Re: Rare Writing Directions

From: Adrian Havill (
Date: Mon May 26 1997 - 20:56:27 EDT

> Mongolian is written top-to-bottom; Japanese and Chinese used
> to be written this way, the lines were stacked right-to-left.

top to bottom, right to left Japanese (and sometimes just right to left,
top to bottom) is still found in modern Japanese. Almost every modern
newspaper (and most books, unless they're illustration heavy) is still
written top to bottom, right to left.

Plaques displaying names of banks, etc. (formal) have names written from
right to left (some could think of this as top to bottom, left to right,
with a top-bottom margin that allows for exactly one character).

Vehicles (usually ships, although you can see taxis and other vehicles
that still do this) often have their name written from bow to stern...
thus, left to right on the port side, right to left on the starboard.

> Recently, somebody (sorry, I haven't kept that note) has said that
> mixing Latin with Japanese was impossible, hence modern Japanese is
> written left-to-right.

If the Latin is a simple 3-4 letter acronym, such as "GDP", "NATO",
"NASA", etc., it is written one glyph per cell, top to bottom. If it's a
long quote and/or in a proportionally spaced font, the text is turned
clockwise 90 degrees and printed on it's side.

If the sequence is an Arabic number sequence that is 4 digits or less,
it is sometimes written left-to-right, jammed in one cell in the middle
of a vertical text string. This is a newer technique, though. The
traditional (and more commonly seen) way to write numbers in vertical
Japanese text is to use the kanji digits.

The lack of technology (until recently) that supported top to bottom
printing was one factor that caused top to bottom printing to fall out
of favor. Another reason is that when you handwrite script top to
bottom, right to left, your hand smudges the script you have just
written (unless you're left handed) (^_^)

On a less flippant side, the technological difficulties associated with
mixing different direction texts (in computers... at least until
recently) and the fact that Japanese can be written just fine in either
direction was one (not the only) reason top-to-bottom fell out of favor.

If textbooks are any indication of trends, the textbooks of two
generations ago for public school Japanese used to be all top to bottom,
right to left, with the exception of math/science books (the inclusion
of western graphs and diagrams make left-to-right more natural) and
English texts.

Today, the new ones are all left to right with the exception of "kokugo"
(Japanese language for native speakers of Japanese) textbooks.
Top-to-bottom these days is used almost exclusively in typeset text
these days-- few young people handwrite top-to-bottom unless they have a
specific reason to.

Similar to how less-informed people scream about how Unicode will "kill
Kanji," there are shriekers out their that complain about how
left-to-right is killing kanji as well. They have a point: the stroke
order for kanji and kana assumes a top-to-bottom writing order. Change
the order, and it can affect the balance of the characters. Of course,
this only applies to handwritten characters.

Adrian Havill <URL:>
Engineering Division, System Planning & Production Section

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