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The Japanese Foundry Scene

March 15, 2017 by Guest Author: Toshiya Izumo (

This piece focuses on the Japanese font foundry scene. It is a scene in constant change, a result of bankruptcies by individual companies, mergers, start-ups and constantly shifting licensing models. In what follows, I intend to provide an overview of the most important foundries today.

Japanese Foundries


Morisawa has been a leading foundry in Japan since 1948 – in fact, it is currently the largest and most influential one. While large foundries normally employ 20 to 30 people, Morisawa has 2701 employees. Nearly all Japanese designers use Morisawa fonts regularly. The range of typefaces is diverse. That diversity increased overnight when the company bought all the shares of TypeBank2 and took over font licenses from Ryobi3.

Ishii Hoso Mincho Font by Shaken. Kuwayama, Yasaburo: Lettering and Design, Tokyo 1997, p. 60, 62
Ishii Hoso Mincho Font by Shaken. Kuwayama, Yasaburo: Lettering and Design, Tokyo 1997, p. 60, 62


Shaken has been a major font maker in Japan since 1924. In the phototypesetting era, the foundry held the largest market share. It lost influence dramatically because the company was late to digitalize. Former employees of Shaken, including Akira Kobayashi, still play a major role in the industry today as founders or employees of other well-known foundries in Japan (Jiyukobo, Fontworks, etc.).


The company has been producing digital typefaces since 1993. One former employee of Shaken, Shigenobu Fujita4, also works here. His fonts made the company famous. Some of his fonts are installed as system fonts in the current Mac OS. Today the company works with Hakusyu Fonts5, which sells many brush fonts.


This company has been producing movable letters, typesetting fonts and digital fonts since 1922. As one of the first Japanese foundries, Motoya digitalized their fonts in collaboration with IBM in 1969. The company's fonts are now used by newspapers, Google Maps, Chrome OS, Android, and the like.


Iwata was founded in 1920. The company has a long tradition of text fonts, a result of their production of movable letters and phototypesetting fonts. Iwata also distributes the production software IKARUS by URW++ in Japan.


Former employees of Shaken6 founded the foundry in 1989. Apple has used their font Hiragino as a system font since 2000. This means that nearly all Mac owners use fonts from this foundry. The new fonts Yu-Mincho and Yu-Gothic are among the first system fonts installed in both Mac and Windows.

Foreign foundries in Japan


Adobe has developed multiple Japanese fonts since 1997. The growing range of Japanese fonts in Adobe TypeKit is due to collaboration with Morisawa and other foundries.


The company headquarters are located in Taiwan. DynaFont (formerly DynaLab Inc.) has been producing digital fonts since 1987. The foundry has a large repertoire of brush fonts, as well as multilingual fonts.7 Some of the fonts are sold in packages at reduced prices.

The common license models

As in other countries, Japanese companies use different licensing models, depending on application (print, web, film/video, games, apps, e-publishing, servers, etc.).

Many foundries offer bundled license models in the form of annual or monthly contracts. In this way, they offer customers a variety of fonts for time-restricted use. This licensing model is known from the music industry and also employed by Adobe CC, for example.

The attraction of this system lies in the large selection of fonts. The use of one type of font in different media (e.g. print and web), however, requires different license contracts.


The font market in Japan is different than that of Europe. The significantly larger number of characters in a font alone makes the selling price higher. In addition, font development requires more labor and a longer development period. Establishing a new foundry in the Japanese market without a previous font legacy is significantly harder. However, the change of technology opens up new opportunities. Many phototypesetting foundries disappeared when the digital font era began and new digital foundries conquered the market. The struggle for survival among the foundries continues into the present day. As I noted initially, the market is in a state of constant change.

The Trilogy of Japanese Typography


1. Website accessed on 9/22/2016
2. The foundry has been active since 1975. It is famous for the font TYPO, which was the first typeface in Japan created by designers. Before this font, the Japanese font industry was still a master and apprentice system.
3. The company emerged from Kobundo, which was founded in 1947. It produced movable letters, typesetting fonts and digital fonts.
4. Shigenobu Fujita developed the Tsukushi font family.
6. Tsutomu Suzuki, Osamu Torinoumi and Keiichi Katada
7. Noteworthy are Arabic, Thai, Vietnamese, Hindi, Hebrew, and other South Asian fonts.