ShaKen KK finally launches a website

The ShaKen web site uses Noto Sans JP…

ShaKen finally got a website, listing themselves as Sha-Ken Co., Ltd. Big deal so what, except that it’s not 1991 or even 2001. A font company doing business without a website until 2021 is tantamount to not doing business at all. That it has taken them some 30 years to acknowledge digital fonts on the web says all that you need to know about the tragic ShaKen saga. The site has samples of famous classic Shaken fonts that are certainly the OpenType launch candidates due in 2024, a full archive is due to go online in May. There is also a dreamy catchphrase: ‘building the next future of fonts and type culture,’ but the site design uses Google Noto Sans JP fonts…not a ShaKen web font to be found. Actually ShaKen is building supermarkets while leaving digital font development of their venerable library to Morisawa. And as FeliCa Dude gleefully notes, the company hagiography does not mention the 1999 infamous tax scandal.

There is another 1999 scandal that few people outside of Apple and ShaKen of that time know about: Apple almost bought ShaKen, or at least the library. In 1998 and 1999 I was close to Ross Evans, the founder of Fontworks. I wrote about Fontworks’ QuickDraw GX based Japanese stroke font technology and font designs that were due to be bundled as the default Japanese system font in the ill-fated MacOS Copeland. That did not pan out obviously but Ross had many close contacts within the Apple typography engineering and publishing market groups and kindly plugged me into that world including Jeff Martin who was the VP overseeing DTP marketing and developer relation efforts.

One day in early February 1999 I woke up to find a email from Jeff’s secretary asking me to contact Jeff right away. I did and his email immediately bounced back from the Apple corporate email server ‘user does not exist’, so did the secretary email address. In the space of 5 hours Jeff Martin’s position in Apple, along with his email address had vanished into thin air.

I later pieced together the story from Ross and others in Apple, many of whom soon followed Jeff out the door: Jeff had arranged a deal between Apple and ShaKen but the deal along with Jeff’s career at Apple were ‘Steved’ at the last second, right about the time that Japanese tax officers found millions of Japanese yen hidden away in basement safes at ShaKen corporate headquarters (worth more than 200 million worth in USD at the time). I never found out what he wanted to ask me.

Apple of course signed a licensing deal with Screen for the Hiragino fonts that became the MacOS X Japanese font, and iOS Japanese font later on. Perhaps the Screen deal was another reason for the collapse of the ShaKen one. We’ll never know. Still it’s fun to think about what would have happened had the Apple ShaKen deal gone through as planned.

End of PostScript Type 1 font support

Adobe recently announced the end of PostScript Type 1 font support in January 2023. Unlike the Latin based Type 1, Japanese Original Composite PostScript Type 1 (OCF) fonts that went on sale in 1989 had a short shelf life and serious shortcomings. They…

…could not be downloaded on a per-job basis, had to reside permanently on the printer and turned the production process upside down: service bureaus and printers were suddenly dictating to designers which fonts could and could not be used.

For every PostScript device, users had to invest in font licenses― and Japanese fonts were very expensive…Morisawa and Adobe came up with the idea of marketing two flavors of PostScript printer fonts: low-resolution (up to 600 dpi) and unlimited. A single unlimited-resolution RIP Japanese font cost ¥218,000 (about $2,000).

The Second Wave of Japanese Desktop Publishing

Adobe fixed some of the problems with CID Japanese PostScript fonts but the expensive and forced upgrade in 1995 did not go well with Japanese customers. Actually it was more of a revolt. Morisawa was forced to backdown and support the older format. I remember spending endless hours upgrading output devices, feeding piles of unique key Morisawa font floppy disks into a Mac that downloaded the CID update to the output device, and often broke in the middle of an install.

Adobe didn’t really fix most Japanese font problems until the OpenType Japanese format arrived a few years later…with yet another expensive upgrade. Adobe and Morisawa wanted to move everybody to OpenType as quickly as possible but the CID upgrade disaster killed that possibility and customers stuck with OCF Type 1 Japanese fonts on output devices as long as they could.

Japanese designers and printers who don’t want to deal with OpenType upgrades and options for extended character sets, IVS enabled fonts, etc., have annual licensing programs like Morisawa Passport to download what they need, but at ¥49,800 per year per CPU it does not come cheap. A close reading of the Morisawa font catalog lists everything still available in OCF format and it’s not exactly clear if OCF is disappearing January 2023 with regular Type 1 (the Japanese notice does not specifically list OCF) but it really needs to go. At this point I imagine it’s mostly there for compatibility with very old RIP systems and files. CID font support ended in 2020. I hope Morisawa uses the opportunity to streamline their catalog option clutter and start delivering Japanese OpenType variable fonts though I think it’s a long shot.

The Seybold Legacy

I was fortunate to write for the Seybold Report in the last few years of its original incarnation in Media PA. Jonathan Seybold was gone by then but the editors and staff still put out a great publication, with insight and depth that made it the most respected newsletter in the printing industry.

