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

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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.

A 400-Year-Old Ring that Unfolds to Track the Movements of the Heavens

Rings with discreet dual purpose have been in use since before the common era, when Hannibal, facing extradition, allegedly ingested the poison he kept secreted behind a gemstone on his finger. (More recently, poison rings gave rise to a popular Game of Thrones fan theory…)

Victorians prevented their most closely kept secrets—illicit love letters, perhaps? Last wills and testaments?—from falling into the wrong hands by wearing the keys to the boxes containing these items concealed in signet rings and other statement-type pieces.




A tiny concealed blade could be lethal on the finger of a skilled (and no doubt, beautiful) assassin. These days, they might be used to collect a bit of one’s attacker’s DNA.

Enter the fictional world of James Bond, and you’ll find a number of handy dandy spy rings including one that doubles as a camera, and another capable of shattering bulletproof glass with a single twist.

Armillary sphere rings like the ones in the British Museum’s collection and the Swedish Historical Museum (top) serve a more benign purpose. Folded together, the two-part outer hoop and three interior hoops give the illusion of a simple gold band. Slipped off the wearer’s finger, they can fan out into a physical model of celestial longitude and latitude.

Art historian Jessica Stewart writes that in the 17th century, rings such as the above specimen were “used by astronomers to study and make calculations. These pieces of jewelry were considered tokens of knowledge. Inscriptions or zodiac symbols were often used as decorative elements on the bands.”

The armillary sphere rings in the British Museum’s collection are made of a soft high alloy gold.

Jewelry-loving modern astronomers seeking an old school finger-based calculation tool that really works can order armillary sphere rings from Brooklyn-based designer Black Adept.

via My Modern Met

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. She most recently appeared as a French Canadian bear who travels to New York City in search of food and meaning in Greg Kotis’ short film, L’Ourse.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

An Origami Samurai Made from a Single Sheet of Rice Paper, Without Any Cutting

Origami artist Juho Könkkölä spent 50 hours folding an origami samurai from a single square sheet of paper, with no cutting or ripping used in the process. He describes his process on Reddit:

Folded from a single square sheet of 95cm x 95cm Wenzhou rice paper without any cutting. The finished size of the work is 28cm x 16cm x 19cm. Only dry and wet folding techniques were used to fold the model. It took 2 months to design and 1 month to fold, although I was working on few other projects during that time too.

It took some effort and experimentation to fold the texture for the armor, while trying to simplify it to be somewhat manageable to fold. I folded 4 rough test attempts in total, and all of them took 3 days to fold each. There are several hundreds of steps to fold it from the square and there are probably thousands of individual folds. The asymmetry in the design allowed me to include sword on only one arm, while being able to make the character look symmetric.

Find the finished product below. Watch the creative process, from start to finish, above.

via Twisted Sifter

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Flair Magazine: The Short-Lived, Highly-Influential Magazine That Still Inspires Designers Today (1950)

All magazines are their editors, but Flair was more its editor than any magazine had been before — or, for that matter, than any magazine has been since. Though she came to the end of her long life in England, a country to which she had expatriated with her fourth husband, a Briton, Fleur Cowles was as American a cultural figure as they come. Born Florence Freidman in 1908, she had performed on herself an unknowable number of Gatsbyesque acts of reinvention by 1950, when she found herself in a position to launch Flair. Her taste in husbands helped, married as she then was to Gardner “Mike” Cowles Jr., publisher of Look, a popular photo journal that Fleur had helped to lift from its lowbrow origins and make respectable among that all-powerful consumer demographic, postwar American women.

The success of the reinvented Look “allowed Cowles to ask her husband for what she really wanted: the capital to start her own publication, which she called ‘a class magazine,'” writes Eye on Design’s Rachel Syme. “She was tired of spreads about the best linoleum; she wanted to do an entire issue on Paris, or hire Ernest Hemingway to write a travel essay, or commission Colette to gossip about her love affairs.”




During Flair‘s run she did all that and more, with a roster of contributors also including Salvador Dalí, Simone de Beauvoir, W. H. Auden, Gloria Swanson, Winston Churchill, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Jean Cocteau. In Flair‘s debut issue, published in February 1950, “an article on the 28-year-old Lucian Freud came liberally accompanied with reproductions of his art—the first ever to appear in America.”

