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

Sha-Ken finally launches a website

The Sha-Ken web site uses Noto Sans JP…

Sha-Ken 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 Sha-Ken saga. The site has samples of famous classic Sha-Ken 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 Sha-Ken web font to be found. Actually Sha-Ken 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 Sha-Ken of that time know about: Apple almost bought Sha-Ken, 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 Sha-Ken 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 Sha-Ken 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 Sha-Ken one. We’ll never know. Still it’s fun to think about what would have happened had the Apple Sha-Ken deal gone through as planned.

Inside Hiragino: A Closeup of Apple’s macOS Japanese Font

The Founders of Jiyukobo
Hiragino Creators: the founders of Jiyukobo from left to right are Osamu Torinoumi, Tsutomu Suzuki (center portrait), and Keiichi Takada (photo provided by Jiyukobo for this article)

(A version of this article was published in the Seybold Reports December 2002 issue. It contains an interview with Osamu Torinoumi one of the lead Hiragino font designers. He discusses the design history of Hiragino and its inclusion as the Japanese system font in Mac OS X. He also gives the history behind the just released Yumin font that was later licensed to Microsoft and Apple. The last section is a 2009 followup interview covering the Hiragino Sans design, a Simplified Chinese font that shipped with Mac OS X Snow Leopard)

Hiragino, the family of Japanese OpenType fonts included with Mac OS X, has a rich feature set and history that few people are likely to be aware of. There is much more than meets the eye, and knowing the features and history is well worth your time if you have even a passing interest in Japanese fonts and typography.

Hiragino started just about the time that Japanese PostScript arrived in the late 1980’s. At that time, the king of the typesetting market was Sha-Ken KK. Anyone who knows Japanese typography knows Sha-Ken. It had the most sought-after type library, the best designers, the biggest market share. Sha-Ken made so much money that it became arrogant and absolutely refused any offers from Adobe and Apple to jump on the PostScript bandwagon.

But there was trouble in paradise. A few designers felt Sha-Ken was becoming stagnant and left the company. Each sought his own vision, yet they came together to create the fonts that would eventually end up in MacOS X.

The principals of the Hiragino story are Tsutomu Suzuki (who died in 1998 at the age of 49, leaving a design legacy that will probably never be equaled), Osamu Torinoumi and Keiichi Katada. Together they founded a company called Jiyukobo. For this article, we interviewed Torinoumi, who now runs the company, carrying on the work he started with Suzuki.

The Jiyukobo story
Osamu Torinoumi: We started at Sha-Ken. Suzuki was there for 20 years. I was with the firm for 10 years. At that time, Sha-Ken did not make fonts digitally. Sha-Ken would output the outlines to photographic paper, then make hand adjustments to the glyph designs. It was a very involved process—high quality, but an inefficient way to make fonts. In those days, there was lots of time and money to do things this way. And we didn’t quite completely trust the Ikarus digitizing system. [The Ikarus system appeared in the early 80’s.] At that time, I think, there were nearly 40 designers working at Sha-Ken.

JB: Was Suzuki the top designer?

Torinoumi: Kazuo Hashimoto was the top designer. Then there was Ishihara, the section chief. Then there was Suzuki. Suzuki was the first to quit Sha-Ken, followed by Katada and then me, each for our own reasons. Suzuki had a dream of designing fonts and somehow making a living [laughs]. My dream was to create a new mincho typeface. Sha-Ken had created the Honran Hoso Mincho typeface in 1981. I left in ’89 and, in those years, Sha-Ken did not create any new mincho fonts. They decided they had enough and didn’t need to create any more. So my dream was to create a whole new mincho typeface.

Mincho vs Gothic
Comparing strokes: a gothic design has cleaner, simpler lines—the analog to a sans-serif face. Gothic fonts are generally used for titles; they are also easier to read at small sizes and low resolutions.

