Should I use Japanese or Western parentheses when inserting a Japanese word into a sentence parenthetically? For example,

Japanese uses morae (モーラ)


Japanese uses morae (モーラ)

Is there any reason from Japanese typography that would suggest to use Japanese parentheses with Japanese words?

  • Is this question about Japanese? It seems more about writing conventions in English... – Robin Sep 29 '14 at 17:44
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it seems to be about English. – Szymon Sep 29 '14 at 19:44
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    @LeoKing I tried to push this more in direction of being on-topic. Feel free to roll back my edit. – Earthliŋ Sep 30 '14 at 1:17

In general, typographically speaking, Japanese kana and kanji look much better inside Japanese full-width (or 全角, double-byte) parentheses. Because English characters like 'j', 'y' can extend below the baseline, English (半角, half-width) parentheses tend to be positioned slightly lower than Japanese ones.

enter image description here

In some Japanese fonts (such as MS Mincho), this difference may not be noticeable. But in certain fonts, especially professional ones, combination of English parentheses and Japanese texts can produce awful results.

In the world of Japanese professional typography, where main text is written in Japanese, the following is the general rule:

  1. Use English (half-width, single-byte, 半角) parentheses if they contain only English characters. Generally, it is not necessary to insert a space before opening parentheses or after closing parentheses, if your software is good enough. Spaces between symbols and texts should be adjusted via settings (such as \xkanjiskip in Japanese LaTeX and 文字組みアキ量設定 in InDesign). And of course these software can handle line breaks properly, with or without such spaces. In the screenshot above, you can see that inserting such spaces makes almost no difference in the final output. (Notice the tiny dots in the third line. This is the default behavior of InDesign.)

  2. Always use Japanese (full-width, double-byte, 全角) parentheses if they contain one or more Japanese character(s). Don't insert any spaces before or after the parentheses.

I emphasize that these rules apply when you're typesetting articles mainly written in Japanese. It is common to insert (English, single-byte) spaces before English ( and after English ) if you're writing an email. Japanese Wikipedia has similar guideline.

And of course, if your article is mainly in English, basically you must follow the English style guidelines. As @Earthliŋ states, always sticking to English (half-width) parenthesis is one of the reasonable choices, especially when your software is not very good at Japanese fonts.

But when the situation permits, you can always choose to use Japanese parentheses and pursue the best-looking results:

enter image description here

To my eyes, the second line (Japanese words surrounded by Japanese parentheses, surrounded by English spaces) looks best, even though two types of parentheses coexist in one sentence. But I don't know how it looks to Westerner's eyes, so I would like to hear opinions of others. And you can notice that this software properly adjusts the actual spaces between the words, so you don't have to worry about the unwanted spaces by using "full-width" parentheses.

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I think that since you are writing in English and provide the Japanese merely as reference, you should use parentheses that are designed for your Latin font.

Since you're not relying on using a monospace font in Japanese for rows to align both vertically and horizontally, there's no reason to use monospace parentheses. Japanese doesn't really care about what parentheses are used around it. (Provided proper spacing, of course.)

In case the Japanese words look too crammed, reasonable typesetting software will allow you to add thin spaces when parentheses are followed (or preceded) by characters from a particular Unicode range.

Using full-width parentheses with no spaces is a hack that might look reasonable in an short example, but it will also prevent line breaks, besides the fact that the parentheses might not go well with your Latin font, and you'll probably use two different types of round parentheses, which for me would be an absolute no-go:

Japanese (just like Sanskrit, in fact) uses morae(モーラ)

(R-rated for bad typography.)

You might also want to adjust the baseline and font size of the Japanese characters to balance with the English text. (Not just for the parentheses.)

Japanese uses morae ( モーラ )

already looks pretty decent on my computer. I've inserted a hair space after/before the opening/closing parentheses.

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I would recommend using Japanese parentheses for Japanese text, as it's slightly higher (and therefore centralizes the text better than with half-width parentheses). However, since full-width parentheses already have leading space, I wouldn't add a space between the English text and the full-width parenthesis.

So instead of:

Japanese uses morae (モーラ)

I would recommend:

Japanese uses morae(モーラ)

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    Why the downvote, community? Answer seems reasonable. – Lou Sep 29 '14 at 17:25
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    Sorry, but I wholeheartedly disagree with your suggestion. Using no space will prevent line breaks and will look terrible when paired with ordinary parentheses in the same document (worse in the same sentence): Japanese (just like Sanskrit, in fact) uses morae(モーラ). – Earthliŋ Sep 30 '14 at 1:10
  • @Earthliŋ: I just did some testing in MS Word (2007) and google docs, and they line-broke it perfectly, but I guess there are other programs out there that don't know how to handle monospace fonts...? – Seralt Sep 30 '14 at 12:07
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    "Full-width parentheses have leading/trailing space" is generally true in monospace fonts like "MS 明朝", but not always so in proportional fonts. Actually I'm seeing very little space between morae and in the second (recommended) example. – naruto Sep 30 '14 at 13:38
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    @LeoKing If I had to guess, it's because this question is pretty opinion-based, and a downvote is sort of the main way to disagree with an opinion. It's such a simple answer that I can't see any other reason for it to be downvoted. – Darius Jahandarie Oct 1 '14 at 3:33

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