Yet it turned out to be a shrewd move.

APGS was based on the JIS X0213 standard (which was also released in 2000) with some additional glyphs from high-end Sha-Ken systems and the National Language Committee. Any JIS standard is the “final word” for Japanese character sets. By adopting JIS X0213 and releasing it as part of OS X, Apple created an instant “super-font” standard of 20,291 glyphs and upstaged Adobe Japan 1-4. Yasuo Kida was an Apple engineer who worked on APGS. He shared some recollections of the project.

Understanding Hiragino
When I visited Jiyu-kobo’s office for the first time, there was a drawing of the character 「あ」in mincho style on the wall. It drew my eyes and even to my untrained eyes it was obvious that there was nothing like that as a digital typeface. I suddenly realized everything.

I knew people complained that they did not have the digital typefaces that they wanted, but I did not really understand why they complained. Was it just nostalgia, or just an excuse for not changing the way they do their job? As soon as I looked at that character however, I realized that this is THE typeface they wanted but didn’t have.

I do not remember if it was Torinoumi san or (co-designer) Takada san who explained that it was a design called ‘A-Mincho’ and the A stands for “atarimae”. It was a typeface they were developing for printing literature. I fell in love with that typeface. The revelation was not related to Apple’s business decision or anything but it was the moment that I made up my mind. Apple licensed Hiragino, and later on the A-Mincho, or Yu-Mincho typfaces for iBooks.

The challenges
It was the late 90’s when fonts were added to my responsibilities. I saw a few challenges:

1) TrueType was not usable in DTP because of the limitation of the resolutionthe bundling TrueType in MacOS created problems for customers.

2) Lack of font varieties: Because you needed to have matching fonts on the printer’s hard disk to print your document, and because printer fonts prices were astronomical, the only reliable fonts that you could use at any service bureau were the few Morisawa fonts bundled with the output device.

3) Sha-Ken fonts were not available: many professionals complained that they can’t do their print job with DTP because Sha-Ken fonts were not available.

4) Lack of characters: professionals also complained that the Kanji glyph sets that they needed were not available in DTP PostScript fonts. These fell in two categories. One is ‘itaiji’ of Kanji that are either in or outside of the JIS X 0208 character specification. Another one is Kanji that are not in JIS X 0208. Interestingly we found many of the latter category were not in JIS X 0212 either.

At that time Mac OS was moving to Unicode. We needed therefore to define the base Japanese character set for the Unicode age. It was also the best timing to resolve the problem #4.

The APGS project was born in this environment. We did two things. One is to define the base character set which resulted in adopting JIS X 0213. The other is to define professional glyph set, APGS. APGS was done independently from choosing the fonts we bundled, however both projects went in parallel for the most part. Adopting APGS was a prerequisite for fonts we bundle.

The Solution
We decided to adopt JIS X 0213 as our new Japanese base character set replacing JIS X 0208 (the previous Mac Japanese encoding). JIS X 0213 was not final at that time but was taking form. We had some doubts if JIS X 0212 would fulfill people’s everyday needs, and we liked the approach that the JIS X 0213 team was taking. Being the base character set means we expanded our Kanji input method to take advantage of the JIS X 0213 character set.

For professional needs, we investigated every single character that phototypesetting systems had, e.g. up to Sha-Ken gaiji set C, and determined if the particular character should be included or left out. We wanted to say we have most if not all characters that are available in legacy systems including their gaiji plates that are not usually available.

In the process we learned that Adobe was also working on defining a new glyph set (AJ 1-4) with similar goals in mind. I wanted to merge the efforts but it did not work out. We could not just use Adobe’s effort as it seemed they were concentrating on itaiji of JIS X 0208, and were not working on adding Kanji that were completely missing. It meant we needed to continue with our own efforts.

At the same time, because the target was the DTP market, we needed to be upward compatible with whatever Adobe has. We made our glyph set upward compatible with theirs, expecting they will add ours to their glyph set later which is what happened.

At the start of the project we had decided to adopt Adobe’s format, i.e. CID, because TrueType was dead in the Japanese DTP market. I then changed the format to OpenType following the industry’s move. Hiragino became the first non-TrueType font bundled in Mac OS, Hiragino also ended up being the first Japanese OpenType font in the market, not our intention but it happened.

Because we did not adopt the Adobe Japan 1-4 glyph set, it forced Adobe to adopt APGS but things worked out nonetheless. Adobe’s development of InDesign J, capable of handing Unicode, and supporting authentic Japanese line layout, was a critical component in re-igniting the DTP market in Japan. Morisawa was upset at the time because Apple’s move changed the structure of the font market, but the market direction were already clear when Adobe announced OpenType J in 1998.