Suzuki then contacted me and asked if I’d like working together, even though he joked that we’d probably end up strangling each other. We were too alike and neither of us had much business experience either. So we asked Katada-san to join and started the business with the three of us.

The Creation of Hiragino
Our first project was for Canon: to create a kana typeface. We got ¥200,000 for it, and we thought we had hit the big time. That’s tiny compared with what you can get now, but for us it was a big thing. Then, six months after we had set up shop, we got a call from Toyoizumi of DaiNippon Screen. Toyoizumi used to work at Sha-Ken and quit the same time we did. He told us that Screen wanted to create a new typeface and asked if we could do it. That was in 1990.

There was nobody at Screen who knew how to make a font or what the design should be.We were designers, not managers. I’d never written a business plan, and coming up with one was a real challenge. We looked at all the Sha-Ken typefaces and wrote a business plan that pretty much copied what they had. Screen didn’t want that; they said, “If we are going to compete with Sha-Ken, we want a product that has originality. We don’t want designers choosing between two look-alikes.

But we did agree on some basics; we wanted to create one mincho typeface and one gothic typeface. We felt it was important for us to create lasting designs. We didn’t want to create some flashy typeface that would run out of steam down the road. On this basis we agreed to go ahead with DaiNippon Screen. The next problem was creating a new mincho typeface for a market already crowded [with mincho typefaces]. We had to do many presentations for Screen to explain all the design differences between what was already out there and what we wanted to design.

For example, it is easy for us, as designers, to tell the differences between different mincho typefaces, but that’s not the case for most people. So we had to explain why this design is better for magazines or this is better for newspapers and so on.”

JB: Was reading text on computer screens part of the equation at this step?

Torinoumi: Paper was the main consideration. We did our analysis and found there had not been a mincho typeface created especially for magazines. There were some revised typefaces from the Meiji era [1867–1912] that were sometimes used for magazines, but that was about it. There weren’t any modern typefaces for magazines. Also, DaiNippon Screen was very strong in the color prepress market. It made a good fit. That was the plan that was approved, and so we started working on Hiragino. It took two years to create an analog [handdrawn] version of Hiragino Mincho.

JB: Did one person draw all 7,000 glyphs?

Torinoumi: No, it was a group effort—four people plus some part-time tracers. Up to then, I had never drawn a whole Japanese typeface, only bits and pieces. Only Suzuki had created a whole typeface before. So our deadline kept being pushed further and further back, and Suzuki would get angry with us. On average, one person would draw 12 or 13 glyphs a day, which is not much change of pace from the days of creating block type.

We completed the analog version and handed it off to Screen thinking our part was all finished. But digitizing the font turned out to be another story altogether. Screen had the Ikarus software, as we did. But their digitizing team was made up of older men who had been let go from other positions in the company and ended up there. They were a group of ten who knew nothing about design.

When Screen showed us their work, we couldn’t believe what we saw and told them to stick with the analog master we had given them. We then went over and tried to train them, but that didn’t work. Finally, Screen asked us to help with making the digital data. One of our staff already had experience with Ikarus. Then we picked up a used copy of Ikarus M and a few Macintoshes, which we heard were easier to use than MS-DOS.

JB: How long did it take to make the digital data?

Torinoumi: It took a year. So the whole process, from start to finish, took three years. At the same time, we were also making other weights. Hiragino Mincho [W3–W8] went on sale in 1993, followed by Hiragino Gothic [W1–W9] in 1994. Those versions were only interpolated data. At Sha-Ken, we had printed each glyph and made corrections for the weight. We didn’t do that for the first Hiragino release because we didn’t have time. We fixed all of that with the CID version.

JB: If you had to do it all over again, knowing about personal computers and the Internet, would you take a different design approach?

Torinoumi: We probably would. Hiragino was really designed for phototypesetting, not digital typesetting. The stroke ends become more rounded [in phototype]. We were aiming for a sharper, more modern look. You can really tell the difference of Hiragino and other mincho typefaces by looking at the stroke end.