So writes Vanity Fair‘s Amy Fine Collins in a profile of Clowes. “Angus Wilson and Tennessee Williams contributed short stories, Wilson’s printed on paper textured to resemble slubbed silk.” What’s more, “The Duke and Duchess of Windsor opened their home to Flair’s readers, treating them to their recondite and entertaining tips. A more futuristic approach to living was set forth in a two-page spread on Richard Kelly’s lighting design for Philip Johnson’s glass house in Connecticut.” Feature though it may have the work of an astonishingly varied group of luminaries — pulled in by Cowles’ vast and deliberately woven social net — Flair is even more respected today for each issue’s lavish, elaborate, and distinctive design.

“If a feature would be better in dimension than on flat pages, why not fold half-pages inside double-page spreads?” asks Cowles in her memoirs, quoted in Print magazine. “Why not bind it as ‘a little book’ … giving it a special focus? If a feature was better ‘translated’ on textured paper, why use shiny paper?” And “if a painting was good enough to frame, why not print it on properly heavy stock? Why not bind little accordion folders into each issue to give the feeling of something more personal to the content?” One reason is the $2.5 million (1950 dollars) that Mike Cowles estimated Flair to have cost in the year it ran before he pulled its plug.

But then, by the early 1970s even the highly profitable Look had to fold — and of the two magazines, only one has become ever more sought-after, has books published in its tribute, and still inspires designers today. To take a closer look at the magazine, see The Best of Flaira  compilation of the magazine’s best content as chosen by Fleur Cowles herself. (See a video preview of the book above.)

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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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Fonts in Use: Enter a Giant Archive of Typography, Featuring 12,618 Typefaces

Type selection is an intensive process that requires intimate knowledge of a brand’s values, audience, competition, voice, and goals.

Fonts in Use, FAQ

Fonts in Use is a typography nerd’s dream come true.

The 10-year-old independent archive of typography has collected over 17,000 designs, each using at least one of over 12,000 typeface families from more than 3,500 type companies. Each font is contextualized with images depicting them in the wild, on everything from wine labels and storefronts to book covers, record albums, movie posters and of course, advertising of all shapes and sizes.

Fonts can create unlikely bedfellows.

The Ramones‘ iconic seal achieved its presidential look thanks to ITC Tiffany.

Other memorable appearances include the first edition cover of Italo Calvino’s experimental novel If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler and the titles for Hammer Film’s 1980 anthology TV series, Hammer House of Horror.




Fonts in Use’s managing editor, Florian Hardwig, describes ITC Tiffany as “Ed Benguiat’s 1974 revisitation and interpretation of 19th-century faces like West Old Style or Old Style Title,” noting such “Victorian details” as “large angled serifs and sharply terminated diagonals.”

The principal cast of Law & Order underwent several changes over the show’s 20-year run, but Friz Quadrata remained a constant, supplying titles and such necessary details as location, time, and date.

Friz Quadrata should be equally familiar to Dungeons & Dragons players of a certain age and fans of Garden Wafers, the packaged cookies from Hong Kong that are a staple of stateside Asian markets.

Artist Barbara Kruger‘s distinctive text-based work places overt commentary in white italicized Futura on red bands on top of black and white images.

Futura was also the face of a tourist map to Berlin during the 1936 summer Olympics and author David Rees’ tongue-in-cheek guide How to Sharpen Pencils: A Practical & Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening for Writers, Artists, Contractors, Flange Turners, Anglesmiths, & Civil Servants.

Comic Sans may not get much love out in the real world, but it’s well represented in the archive’s user submissions.

You’ll find growing numbers of fonts in Cyrillic, as well as fonts familiar to readers of ChineseJapaneseKoreanArabicGreek and Hebrew

Newbie Netflix Sans keeps company with 19th-century sans Bureau Grot, a favorite of Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris

Fat AlbertTintorettoBenguiat CaslonScorpio, Hoopla and Saphir are your ticket back to a far groovier period in the history of graphic art.