Results and some regrets
Hiragino being OpenType removed the need for printer fonts. Because APGS effectively had all characters found in the largest character sets on phototypesetting machines, it addressed complaints from professionals that there were not enough characters in DTP production.

The Hiragino font has Sha-Ken lineage and was welcomed by people who had complained about the lack of Sha-Ken typefaces. They all come free with macOS. Taken together with InDesign J they removed all excuses for not moving to DTP.

One of our concerns was that killing the printer font business, and increased development costs because of the extended character set would negatively impact the health of the font business. To survive the change we believed the font business needed to transition to the subscription business. And this is what happened. Fontworks started its LETS subscription, and Morisawa followed with Passport. It greatly widened the variety of fonts available for people to use. It was nice.

One small technical regret was that when we defined the properties of each glyph (e.g. fullwidth or proportional), we defined math symbols and some other symbols defined in JIS X 0213 as proportional as they should be in the internationalized system (which caused some turmoils in the Japanese OT world). At that time we decided leave Greek and Cyrillic fullwidth but if I were to decide now I would make them proportional.

Another regret was that we should have created a solid subset (or subsets) of APGS / AJ 1-5. Applications that really need the whole set of APGS are books. Display typefaces obviously do not need the whole set, nor do magazines and so on. We were concerned that font developers might think it necessary, or be pressured from customers to develop whole AJ15 or whatever whole set for every single font that they have when it is not really necessary.

To demonstrate this was not the case, we intentionally left some of our bundle fonts with a smaller subset. But it was not enough, it did not establish a solid character set category that everyone can follow. I should have worked with Adobe to develop a good standard subset based on X 0213 and give it a name. AJ 1-4 is not a good subset as it contains itaiji that many of applications do not need, and it does not contain important characters from JIS X 0213. AJ 1-4 is effectively used as a fallback subset right now.

In September 2002 the other shoe dropped when Adobe announced Adobe Japan 1-5 that incorporated APGS. A senior Apple engineer who had been part of every Apple OS internationalization project from Pink, to GX, to Taligent and finally MacOS X had this to say about the Apple • Adobe relationship: “If it wasn’t for GX, OpenType would never have happened.” I could not agree more and add that if it was not for GX and AAT tables, we wouldn’t have extended character sets and variable fonts the way we do now. Torinoumi thought that JIS X0213 (AJ 1-5) would become the standard of the high-end market. He was right.

For many developers (Adobe included), creating larger and larger fonts was not the best solution to handle the ever-evolving character standards. Adobe did go on to create more Japanese glyph collections but their ability to rally the industry around them diminished over time. Back in 2002 I thought that most Japanese fonts would probably stop at AJ 1-4, leaving Apple in the enviable position of giving users a industry standard super-font with every copy of Mac OS X…not a bad place to be. It’s pretty much how things panned out.


Developers and APGS enhanced Hiragino

I believe it is in everybody’s best interest, Adobe included, for Apple to continue innovating.

Isamu Iwata, Ergosoft marketing director 2002

Ergosoft was one of the very first Japanese Macintosh developers. In the 1980s, their egword text-editing application and egbridge input module were staples for every Japanese Mac user. The arrival of ATOK from JustSystem (for kanji input) and Microsoft Word put an end to Ergosoft’s market dominance in the mid-1990s. At the same time, a foray into cross-platform development turned out to be an expensive disappointment, and Ergosoft dropped Windows development in 1997. OS X gave Ergosoft a new opportunity, and the company took it by adopting Apple innovations that other developers ignored: ATSUI, the extended glyph set for Hiragino and the power of Apple’s AAT (Advanced Typography Tables).

In 2002 Ergosoft product manager Isamu Iwata sat down to discuss their products that used these technologies. It shows a Mac software industry in transition.

JB: One of the big features of egword 12 and egbridge 13 is the ability to use all of the Hiragino APGS extended glyph set. Was it difficult implementing these features?

Iwata: There was some engineering work using ATSUI, but making the decision to use ATSUI or not was a much more difficult decision. It was a little risky. Apple made lots of promises with QuickDraw GX, then completely dropped it. It took us two years to finally decide to support ATSUI. We did surveys of other developers to see if anybody was using ATSUI, but did- n’t find a single one. We were worried that if we were the only ones, it would disappear. I’m fairly certain we are the first developer to use ATSUI in a big way. Not even AppleWorks uses ATSUI.

We put a lot of effort into making a GX version of egword, but ended up throwing it away when Apple killed GX.

JB: Did you see any opportunities in using ATSUI?