With phototypesetting, you get a soft looking stroke. But with digital, it is very sharp looking, which has been criticized by some, but that is what the design is supposed to be. I’m satisfied with the bigger weights, but I feel that we should have made the horizontal lines of W3 a little heavier. They are just a little too thin for computer screens.

Comparing mincho stroke ends
Sharp by design. Traditional mincho designs end in a point (1). Hiragino’s defining feature is the “sharp” cut-off end (2). Digital type preserves this, but phototypesetting (3) has a softening effect.

Apple OS X Japanese system font
“With Mac OS X we made new kana glyph designs for the system font. At one point, Apple was going to call it New Osaka. I don’t know what they are calling it now. Apple wanted to use Hiragino as the system font, but I told them it doesn’t match Lucida. So what I did was suggest Hiragino Gothic for the kanji.

With gothic, the vertical and horizontal line width is the same. But Lucida’s horizontal lines are thinner than the verticals. How do you balance the two? The kanji font was already decided; the alphabet was decided. What to do? So I came up with the idea of creating a special hiragana and katakana design to balance out the two.”

JB: Which makes sense because you use lots of katakana in menus, dialogs and such.

Torinoumi: Yes. Also, Lucida is thicker than Hiragino Gothic. In order to equalize out the balance, we created a gothic kana where the vertical line was thick and the horizontal line thinner. We figured the style would match. The katakana looked thin in comparison to Lucida, so we asked Apple to fine-tune them when they are anti-aliased. Apple engineers said they could and, when they sent some samples, I thought they looked good; and that’s what we decided to use.

New Osaka Kana Design
A comparison of the ‘New Osaka’ system font of MacOS X (top) and Hiragino Gothic W3 (bottom). The hiragana and katakana of New Osaka have a flatter, simple and bolder feel than Hiragino, to match Lucida Grande and are easier to read on computer screens.

JB: So the Japanese system font name is New Osaka?

Torinoumi: The kanji are Hiragino Kaku Gothic W3. The hiragana and katakana are new designs specifically for Mac OS X. The roman font is Lucida. Actually, we had a joke of calling the new hybrid font ‘Takadanobaba’ [the name of the train station near his company].

JB: What kind of designs are you thinking of doing from now on?

Torinoumi: I don’t think you really have to change font designs just for the screen. I don’t think fonts for books need to change. For doing e-mail and things, I think it would be better to have different designs.

Also screen technology is getting better. Screens in the future will have higher pixel densities. In that case, I don’t think Japanese font designs need to change. With today’s screen resolutions, you do need to fine tune things for better display. In today’s Japanese DTP, what you get on the screen tends to look more rounded than what actually comes out.

I think gothic is basically good for most things. Mincho is a problem. Mincho was basically designed to be easy on the eyes when reading long sentences— books, basically. Gothic has a springy, bolder, eye-catching feel that is better for reading e-mail and cellphone messages.

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. It was Suzuki’s last design. He died in 1998. He looked like a yakuza, especially when he wore sunglasses. But he had a soft voice. Before he passed on, he wanted to create a new font for reading novels. It went on sale in September.

Suzuki's Last Design was Yumin
Jiyukobo’s new Yumin. This was Suzuki’s last design, and it is one of the most beautiful Japanese digital fonts. It looks very similar to Hiragino, but it has a more petite, balanced feel that is very easy on the eyes in long sentences–perfect for novels.

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.

JB: Are there any designs you want to do in the future?

Torinoumi: I’d like to create some kana fonts, Yuitsuki, for example. We’re expensive. 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 bundling of Hiragino with OS X had a huge impact on the Japanese print market and subsequent development of Japanese font character sets. For details of that side of the Hiragino story see: Inside Hiragino: Hiragino Shock and Apple Publishing Glyph Set.


