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The Morisawa Story

Design generations

Hideki Ichikawa and Hideyuki Oda are senior type designers at Morisawa who have been dedicated to their work for several decades. Ichikawa joined Morisawa in 1970 as a technician—with the dream of becoming a type designer. He started out making glass letter boards, looking into a magnifying mirror day after day. When a chief designer retired, he had the chance to take the test to become a designer, and it was a turning point in his career. Ichikawa got the job and since then has helped create most of Morisawa’s new Japanese typefaces. Oda joined the company seven years later, first as an assistant letter examiner. In three years he joined the design team. He has been an integral part of the design work of Kanji for several decades.

Kanji is the most common script for Japanese, with more than 50,000 different glyphs. A single Kanji character can have multiple meanings which depend on context and how they are pronounced. Both designers gained extensive knowledge about Japanese type in the years before digital fonts. Their tools consisted of a few thin brushes, a mechanical pencil, a drawing pen, a knife, and different sized rulers. These simple tools produced thousands of typefaces. First, the designer draws a rough sketch, a skeleton, very smoothly.

For senior designer Oda, sketching type is second nature. Morisawa's new technology is informed by skills learned over 90 years of his and previous designers' sketching techniques.

Then, he puts another paper on the skeleton sketch, finishing it on the light table, adding serifs and brushing up using drawing tools. Next, he grinds an ink cake and sharpens his concentration before filling in contour. After making the final adjustment, Oda is finished. He has drawn 永, a fundamental element of Kanji, meaning “eternity.”  Today, Oda and Ichikawa are mentors to young designers at Morisawa. They are teaching the next generation the techniques and knowledge they have learned. Ichikawa learned the latest typeface design software, and Oda says no one can finish a rough sketch faster than him. The design method changes as time goes by, but the spirit of the design inherited throughout the ages remains.

The completed drawing for the Kanji glyph, “eternity,” drawn with pen and ink on the traditional Morisawa type design graph paper.

The Morisawa Story

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