From Tkaronto and Toronto-based Japanese-French-Canadian artist and designer Emi Takahashi, Kachi-Buwa is an undeniably unique exploration of variable type technology, language and letterforms – expressing the meaningful linguistic prominence and nuance of onomatopoeia in Japanese speech through graphic letterforms. “It came about from my deep interest in language, meaning-making, and type design,” Emi tells us, detailing the importance of onomatopoeias in the Japanese language. “Generally speaking, onomatopoeias are defined as words that phonetically imitate the sound that they describe,” she explains, “in Japanese language, however, there are over 4500 onomatopoeic expressions that also convey a vast array of meanings linked to sensory experiences,” expressing visceral emotive and psychological thoughts and feelings that are difficult to descriptively translate from their sonic context.
“I looked at both Western and East Asian usages of onomatopoeias from etymological, linguistic, historical, and semantic perspectives and their relative positions to each other,” Emi recalls, with her comprehensive research forming the core foundations of the project. “Concurrently, I conducted research on the landscape of modern typographic technologies, namely variable typefaces,” she details, using the technology to express the relevant nuances. “They’re also interesting because they’re dynamic and fluid in shape and in appearance,” Emi adds, discussing the use of variable technology, “in many ways, I felt that this typographic tool mirrored the synesthetic and multi-sensory qualities of Japanese onomatopoeic expressions.” In using this technology to translate as much visually, and indeed revealing a cultural process in doing so, Kachi-Buwa makes for a variable font that is as striking as it is speculative and meaningful – designed in one of Japan’s three writing systems, katakana. “The decisions around how the letters portrayed variability were dictated by the script itself,” Emi explains, “I wanted to follow Japanese typographic conventions for legibility and structure,” she notes, “all the while pushing the boundaries to design a more expressive typeface.”