Hiragino Sans GB
(Unpublished followup interview with Torinoumi san in 2009)

Hiragino Sans GB is the new Chinese font included in Snow Leopard. According to sources close to Apple, the design started as a request from Apple during negotiations to renew Dainippon Screen’s Japanese Hiragino license for Mac OS X and iPhone. Apple reportedly drove a hard bargain and a Chinese version of Hiragino was part of the deal. Perhaps Apple realized the chance to get a high quality Simplified Chinese font for Snow Leopard and iPhone was too valuable to pass up.

Screen contacted one of the designers of Hiragino, Jiyukobo founder Torinoumi san, “When Screen approached me about it I told them they should find a Chinese designer to do it because they would know what is right for China.”

Screen searched font design houses in China and eventually selected the ‘Beijing Hanyi Keyin Information Technology Co., Ltd.’ a company of 20 font designers and 20 engineers. Torinoumi san said, “We (Jiyukobo and Screen) visited them in December 2007. The top designer is a young woman, Ms. Zhong. We couldn’t talk to each other because of the language barrier and didn’t know if we had the same design sensibility so she started pulling out the hand drawn templates for one of their designs and we went through them one by one. I would point out the design problems and she would nod her head in agreement and after a while I realized we both thought alike.”

“We worked with the Adobe GB 1-4 character set (29,064 glyphs) at 2 weights. Basically we had to finish one weight in 6 months. One year for the entire project. At first we only thought we would be there as backup, but Screen kept passing us all the questions from Beijing. It turned out to be a lot more work than we anticipated.”

Jiyukobo sent all the original Hiragino design data to Hanyi Keyin through Screen and they adapted the designs for China. Torinoumi said that one of the major differences is that Chinese design demands that Gothic (sans serif) characters mimic handwritten style. This means the character should be slightly off center within the virtual body. “Even after the project was over I still didn’t understand the difference between Japan and Chinese “Kokoro” glyph which the Chinese designers insisted were different.”

Hiragino Sans comparison with Hiragino
Hiragino Pro and Hiragino Sans GB side by side The red circles highlight the Chinese design differences.
Hiragino Sans Comparison 2

Despite the design differences and the time constraints the project was successfully competed. Torinoumi said, “The 70 year old Chinese inspector from the Conformance Test Center for Information Technology Standards sent a letter praising the design. Beijing Hanyi Keyin told us that was the first time they had ever heard of that happening.”After handing off the designs to Screen, Screen’s font engineers did the 2 byte roll-up and encoding and delivered it to Apple for testing and font table tweaking during the Snow Leopard beta process.

The final product isn’t noticed much by westerners but has earned some praise in Asian typography blogs. Torinoumi explained that one of the criticisms some Japanese people have with Hiragino is it’s ‘too sharp’ looking. “When we designed Hiragino printing was still very much a photochemical process which rounded the corners going from film to plate just enough to give the effect we wanted. With computers and CTP (computer to plate) there is no blurring and the total effect is one of sharpness.

But this very sharpness is a quality that Chinese favor. “I don’t know if this is because Chinese characters were first written on bones then later in stone but sharpness is a key quality of Chinese font design.”

Dainippon Screen has released a package version of Hiragino Sans GB for sale in the Japanese market. Torinoumi said that since China is now Japan’s largest trading partner there is growing demand for high quality Chinese fonts for local printing needs. A single Hiragino Sans GB license with tax included costs 52,500 JPY. At present there are no plans to sell the font package outside of the Japanese market but Hiragino Sans GB is included in every copy of Mac OS 10.6 Snow Leopard.

Update
Taiwanese blogger Lukens Liu has a lovely thoughtful review, Hiragino Sans GB: A typeface with Japanese soul and Simplified Chinese look.

In rough summary, Hiragino Sans GB is the Simplified Chinese version of the Hiragino typeface. The glyphs use the forms that are Chinese national standard. It’s designed to make Chinese characters look good in Japanese texts, and vice versa.