Download 280 Pictographs That Put Japanese Culture Into a New Visual Language: They’re Free for the Public to Use

“One of the biggest con­sid­er­a­tions when trav­el­ing to Japan is its inscrutable lan­guage,” writes Design­boom’s Juliana Neira. But then, one might also con­sid­er mak­ing that lan­guage more scrutable — and mak­ing one’s expe­ri­ence in Japan much rich­er — by learn­ing some of it. Kan­ji, the Chi­nese char­ac­ters used in the writ­ten Japan­ese lan­guage, may at first look like small, often bewil­der­ing­ly com­plex pic­tures, and many assume they visu­al­ly evoke the mean­ings they express. In fact, to use the lin­guis­tic terms, they’re not pic­tograms, rep­re­sen­ta­tions of thoughts or ideas, but logograms, rep­re­sen­ta­tions of words or parts of words.

Resem­ble minia­ture works of art though they often do, kan­ji aren’t entire­ly unsys­tem­at­ic. This helps begin­ning learn­ers get a han­dle on the first and most essen­tial char­ac­ters of the thou­sands they’ll even­tu­al­ly need to know.

So does the fact that some of them, in ori­gin, real­ly are pic­to­graph­ic — that is, they look like the mean­ing of the word they rep­re­sent — or at least pic­to­graph­ic enough to make them teach­able through images. The Japan­ese word for “moun­tain,” to cite an ele­men­tary exam­ple, is 山; “riv­er” is 川; “tree” is 木. Alas, most of us who enjoy the 山, 川, and 木 of Japan — to say noth­ing of the 書店 and 喫茶店 in its cities — haven’t been able to vis­it them at all in this past pan­dem­ic year.

“After expe­ri­enc­ing years of tourism growth, tourists to Japan are down over 95% due to the pan­dem­ic,” writes Spoon & Tam­ago’s John­ny Wald­man. “Graph­ic design­er Kenya Hara and his firm Nip­pon Design Cen­ter have self-ini­ti­at­ed a project to release over 250 pic­tograms — free for any­one to use — in sup­port of tourism in Japan from a visu­al design per­spec­tive.” Col­lec­tive­ly ban­nered the Expe­ri­ence Japan Pic­tograms, these clear and evoca­tive icons rep­re­sent a wide range of the places and activ­i­ties one can enjoy in the Land of the Ris­ing Sun: ski­ing and surf­ing, cal­lig­ra­phy and open-air hot-spring bathing, Gin­za and Asakusa, Toky­o’s Skytree and Osaka’s Tsūtenkaku Tow­er.

The Expe­ri­ence Japan Pic­tograms hard­ly fail to include the glo­ries of Japan­ese cui­sine — sushi, tem­pu­ra, soba, and even the Japan­i­fied han­bāgā — which piques so many for­eign­ers’ inter­est in Japan to begin with. Click on any of them and you’ll see a brief cul­tur­al and his­tor­i­cal expla­na­tion of the item, activ­i­ty, place, or con­cept in ques­tion, along with the rel­e­vant Japan­ese term (in kan­ji where applic­a­ble) and its pro­nun­ci­a­tion. You can also down­load them in the col­or scheme of your choice and use them for any pur­pos­es you like, includ­ing com­mer­cial ones. The more wide­ly adopt­ed they are, the more con­ve­nient Japan­ese tourism will become for those who don’t read Japan­ese. Those who do can hard­ly deny the plea­sure of hav­ing anoth­er Japan­ese lan­guage to learn — and a tru­ly pic­to­graph­ic one at that.

via Spoon & Tam­a­go

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Learn Japan­ese Free

Vin­tage 1930s Japan­ese Posters Artis­ti­cal­ly Mar­ket the Won­ders of Trav­el

Dis­cov­er Iso­type, the 1920s Attempt to Cre­ate a Uni­ver­sal Lan­guage with Styl­ish Icons & Graph­ic Design

The Hobo Code: An Intro­duc­tion to the Hiero­glyph­ic Lan­guage of Ear­ly 1900s Train-Hop­pers

Google Makes Avail­able 750 Icons for Design­ers & Devel­op­ers: All Open Source 

Braille Neue: A New Ver­sion of Braille That Can Be Simul­ta­ne­ous­ly Read by the Sight­ed and the Blind

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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