Spend an hour or two rummaging through the collection and we guarantee you’ll feel an urgent need to upload typographic examples pulled from your shelves and cabinets.

Fonts in Use welcomes such submissions, as long as type is clearly visible in your uploaded image and isor wasin use (as opposed to an example of lettering for lettering’s sake). They will also consider custom typefaces which are historically significant or otherwise outstanding, and those that are available to the general public. Please include a short description in your commentary, and whenever possible, credit any designers, photographers, or sources of your image.

Typography nerds are standing by to help.

Begin your explorations of Fonts in Use here. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, the Staff Picks are a great place to start.

via MetaFilter

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. She most recently appeared as a French Canadian bear who travels to New York City in search of food and meaning in Greg Kotis’ short film, L’Ourse.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Hokusai’s Iconic Print, “The Great Wave off Kanagawa,” Recreated with 50,000 LEGO Bricks

For those with the time, skill, and drive, LEGO is the perfect medium for wildly impressive recreations of iconic structures, like the Taj MahalEiffel Tower, the Titanic and now the Roman Colosseum.

But water? A wave?

And not just any wave, but Katsushika Hokusai‘s celebrated 19th-century woodblock print, The Great Wave off Kanagawa.




As Open Culture’s Colin Marshall pointed out earlier, you might not know the title, but the image is instantly recognizable.

Artist Jumpei Mitsui, the world’s youngest LEGO Certified Professional, was undeterred by the thought of tackling such a dynamic and well known subject.

While other LEGO enthusiasts have created excellent facsimiles of famous artworks, doing justice to the curves and implied motion of The Great Wave seems a nearly impossible feat.

Having spent his childhood in a house by the sea, waves are a familiar presence to Mitsui. To get a better sense of how they work, he read several scientific papers and spent four hours studying wave videos on YouTube.

He made only one preparatory sketch before beginning the build, an effort that required 50,000 some LEGO pieces.

His biggest hurdle was choosing which color bricks to use in the area indicated by the red arrow in the photo below. Hokusai had taken advantage of the newly affordable Berlin blue pigment in the original.

Mitsui tweeted:

I tried a total of 7 colors including transparent parts, but in the end, I adopted the same blue color as the waves. If you use other colors, the lines will be overemphasized and unnatural, but if you use blue, the shade will be created just by adjusting the light, and the natural lines will appear nicely. It can be said that it was possible because it was made three-dimensional.

Jumpei Mitsui’s wave is now on permanent view at Osaka’s Hankyu Brick Museum.

via Spoon and Tamago and Colossal

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. She most recently appeared as a French Canadian bear who travels to New York City in search of food and meaning in Greg Kotis’ short film, L’Ourse.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Behold the Steampunk Home Exercise Machines from the Victorian Age

The pandemic has resulted in a lot of people reinventing their fitness regimens, investing in pricey items like Mirror and Peloton bikes to turn homes into home gyms.

Personally, we’re saving our pennies until some Etsy seller replicates the mechanical therapy systems of Dr. Gustav Zander (1835–1920).

From the mid-19th century through WWI, these machines were at the forefront of gym culture. Their function is extremely similar to modern strength training equipment, but their design exudes a dashing steampunk flair.




If the thing that’s going to help us work off all this sourdough weight is going to wind up colonizing half our apartment, we want something that will go with our maximalist thrift store aesthetic.

We might even start working out in floor length skirts and three piece suits in homage to Zander’s original devotees.

His 27 machines addressed abs, arms, adductors—all the greatest hits—using weights and levers to strengthen muscles through progressive exertion and resistance. Specially trained assistants were on hand to adjust the weights, a luxury that our modern world has seen fit to phase out.

Just as 21st-century fitness centers position themselves as lifesavers of those who spend the bulk of the day hunched in front of a computer, Zander’s inventions targeted sedentary office workers.

The industrial society that created this new breed of laborer also ensured that the Swedish doctor’s contraptions would garner accolades and attention. They were already a hit in their land of origin when they took a gold medal at Philadelphia’s 1876 Centennial Exhibition.

The flagship Therapeutic Zander Institute in Stockholm expanded, with branches in London and New York City.

