Japanese Typography, Lettering, and Commercial Art in the Early Twentieth Century

Japanese Typography, Lettering, and Commercial Art in the Early Twentieth Century
Florence Fu

Lecture at ATypI Conference

Thu, Sep 5, 2019

In September, Tokyo will host the annual conference of ATypI (Association Typographique Internationale). Letterform Archive’s Editorial Associate Florence Fu will give a short presentation about a set of Japanese periodicals in our collection.

The Japanese writing system is one of the most complex in the world, despite language reforms in the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries that prioritized standardization, legibility, and efficiency. During this period, the country also experienced a boom in consumerism that followed the Meiji Restoration, producing a demand for designers and lavish advertising art. The collision of developments in language and commerce created a unique intersection of typography, design, and advertising represented through lettering and illustration.

This talk weaves together Japan’s sociopolitical history with the development of modern typography through the lens of The Complete Commercial Artist (現代商業美術全集), a twenty-four volume collection of trade publications on commercial design from 1928 to 1930. Founded by pioneering design theorist Hamada Masuji (濱田 増治), the publication served as a rich reference of the latest design practices for retailers and advertisers of the time. Each issue includes photographic documentation of design in the West, original illustrations for a range of contexts, and essays by Masuji and his colleagues. The Complete Commercial Artist provides an opportunity to discuss long-standing transcultural exchanges between Japan and the West, expressive typographic treatments for a flourishing commercial market, and the foundations of modern design in Japan.

About Florence Fu

Florence Fu, Letterform Archive’s Editorial Assistant, brings unique historical knowledge and analytical insight to the way we talk about our collection. She first gained an appreciation for typography as a designer for campus publications at Northwestern University where she pored through texts by Bringhurst, Noordzij, and Smeijers. Degrees in Art History and Journalism helped her think critically about images and convey that insight in long-form academic essays and briefer news stories. This experience, combined with her time as a student docent at the Block Museum of Art, cemented the importance of community education in the arts, and she looks forward to continuing that engagement at the Archive.