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I occasionally come across text with a small font size where I can tell that there's either an handakuten or a dakuten in a kana character, but I need to zoom in to tell which one it is.

Does this problem occur only for non-native speakers, or does it occur for native speakers as well, especially elderly ones?

Are there any other major problems with legibility with small font sizes?

If so, does the Japanese government regulate that font sizes must be of a minimum size to be legible in any circumstance, such as safety-critical information?

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You mean text on-screen? The fonts are probably just poorly hinted. – Mechanical snail Jan 6 '13 at 3:05
do you have any examples? I imagine the correct reading would be obvious from context – ssb Jan 6 '13 at 3:14
@ssb The trigger for asking this was japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/9913/why-is-ローマ字-spelt-without-an-ン#‌​comment20959_9913 , where I couldn't immediately tell if it was ボ or ポ. But it's been a problem before, though I can't remember what it was. – Andrew Grimm Jan 6 '13 at 4:10
@AndrewGrimm Some free fonts and commercial fonts do consider these legibility problems and they've got more and more popular in safety instructions etc. – broccoli forest May 21 '15 at 1:36
up vote 4 down vote accepted

From what I can see on the net, it's mainly a problem where people don't recognise the word. Here is some discussion about why people sometimes write トビ主 rather than トピ主 - in this case one possible is that they didn't recognise that the first part is a shortening of トピック and so misread the word originally (apparently it's also easy to hit the wrong key when you're adding dakuten/handakuten on a mobile phone). 

I don't think it would be a problem in safety information unless there is some special case where a misreading would cause a dangerous misunderstanding. I can't personally think of one, and the solution would presumably be to rewrite to avoid the potentially confusing vocabulary, rather than increasing the font size.

In terms of displays of safety critical information, that will be defined in a mix of ISO (international), JIS (Japanese), and similar standards, depending on application. For example, here (pdf) is a guideline for the production of the safety notices on consumer electronics, and if you go right to the end there's a list of the appropriate ISO/JIS/etc standards to consult for further info.

On page 19 you can see a summary and then following, some examples. For example, in the first diagram, the top part, where it says 警告{けいこく}, should be minimum 8mm high, the image below, which indicates danger of electric shock, should be larger than the top part, and the explanatory text at the base should be a minimum of 8pt/3mm high, ideally in a gothic font. There are also guidelines for how to write the text (simple sentences of 40 characters or less, no technical jargon, etc).

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