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Do Japanese writers use underline to emphasize a point, or other techniques? Wikipedia mentions the use of katakana in its article on Emphasis and in its article on Katakana, but I'm not sure whether it's appropriate.

Background: I’m incorporating XKCD 386 (with the text modified) into a talk given in English with Japanese subtitles. I'm doing the cartoons side by side, and I'm wondering what the equivalent of underlining "wrong" in a western cartoon would be.

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Hmm no votes to close on the grounds of being a typography question this time? Good! (-: –  hippietrail Jul 4 '11 at 15:36
I've always been of the mind that "writing"-related questions (aka typography) are fine. I was personally OK with the furigana one. Let's see if anybody comes to complain... –  Dave Jul 4 '11 at 18:37
Nevertheless I think you should also use underline here, I think the audience would appreciate it if they can taste some leftovers of western culture in their Japanese translation. –  syockit Aug 25 '11 at 7:49
I should point out that, even in English, most typographers consider the use of underlining to be poor style. Perhaps it’s appropriate for Randall Murphy’s minimalist style, but I would usually recommend using a thicker pen, like this: Someone is wrong on the Internet. –  Pitarou Mar 5 '12 at 12:19
@Pitarou. Underlining for emphasis is fairly normal in handwritten English, far less so in typed, where bold type is preferred. –  TRiG Sep 25 '12 at 21:27

1 Answer 1

up vote 21 down vote accepted

The Japanese equivalent of underlining for emphasis would probably be using 傍点【ぼうてん】 or 脇点【わきてん】:

Dots added over (if writing horizontally) or to the right (if vertically) of each character.

Wikipedia Japan has a page detailing their use, as well as their variants:

文字種としては、縦書きの場合は主に黒ゴマあるいは白ゴマが使用され、横書きの場合はビュレット(黒丸および白丸)が使用される。 上記以外にも二重丸や蛇の目などが使用されることもある。 傍点はゴマ、圏点は丸と区別することもあるが、区別しない場合も多い。

In substance:

If writing vertically, people mainly use the "black sesame (goma)":﹅ or "white sesame":﹆.

If writing horizontally, the round black (●) or white (○) dots are preferred.

The "good work" double-circle (◎) and bull's eye circle (◉) are also used.

While some people differentiate between "sesame" (goma) and round signs, many people don't and use them indifferently.

(there are a couple other particular cases, such as when reporting an erratum, but I don't think you are particularly interested).

To conclude, you probably want to use the simple round black marker, like such (with slightly less distance between the lines, typically where the furigana would be):


Listen really well

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"While some people differentiate between 'sesame' (goma) and round signs..." - you know this is begging for a follow-up explanation as to how they differentiate them. :) –  Troyen Jul 4 '11 at 19:54
@Troyen: I was just giving an extremely quick and dirty sum-up of the Japanese WP entry, but if you feel like going for a more literal (or wider) effort, I'll be the first to appreciate :-) (note though, that in order to do so, you'll have to delve into the differences between 傍点 and 圏点... something I have only limited idea about) –  Dave Jul 5 '11 at 1:18
@Troyen, Dave: (1) 傍点はゴマ、圏点は丸と区別することもあるが、区別しない場合も多い in the Wikipedia article just means that sometimes the word 傍点 refers to the sesame-shaped mark and the word 圏点 refers to the round mark. It does not state that the sesame-shaped mark and the round mark have different meanings. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Aug 21 '11 at 0:08
(2) I cannot help pointing out that the Japanese in that Wikipedia article is terrible. 使用方法は強調したい1文字ごとに1圏点をつける and 黒丸の圏点と白丸の圏点の用途を区別する場合は、黒丸は誤った文字、白丸は正しい文字につけて区別する用例が正誤表で見つけることが可能である drive me nuts. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Aug 21 '11 at 0:10
The sentence in the WP is about the difference between the words 傍点 and 圏点, not the difference between 傍点 and 圏点. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Aug 21 '11 at 11:32

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