'A stirring moment preserved forever through typography': Morisawa, the official font provider for Tokyo 2020

President and CEO Akihiko Morisawa (left) and Mr Keitaro Sakamoto (right) of Morisawa Inc.
President and CEO Akihiko Morisawa (left) and Mr Keitaro Sakamoto (right) of Morisawa Inc.

As a company with a long history with the written word, we at Morisawa feel that it is our mission to convey our passion for the culture of typography to future generations. We see and use written words every day without giving it much thought. Have you ever wondered how these fonts are created? At Morisawa Inc., a Tokyo 2020 Official Partner, each font is developed and created by hand and with digital tools. The company has been involved with typography since the Taisho Period (1912 – 1926) and has contributed to typographic culture ever since.

Morisawa provides the official font for the Tokyo 2020 Games that embodies the image of the Games and is used in Games-related printed materials, licensed products, city-dressing designs, and on certificates awarded to the athletes.

We interviewed Morisawa’s President and CEO, Mr Morisawa Akihiko, and Mr Sakamoto Keitaro of the Strategist, Type Design department, to learn about the profound world of typography and their involvement in the Tokyo 2020 Games.

A long tradition of working with type

The official font for the Tokyo 2020 Games used on the official guidebook
The official font for the Tokyo 2020 Games used on the official guidebook

In December 2018, Morisawa officially became a Tokyo 2020 Official Partner. Morisawa’s corporate philosophy is “Enhancing society through typography. ” Can you first tell us about the history of the company?

Morisawa Akihiko, President and CEO of Morisawa Inc.: “Morisawa was founded in 1924 by my grandfather, Morisawa Nobuo, who developed and obtained a patent for a printing device that was like a combination of a Japanese typewriter and a camera. Prior to World War II, he worked for the largest pharmaceutical company in the Orient, where he was in charge of improving the printing division and assigned to make improvements to ease the work of the letterpress printing, which then consisted of placing letters one by one to form a sentence. One day he realised that letters in the alphabet have different widths, such as ‘A’, ‘W’ and ‘I’, whereas in Japanese they all fit into a square. This inspired him to develop the phototypesetting device. In 1924 that was considered the most important invention since Gutenberg. My grandfather established that business, made the device, and developed fonts in order to sell the device. Unfortunately, our role as a device manufacturer no longer exists, and our business focuses on the sale of fonts for various software and devices.”

President and CEO, Mr Morisawa Akihiko
President and CEO, Mr Morisawa Akihiko

Tell us about Morisawa’s role during the Olympic Games Tokyo 1964.

Morisawa: “Our goal of being part of theTokyo 2020 Games is rooted in the 1964 Games. Before the 1964 Games, NHK approached us with a request for the development of a TELOP system for news broadcasts. Up until then, TELOPs were handwritten, but in order to display TELOPs correctly, such as ‘athlete won the gold medal’ or ‘this athlete placed fifth’, there had to be an easier way. Our firm collaborated with other companies to modify our phototypesetting device and to develop a system that would be able to seamlessly display the letters, which became the TELOP device. That was a time when my grandfather and uncles were managing the company.

It was a major invention and technological progress for the broadcasting industry. What was developed for the Tokyo 1964 Games spread to TV broadcasters nationwide and brought a huge change to the industry. In other words, Morisawa’s technology changed society.

My grandfather was an outstanding developer as well as a smart businessperson. When he was first approached with the request, he must’ve felt a certain sense of responsibility because it was for the Olympic Games.”

Approximately 1,500 different fonts have been developed for the Games

Providing fonts for ‘good readability’

As a font developer and provider, Morisawa has developed about 1,500 fonts and is now dedicated to the promotion of universal design (UD) fonts. Can you tell us about the special attention given to the development of UD fonts?

Morisawa: “In the beginning, we thought there was no need for us to modify our font designs because our fonts were already developed to have good readability. What we failed to fully recognise was that people in society are diversified, and there are people with impairment who use our fonts as well. Our attitude changed and we realised that now more than ever we must devote ourselves to universal design.

UD fonts must have ‘good readability’. For example, one of the setbacks everyone experiences in life is ‘farsightedness’ due to old age. Letters can be guessed if they are part of a recognisable word, but new words could be more difficult to read accurately.

We have to take this all into consideration when we develop fonts that can be widely used. We do repeated testing using a measuring device we ourselves developed to ensure that only the UD fonts that have good readability are adopted and commercialised. We conduct the same process overseas too, so the fonts in Taiwan and Korea are also UD fonts based on evidence. I think we are the only company that conducts such thorough testing for UD fonts on a global scale.”