It’s hard for people not of that era to understand how important the Seybold publication was, the vanguard of computers and printing, and the genius of Jonathan Seybold creating connections between the two with his Seybold Seminars. It’s not an exaggeration to say that desktop publishing (DTP) and web browsers would not have happened the way they did without him and his father John Seybold. That’s why I was thrilled to find the Oral History of Jonathan Seybold courtesy of the Computer History Museum. There are lots of mentions of Seybold out there but very little history. It’s great that his contribution and history is on record now, required viewing if you have any interesting in computers and print and how they came together. A revolution that changed print forever.

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

Today is great day for Japanese typography: Morisawa and Shaken announced they will co-develop the Shaken font library for OpenType (English press release here), due for release in 2024 in celebration of the Japanese typesetter they created 100 years ago. The founders of Morisawa (Nobuo Morisawa) and Shaken (Mokichi Ishii) co-created the first modern Japanese typesetter in 1924 but quickly became 2 different family companies. By the late 1970’s Shaken had grown to be the dominate force of the Japanese pre-press market with the largest and most sought after font library. In the 1980’s it started to unravel.

Shaken never made the transition to digital pre-press and PostScript fonts, which Morisawa did with a very profitable licensing agreement with Adobe. When Shaken announced OpenType fonts at the 2011 International eBook Expo, they were a has-been company run into the ground by sheer greed. They never delivered on that promise. As the former Shaken lead font engineer told me, there was no font engineer talent left in the company to do the job of re-creating the proprietary digital format library into OpenType.

Now that Shaken is finally free of the founder family, since 2018, they are cutting a deal with Morisawa who have the necessary talent and font engineering expertise to bring the Shaken font library into the digital era. They even have Jiyukobo, creators of the Hiragino Japanese system fonts used in macOS and iOS, which Morisawa bought in 2019. An interesting side story: Apple negotiated with Shaken to purchase their library shortly after Steve Jobs returned but it never came to be, Jeff Martin should be proud of today’s announcement.

It’s hard to emphasize how important this development is. Imagine the LinoType library, or everyday standards like Helvetica, New York, etc. were never licensed as digital fonts…until now. I doubt the first release will encompass OpenType Variable Fonts due to cost and time restraints. Morisawa has yet to release anything in that format so far.

The co-developer team will also have to prioritize and edit as the Shaken library is huge and only a small subset ever made it onto proprietary Shaken digital typesetters. There are huge glyph variation and feature holes to fill. Just getting a simplified basic Shaken library in OpenType format will be a tremendous job.

The 2024 delivery date is important in more ways than the 100th anniversary of Japanese typesetting. With Shaken selling off everything they can over the past 2 years, 2024 is when the last Shaken digital typesetters go out of service. Shaken will stop pretending to be a font developer, cut loose their last remaining 100 customers and live on as a real estate holding company. Morisawa is the only listed contact on the co-development announcement, they will eventually buy out the Shaken library.

But that’s a story for another day. Today is a celebration. After nearly 100 years of separation, 2 halves of a whole are coming together again. In Requiem for Shaken I wrote, “When the last person turns out the lights at Shaken KK, I hope they open the vaults and set the Shaken font library free. Only by taking flight and having a life of its own can it ever hope to live on in the hearts and imaginations of future Japanese designers.” Japanese designers finally have their font legacy back.


Shaken’s last hurrah font announcement in 2011 never panned out
Shaken’s 2011 OpenType font announcement listed Ishii Mincho and Ishii Gothic, these will likely be the first candidates for release in 2024 from Morisawa. A fuller list of classic Shaken font samples here. Shaken fonts were widely used by manga printers in the 70’s and 80’s and permeated the print culture of the era.
The old Shaken Saitama factory site was demolished for a supermarket mall in 2020

Reference posts and background links:
Requiem for Shaken
The Hiragino macOS Japanese system font story
The Second Wave of Japanese Desktop Publishing
Apple’s Once and Future Japanese Variable System Font
TrueType GX Model Lives On in OpenType Variable Fonts
History of Shaken and Morisawa Photo Typesetter development (great article by a Japanese desginer written in German!)

Apple Maps Japan Look Around Expands to Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Takamatsu, Nara

Apple Maps vans and walkers were busy in Japan from May to October 2020 and the first cites to receive Look Around from the data sets are: Hiroshima, Fukuoka and Takamatsu. This is not part of the Apple Maps 2.0 ‘New Maps’ cartography that has rolled out in USA, Canada and UK, just the same lousy IPC map data with a Look Around cherry on top. According to Justin O’Beirn these were added in mid-December.

In addition to new areas he lists, the Look Around Tokyo area region has been extended deeper into the greater Kanto area with more Chiba, Saitama and Kanagawa coverage, though I don’t see any pedestrian data gains in areas that need it (major shrines, temples, parks, and other public areas off limits to vehicles). In the Kansai area, southern parts of Osaka and Nara have been added as well.

At this rate we should have Look Around additions for Sendai, Ishikawa, more Kanto and other regions coming soon. Apple Maps Look Around first appeared in August 2020 for Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka regions from data collected in 2019.