Onomatopoeic expressions are elements of speech and writing which convey meaning through phonetic imitation. "KACHI BUWA" investigates how graphic representation can communicate the nuances in connotations and culture-specific contexts expressed by onomatopoeia in the Japanese language. This project exists as a body of typographic work orbiting around a conceptual variable Katakana typeface which aims at bridging sound, form and signification while being embedded in Japanese visual culture.
With over 4500 expressions, onomatopoeias make up a very rich repertoire in the Japanese language. In addition to common auditory expressions, Japanese contains words with sonic properties to convey meaning linked to sensory and emotional experiences. Its elaborate sound symbolic system makes possible a visceral kind of communication that reveals underlying cultural thinking.
INSTRUCTORS: Richard Hunt & Ali S. Qadeer
GRPH-4015-009 / Graphic Design Workshop 2019-2020
Emi Takahashi is a Canadian-Japanese-French graphic designer based in Toronto, ON. She received her education at OCAD University and at KADK, The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. With a particular interest in type design, form and materiality, her work is research-driven and is inspired by visual rhymes in nature, semiotics and the vernacular.
KACHI-BUWA explores the synesthetic potential of a Japanese onomatopoeic variable font. Onomatopoeias speak their meanings through both sound and form, breaking linguistic barriers and granting a strictly iconic form of communication.
Website & Video
Book & Poster
Film & Animation
KATAKANA VARIABLE FONT
The project's central artifact is a variable font. KACHI-BUWA bridges sound, meaning, form and culture by bringing together three considerations:
Formally, these considerations translate into parametric variables: a KIKI-BOUBA axis and a CONTRAST axis. They expand the spectrum of communication potential and create a near-infinite range of possible typographic variations. The current typeface includes 46 regular Katakana, 12 small Katakana and 3 diacritics, generating a total of 84 distinct glyphs. Without the use of the variable font tool, the typeface consists of 504 unique glyphs.
The essence of KACHI-BUWA lies in its ability to capture the "kikiest"and "boubaest" of Japanese onomatopoeic expressions and anything in between.
The title "KACHI-BUWA" is a play on words and sounds, borrowing from Japanese onomatopoeias whose meaning and sound evoke "kiki" and "bouba" concepts.
Information about the KACHI-BUWA typeface is primarily relayed and circulated through a reproduced designed artifact─a newspaper. The medium of newspaper print is chosen for its reproduced effectiveness, vernacular nature, and large format potential, all valuable factors for the project.
The purpose of the specimen is to capture the expressive spirit of the typeface while presenting technical and typographic details.
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Auditory expressions encompass words that imitate and resemble sounds from the natural world. They include animal sounds, human sounds as well as environmental sounds. The Japanese language also contains very specific auditory words for human-made sound concepts.
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Sensory expressions include taste, smell, touch, and inner sensations. While there are words to cover all senses, the sense of touch is most extensively represented in Japanese onomatopoeia. For example to describe the feeling of stickiness alone, there exist a variety of nuanced expressions: nuru nuru, neto neto, neba neba, beto beto, beta beta, etc. The pervasiveness of these expressions perhaps reveals an underlying importance of haptic interaction with the world for Japanese people.
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The website consists of a simple landing page where the onomatopoeic expressions interact with the cursor position on the screen, along the two main axes of interpolation, kiki/bouba and contrast. The top-right circle enables an inversion of colour, allowing the background to be black or white based on contrast preference. A secondary “about” page briefly summarizes the project and the concept behind the typeface.
Onomatopoeic Music Video
The concept behind this mini project is the following: pick a piece of music and give each“part”an onomatopoeic expression that describes the mood. A purely subjective exercise. This idea initially came from annotations found on classical music sheets, where certain expressions are used to indicate not only tempo but also the mood of the part (such as ‘allegro’ which connotes ideas of both speed and joy). The chosen song is“Thousand Knives”written by Ryuichi Sakamoto and interpreted by his Japanese electronic band Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO). It is an instrumental piece which constantly oscillates between two contrasting melodies, culminating in an epic synth solo, and intertwined with guitar improvisations. Fusing groovy electronic sounds with traditional Japanese music, the song feels like an emotional journey of an onomatopoeic nature.
THEORY & RESEARCH
Semester 1 / 250pg
The first semester process book is a compilation that includes a literature review, visual research and precedents, observations, weekly progress, typeface development and early project prototypes. This research ultimately sets the foundation of a process of making for the second semester.
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Semester 2 / 142pg
The second semester process book contains the artist statement and the documentation of the final body of work.
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A thin horizontal book where the index acts as the vessel for the story. The cover showcases the phonetic translation next to the literal semantic translation. The intent here is to contrast the length of each text; the onomatopoeic expressions are rhythmic, short and succinct, while the English translation is lengthy and cumbersome. The story is not intended to be a well constructed narrative, but it assists to manifests the idea that these expressions are richly descriptive and can serve to communicate complex and meaningful ideas and concepts.
Onomatopoeic Storytelling Poster
A poster where the type alone narrates a progression of feelings and suggested events. The framework of the narrative reflects that of a manga graphic novel, with slightly more complex relationships between boxes. The intent was to strip the frame from its expected drawings, and have exclusively type illustrating a progression of emotional concepts and situations.
Short video that captures the spirit of the project, accompanied by a special onomatopoeic performance by Hideki Takahashi.
THANK YOU ☺