The New York Times described the latter as giving the “uninitiated observer an impression of a carefully devised torture chamber more than of a doctor’s office or a gymnasium, both of which functions the institute, to a certain degree, fills.”

Surely no more tortuous than the blood lettingblistering, and purging that were also thought healthful at the time…

See more of Dr. Gustav Zander’s exercise machines here.

via @ddoniolvalcroze

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. This month, she appearsas a French Canadian bear who travels to New York City in search of food and meaning in Greg Kotis’ short film, L’Ourse.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Eden Project Built a Rainforest Ecosystem Inside Buckminster Fuller-Inspired Geodesic Domes

Buckminster Fuller had a difficult time as an inventor in his early years. “Having been expelled from Harvard for irresponsible conduct,” notes The Guardian, “he struggled to find a job and provide a living for his young family in his early 30s.” Despite later successes, and a later reputation as legendary as Nikola Tesla’s, he was often, like Tesla, seen by critics as a utopian visionary, whose visions were too impractical to really change the world.

But his body of work remains a testament to an imagination that rises above the trends of industrial design and engineering. After a period of decline, for example, Fuller’s geodesic domes experienced a revival in the early 2000’s when “aging baby-boomers across America” began “building dream homes in the shape of geodesic domes.” Meanwhile in Cornwall, England, a few years ahead of the curve, Dutch-born businessman and archaeologist-turned-successful-music-producer Sir Timothy Smit broke ground on what would become a far more British use of Fullerist principles.




In the late 90s, Smit started work on an enormous complex of geodesic biomes called the Eden Project, a facility “akin to a quintessentially Victorian creation: the English greenhouse,” which reached its apex in the famed “Crystal Palace” built for the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851. These were buildings “born out of a playful, decadent imagination—yet in their architecture and design they often opened new pathways for the future.” So too do Fuller’s designs, in an application melding Victorian and Fullerist ideas about curatorship and sustainability.

Looking like “clusters of soap bubbles” the Eden Project slowly rose above an exhausted clay pit and opened in 2001 (see a short time-lapse film of the construction above). Each of the two huge central domes recreates an ecosystem. The Rainforest Biome allows visitors to get lost in nearly 4 acres of tropical forest and includes banana, coffee, and rubber plants. The Mediterranean Biome houses an acre and a half of olives and grape vines. Smaller adjoining domes house thousands of additional plant species. There is a performance space and a yearly music festival; sculptures and art exhibitions in both the indoor and outdoor gardens. The facility has hosted well over a million visitors each year.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

In 2016, the Eden Project began planting redwoods, introducing a forest of the North American trees to Europe for the first time. Next year, it will begin drilling for a geothermal energy project to turn heat from the granite underground into power, an undertaking that, unlike fracking, will not release contaminants into the water supply or additional fossil fuels into the air and could power and heat the facility and 5000 additional homes. In 2018, the project began construction on Eden Project North, in Morecambe, Lancashire, with buildings designed to look like giant mussels and a focus on marine environments.

Eden Project International aims to build unique facilities all around the world, “to create new attractions with a message of environmental, social and economic regeneration” and “to protect and rejuvenate natural landscapes.” None of these ambitious expansions use the geodesic domes of the original Eden Project, but that is not a reflection on the domes’ structural soundness. Many other transparent uses of Fuller’s design have encountered difficulties with water tightness and heat flow. The Eden Project’s domes use innovative inflatable, triangular panels instead of glass to solve those problems. Fuller surely would have approved.

The project also represents a poignant personal vindication for the Fuller family. Fuller “vowed to dedicate his life to improving standards of living through good design,” The Guardian writes, after his daughter Alexandra died in 1922. In 2009, his only surviving child, Allegra Fuller Snyder, then 82 and Chairwoman of the Buckminster Fuller Institute, visited the Eden Project. “Of all the projects related to my father’s work,” she remarked afterward, “I would say that this is the one I am most aware of as being a powerful, comprehensive project…. My father would have been just thrilled. He would feel that it is a marvellous application of his thinking.”

Learn more about the Eden Project, which reopens December 3, here. And learn how to “create Eden wherever you are” with the project’s free resources for gardeners at home.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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