Iwata: The deciding factor was the Hiragino fonts becoming part of Mac OS X. Even though Morisawa and the other font makers don’t have APGS [AJ 1-5] extended glyph sets, we still felt it was an opportunity, because it is part of the base system. The Hiragino fonts are high quality; they can satisfy the DTP market but also be of real value to other users as well.

JB: Does egword use any other ATSUI features besides the extended character sets?

Iwata: Not at this time. There was also a bug in ATSUI [prior to 10.2] that prevented us from accessing approximately 300 glyphs. We told Apple engineering when they visited here and they were very surprised. They promised to fix it in the next OS update. Such is the risk of being the only developer to use ATSUI and Hiragino.

JB: How do you maintain font-data compatibility with Adobe’s InDesign [which does not use ATSUI]?

Iwata: Hiragino has CID ID tags so the correct glyphs are imported [and displayed, printed, embedded in PDF documents, etc.] However, we cannot import some glyphs because they do not have CID tags. [Fixed in 10.2.]

JB: All of APGS does not have CID tags?

Iwata: Not all, only some…. egbridge can access all of the characters because of AAT and ATSUI, but applications like Excel and Word cannot accept them.

Ergosoft parent company Koei KK (now Koei Tecmo Holdings) shuttered the subsidiary in late 2007 and exited all Apple related business. The timing was unfortunate. After Apple released APGS in 2001 they did nothing to promote it or ATSUI. iPhone did not go on sale in Japan until 2008, the App Store economy had yet to materialize. If Koei KK had waited a few months things might have turned out very different.

Norihito Hirose and Kenta Arano, the very talented lead programmers of Ergosoft set up with own company Monokakido in early 2008 and created some of the first hit Japanese iPhone apps such as the Japanese dictionary Dajirin. They purchased the assets of egword and egbridge and resurrected them. They are still the best Japanese word processor and Japanese text input module on macOS.


Time Line

January 1994 QuickDraw GX launch
After being unveiled at MacWorld Tokyo 1989, QuickDraw GX launched in early 1994. Key font technologies include: extended character support, Apple Advanced Typography (AAT) tables, GX variable fonts, Open Font Architecture.

1995 CID PostScript Japanese Font Upgrade Disaster

August 1996 Apple cancels Copland OS

December 1996 NeXT Purchase (NEXTSTEP)

October 1998 ATSUI (Apple Type Services for Unicode Imaging)
Key GX text technologies brought forward for MacOS 8 and MacOS X: extended character sets, Apple Advanced Typography (AAT) tables, GX variable fonts.

November 1999 Adobe Japan 1-4
Adobe announces the first ‘Pro’ extended character collection specification and OpenType Japanese fonts with 15,444 glyphs at Seybold Seminars Tokyo.

February 2000 MacWorld Tokyo ‘Hiragino Shock’
Steve Jobs announces high end Hiragino fonts will be bundled with Mac OS X

March 2001 MacOS X 10.0 Hiragino
MacOS X 10.0 ships with Hiragino, the very first OpenType Japanese font.

September 2001 MacOS X 10.1 Apple Publishing Glyph Set
Apple Publishing Glyph Set enhanced Hiragino with 20,291 glyphs ships in OS X 10.1.

September 2002 Adobe Japan 1-5
Adobe announces a new OpenType Japanese font extended character set with 20,317 glyphs that incorporate the APGS extended character set.


Looking back
Hiragino Shock and Apple Publishing Glyph Set marked the end of an era of bold new typography developments in the Japanese market. Adobe went on to create other Japanese glyph collections but their ability to rally the industry around them diminished over time. The last time that Adobe and Apple cooperated was the OpenType Variable Font specification in 2016 which incorporated the Apple TrueType GX model and AAT tables, though these have yet to see any major release in the Japanese market.

It’s a shame the QuickDraw GX vision of international savvy, insanely great typography and layout as standard universal features all developers implement easily in high-level OS frameworks and standard app feature sets never survived. In today’s modern OS landscape I find it depressing that OpenType advanced typography features only live in full glory in Adobe Creative Suite apps. Although it is almost forgotten history, Apple’s font efforts for OS X raised the bar for standard OS typography features in Japan and moved the industry forward, for that users can be grateful.

Thanks to Yasuo Kida for sharing details behind the Apple Publishing Glyph Set initiative.


Related posts:

Inside Hiragino: A Closeup of Apple’s OS X Japanese Font

Stroke fonts forever

The Second Wave of Japanese Desktop Publishing

Requiem for Sha-Ken

A Japanese font design legacy restored: Morisawa and Sha-Ken agree to co-develop the Sha-Ken font library for OpenType