Inside Hiragino

9 November 2003

Hiragino, the family of Japanese OpenType fonts included with MacOS 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 DTP. For one Japanese Mac developer, Ergosoft, the special features of Hiragino are a way to make money. If Apple itself really knew what it had, it might be working harder to make more money off the fonts too.

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 Shaken KK. Anyone who knows Japanese typography knows Shaken. It had the most sought after type library, the best designers, the biggest market share. Shaken 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 Shaken 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 equalled), 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, and looks at the design philosophy.

In addition to the design art, there are also technical and marketing aspects to the Hiragino story. So this article also looks at the advanced typography features of Hiragino and has an interview with Isamu Iwata of ErgoSoft, a Japanese software company attempting to leverage those advanced features and the rich typography of MacOS X in the market. After all, good design and software development require a revenue stream for their continued existence.

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Joel Breckinridge