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Kanji Fonts – Some basics you need to know for using Kanji

Kanji Fonts – Some basics you need to know for using Kanji

When you try to study Kanji by yourself, you will notice that the shape of the characters differs so much by the fonts and get confused from which you should learn. There are countless numbers of Japanese fonts, but in this article, I will introduce the major fonts that will help you to read and write Japanese text.

Three significant fonts

There are three significant fonts in Japanese; 教科書体(Kyōkashotai) 教科書体,明朝体(Minchōtai) 明朝体, and ゴシック体(Goshikkutai) ゴシック体. Please see and see the difference.

*春夏秋冬(shunkashūtō) しゅんかしゅうとう means spring, summer, autumn, and winter. 東西南北(tōzainanboku) 東西南北 means east, west, south, and north.

  1. 教科書体 (Kyōkashotai) 教科書体
    教科書体 is the font that is close to the Kanji in block style used in textbooks of elementary schools. 教科書(Kyōkasho)means “textbook.” When Japanese people write text by hand, they will write in this font. If you are studying to write Japanese, you should use this font as your copybook.
  2. 明朝体 (Minchōtai) 明朝体
    This font is used in most of the printed matters you read in daily life, including newspapers and magazines. It was developed for printing, and as you can see in the picture below, the vertical line is rather thick, and the horizontal line is rather thin. At the end of the horizontal stroke, there is a triangle called うろこ(Uroko).

    十(jū), “ten” in 明朝体

  3. ゴシック体 (Goshikkutai) ゴシック体
    The thickness of the vertical line and the horizontal line is the same. It is easy to read even there is a distance between you and the text. Therefore, it is suitable for signs and billboards.

    十(jū), “ten” in ゴシック体

However, it is tough to read when used for long texts such as newspapers or books. Therefore, ゴシック体 are likely to be used for only the headings. The body of the writing tends to be written in 明朝体.

The heading of the newspaper is in ゴシック体, and the body is in 明朝体.

Which 明朝体 and ゴシック体 you should use when using Microsoft Word

There are many types of 教科書体, 明朝体, ゴシック体 depending on the software or designers – although they are all following the basic rules.

If you are using the Microsoft Word to write Japanese for business, simply select MS明朝 or MS P明朝 for 明朝体, and select MSゴシック or MS P ゴシック for ゴシック体. Others might be considered informal. If your boss has any preference, just follow it.

In the “MS xx” font, the character width is always the same no matter which character you type. On the other hand, when using the “MS P xx” font, the width depends on the character. The text may look more beautiful using the “MS P xx” series when printed.

Other fonts frequently used in Japanese society

Within hundreds of fonts, you might find the fonts below rather frequently.

  1. 古印体 (Kointai) 古印体

    Its origin is the script used for seals of temples and shrines in the Nara period (710 CE – 794 CE) and evolved into a font unique to Japan. However, when used in comics, it gives a horrifying image.

    The sentence means, “When I realized the piece of cake has disappeared from the fridge.” It is just a simple sentence but sounds horrifying by using this font.

  2. 篆書体 (Tenshotai) 篆書体

    Nowadays, this is the font mainly used for official seals of individuals, the government, and companies. It is based on the script developed in the 春秋(Chunqiu) era and was standardized in the 秦(Qing) dynasty.

    篆書体is still used today for formal seals used for important documents, such as contracts or certificates. It is quite complex and difficult to duplicate.

    Here is an example. The photo below is a certificate of a qualification examination called ITパスポート(IT Passport). In the bottom part, you can see the name of the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry at that time(枝野幸男, Yukio Edano). On the right side of the name, you can see a seal carved “経済産業大臣” in 篆書体, which means “the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry.”

    The point is that when Japanese people conclude contracts or give someone a certificate, they use seals instead of signatures. Without seals, those are just pieces of paper invalid.

  3. 隷書体 (Reishotai) 隷書体
    隷書体(actually pronounced “Rēshotai”) was first developed in China more than 2,000 years ago. It is horizontally longer than other fonts. It is said that the font was made by simplifying the 篆書体. This font is used for seals as well. You can also see the characters in 隷書体 on Japanese bills.
  4. 印相体 (Insoutai) 印相体
    印相体(actually pronounced “Insōtai”) is a script that was developed especially for making seals by arranging 篆書体. It is so complicated that it is challenging to read and duplicate. It is used for official seals of individuals or companies.

Where you can download Japanese fonts for free

You can download 古印体,篆書体,隷書体,印相体 and other fonts from here. The website is in Japanese but just click the 「ダウンロード」for Mac or Windows. Please be noted that only Hiragana, Katakana, and 1006 Kanji characters taught in elementary schools are included in each font.

The three English websites below have many decorative fonts.


1001 Fonts


Another option for using Japanese fonts: Google Fonts

Here is the website for the Japanese fonts of Google Fonts:

Google Fonts is not a service for downloading fonts but is a website for web fonts. You will select the font you would like to use, then copy and paste the HTML code to your website.

For further information, please see the website below to see how to use it:

Enjoy the profound beauty of Japanese fonts!

You can download hundreds of Japanese fonts from the Internet for free.

Oh, I forgot to tell you, you first need to install the IME into your computer to type Japanese.

Here is the website explaining how to install it:

Installing IME and Typing Japanese on Windows

Try using many Japanese fonts and see how the impression of the text will dramatically change. Enjoy!

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