Sakamoto Keitaro talks about the importance of having a beautiful and highly readable typography
Sakamoto Keitaro talks about the importance of having a beautiful and highly readable typography

Sakamoto Keitaro, Strategist, Type Design department: “When UD fonts arrived on the market, they were initially developed so that numbers and short words were easy to distinguish on remote controllers for electric appliances and such. Yet, in everyday life people use longer sentences so we decided to develop UD fonts that can adapt to all kinds of situations and variations. We had 21 fonts available at the initial release, including Mincho (serif), Gothic (sans) and Maru Gothic (rounded), plus one that is called Condensed, which is used when the display area is limited, such as on a package or bottle of water.”

The power of typography and words

A sample of the official fonts provided for the Tokyo 2020 Games.
A sample of the official fonts provided for the Tokyo 2020 Games.

We would like to know more about the official font developed for the Tokyo 2020 Games. How many Japanese and western fonts were added to the line-up?

Sakamoto: “The font we provide to Tokyo 2020 is based on universal design. The Japanese font we provide to the Games includes 23,058 letters (equivalent to Pr6), and the roman font includes about 300 letters (Adobe Latin 1), and we have added some more to that basic set of fonts. An obvious treatment to the UD font is to emphasise strokes that affect readability, to try minimising any component that is decorative, and to prioritise the natural shape of the fonts.

Kanji (Chinese characters) have very complex shapes. White spaces are captured by the eye easier than black lines, so we eliminated any stroke ends that stick out, which is often seen in Gothic fonts, and we make extra efforts to make the kanji easier to recognise. Thus, each letter or character becomes more readable.

With universal design, it is also important to make the font closer to handwritten shapes because writing that is closer to the shapes embedded in one’s memory is more easily recognised. A good example is the Japanese letter ‘na’, which maintains the shape of handwritten strokes. It is extremely important to keep this handwritten impression while establishing a balance with the design of the Gothic font. We can then achieve both readability and the beauty of the font.

When developing the font for the Tokyo 2020 Games, we spoke to Tokyo 2020 to gain understanding about their needs, and we found that their goal is to adopt UD fonts. With that information, we started developing the official font. The core of our development were roman letters. We gained feedback from the roman font designers we employ in the US, and our teams in the US and Japan worked closely together to complete the task.”

The official font for the Tokyo 2020 Games are based on universal design
The official font for the Tokyo 2020 Games are based on universal design

Is there anything you would like to do especially for the Tokyo 2020 Games?

Morisawa: “Under our motto, “Enhancing society through typography,” we would like to see our UD fonts more widely adopted and used throughout society. Our ultimate goal is to use typography to contribute to the creation of an inclusive society where people with or without impairments live side by side. For humanity to maintain peace and growth, we cannot avoid embracing an inclusive society. Our support of the Tokyo 2020 Games started in 2015 from our support of para sport through the JPSA (Japan Para-Sports Association). This past November, we signed an Official Supporter agreement with the Japan Wheelchair Basketball Association.

We are also organising events and carrying out various initiatives for the Tokyo 2020 Games under the slogan, “A Stirring Moment Preserve Forever through Typography. ” This slogan was adopted from a comment made within the company. The expression can only come from someone who believes in the power of typography and words. We also hope we can help increase the typography literacy at schools and educational institutions too.”

Handwriting each character during the development phase.
Handwriting each character during the development phase.

The Official Font of the Tokyo 2020 Games

It is truly wonderful that you can support people with dyslexia or low vision with typography. It is a project that can change the lives of children. Could you give us a message about what you expect from the Tokyo 2020 Games?

Morisawa: “We want more people to know the power or influence of fonts, that fonts can change all kinds of expressions, and that fonts can also be effective applied to assist people with an impairment. Universal design is not the only answer, but we would like to see people select the font that best expresses what they wish to communicate from the variety of fonts we offer.”

Sakamoto: “Typography is like scenery. The way typography is applied could be different depending on the city or location. The Olympic and Paralympic Games is a festival that celebrates sport, but it would be our ultimate wish if our font used for the Tokyo 2020 Games and signages would make an impact on people and remain in their memory. I would be happy if people remember the font when they think of the Tokyo 2020 Games. And it would be great if this could serve as an opportunity for as many people as possible to start getting into the habit of choosing the most appropriate font that best expresses whatever message they wish to convey.

The unforgettable impression of the Tokyo 2020 Games together with the official font will be embedded into people’s memories
The unforgettable impression of the Tokyo 2020 Games together with the official font will be embedded into people’s memories

"It takes about two to four years to commercialise a single font. It is a result of a long and detailed process of handwriting each font and using digital tools to complete the development. As the Games draw near, we will see more and more of the official font of the Games around Tokyo and other areas hosting competitions as well as at the competition venues and various related sites. When you come across the official font, take a moment to reflect on the passion and dedication behind them.”