Just saw this image about Nintendo on Kotaku:

enter image description here

Clearly the company name, description, and location are written in traditional right-to-left orientation. Even かるた is right-to-left.

So why is トランプ written left-to-right amongst the rest of the text?

  • I'm not even sure there's a deeper meaning behind this; I mean, maybe they were just going for that kind of stylish effect. Mar 29, 2016 at 17:14
  • Actually, it occurs to me that, from an historical perspective, the kana in トランプ are reversed. :) All the other text is going the "normal" direction. Mar 29, 2016 at 17:37
  • 1
    @EiríkrÚtlendi: Please slap yourself. :D
    – istrasci
    Mar 29, 2016 at 17:57
  • 1
    The Donald didn't get where he is today by doing what everyone else did ... whoops wrong "trump".
    – Golden Cuy
    Mar 30, 2016 at 0:29
  • 1
    @AndrewGrimm: Please slap yourself too.
    – istrasci
    Mar 31, 2016 at 21:57

3 Answers 3


Historical Background

According to the 歴史的{れきしてき}経緯{けいい} section of the 縦書{たてが}きと横書{よこが}き article on the Japanese Wikipedia, apparently in the late 1800s it wasn't altogether uncommon for printed materials to have Japanese still written vertically top-to-bottom with lines progressing right-to-left, with any European-language text written horizontally left-to-right with lines progressing top-to-bottom:

The first foreign-language dictionaries in Japan had the foreign language written horizontally left-to-right, and the Japanese written vertically, such that one had to rotate the book to read it normally.

What looks like single lines of Japanese text in older writings, especially signage such as at temples, often appears to be written horizontally right-to-left, but the common view of this as described in the Wikipedia article seems to be that this is classical vertical top-to-bottom writing where the lines progress right-to-left, just that each vertical line is only one character long. This jives with what I've been told by native speakers. Horizontal headlines still occasionally use this style to evoke a traditional or old-fashioned feel, and apparently everyday newspapers didn't adopt left-to-right for horizontal headlines until the 1940s.

Interpreting the Sign in the Picture

In this light, I suspect that this sign above is intentionally using the older right-to-left style, which developed from what the Wikipedia article describes as sign-style "vertical" writing for the Japanese, where each vertical "line" is only one character long and the lines themselves progress right-to-left. However, since トランプ is a foreign word, it is written left-to-right, even though it's spelled here in katakana. かるた is also etymologically a foreign word, but I suspect it was borrowed long ago enough to be treated as a nativized term, which might be why it's spelled in hiragana.

Note: A quick look into the histories of the two terms かるた and トランプ seems to confirm this.

  • かるた was borrowed from Portuguese, in the earlier years of initial contact. It even has kanji spellings listed, as 骨牌 and 歌留多. Gogen Allguide's entry notes a game popular in the 天正{てんしょう} era of 1573-1593.
  • トランプ was borrowed from English, and thus is a much more recent arrival into the Japanese language. Gogen Allguide's entry suggests that this didn't enter mainstream Japanese until the Meiji period.

Ultimately, the different directions of the writing on the sign appear to be an intentional effect evoking the common writing conventions of the late 1800s, specifically 1889 when the Nintendo company started manufacturing playing cards.

  • I'm confused what you mean. This example in the photo has no vowel mark, nor punctuation, and the only diacritic is on the LTR word トランプ. From the Wikipedia article (emphasis mine): 「横書きとは文章を横方向に進めていくという規範のうちに書かれたものである。横書きには左横書き(左から右へ文字を進めていく方法)と右横書き(右から左に文字を進めていく方法)がある。暖簾や扁額(寺社の門などに掲げられた横長の額)では 一見すると右横書きのように見える記法が行われてきたが、これらは「1行1文字の縦書き」、つまり縦書きの規範で書かれたものであって右横書きではない。 (縦書きの一文字目を「横読み」することにはなるが)。」 Are you referring to RTL writing in modern texts? Mar 29, 2016 at 18:26
  • Ah, yes. My point in the post is that this sign is deliberately hearkening back to writing conventions older than the last century. @snailboat, is that ambiguous above? Does that need clarifying? Mar 29, 2016 at 18:28
  • Ah, gotcha now. I see where the native-speaker argument comes from, but I can also agree with your position. Re-reading the post, I see some spots that could use rewording. Thank you! Mar 29, 2016 at 18:41

It is clear (really!) that this sign is talking about two brands, one for traditional cards, the other for ("standard"? 52-card) Western cards:

  • [Napoleon] トランプ
  • [福] かるた

Given the much greater flexibility with which Japanese characters can be positioned, and still read easily, this just looks like a bit of playfulness, to allow the two trademarks to be positioned symmetrically, and the names read towards the middle.

I think the story about RtL being actually one-character-high vertical writing is quite incredible, if not coherent. (For text including katakana, it is possible to distinguish the two, by the direction of the "long vowel mark", but for kanji-only writing this would be metaphysics or worse.) Remember that Japanese wikipedia is useful, but not an authority, because it is almost entirely unsourced.

  • The particular linked article does list sources. Of particular note, this listed source appears to go into some detail about the history of writing direction in Japan. Wikipedia in any language is not an authoritative source, granted -- but it is most useful as an aggregator and summarizer of relevant research. Do at least look for cited references, as these provide a starting point for doing one's own research. Apr 3, 2016 at 8:26

That is very interesting.
I guess that is a style for shape design, but on the other hand, that shows the process of change from right-to-left style to left-to-right style.
This is another nameplate of that company.
Perhaps, while writing Hiragana, Katakana and Alphabets in a mixed manner, they must had come to be written left-to-right.

I apologize that this is not an answer.

enter image description here

It seems that the existence of loanword in Katakana caused a change like this.
[PLAYING CARDS]{プレイング カード}

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