In typography, kerning is the process of adjusting the spacing between characters in a proportional font, usually to achieve a visually pleasing result.

In English and other languages that use the Latin alphabet, certain characters placed close to each other can be confused with another character that is visually similar to the combination of the merged characters. Some notable examples are rn↔m and cl↔d.

Japanese writing doesn't use spaces between words, so the other type of ambiguity introduced by bad kerning doesn't apply to it because Japanese people already live with it.

Are there any characters among ひらがな, カタカナ(カタカナ), 漢字 and ローマ字 that, when placed close to each other, are often confused with characters that look similar to their combination? I'm not looking for a comprehensive list, but I'd like to know whether this happens in Japanese as well. I'm mostly interested in computer-displayed and printed text, but examples from handwritten text are welcome, too.

To clarify, I'm not interested in visually similar characters such as タ (katakana ta) and 夕{ゆう}.

  • In handwriting, you can't expect anything...if someone slaughters the characters and phonetics, then all bets are off. But in computer displayed/printed text, I think it happens much less often. All the characters are so distinct that they don't match up with one another due to bad kerning. However, when you consider font types in that equation...stylization can affect readability too.
    – user22337
    Jul 25, 2017 at 14:19

1 Answer 1


As you know, most glyphs in Japanese fonts share the same width, so problems arising from kerning (or variable character widths, broadly speaking) almost never happen in Japanese typography. Well, we can think of some unrealistic examples... hankaku katakana イム (i+mu) looks like kanji 仏 (ほとけ), and hankaku katakana ノレ (no+re) looks like zenkaku katakana ル (ru), and so on. (cf. Halfwidth and fullwidth forms) Basically these are mere wordplay.

In handwriting, this can sometimes be problematic. Occasionally people wonder what they are seeing is a single character or two characters. Clumsily written 村 can easily look like 木寸, and there are tons of similar examples. Of course we can usually understand what's written with the aid of the context, but vertically-written kanji numbers (一, 二, 三) on envelopes can be extremely difficult to read.

enter image description here
A fan with the name of 加藤【かとう】一二三【ひふみ】, a retired professional shogi-player

  • I'm not actually sure what Meiryo UI does with normal kana spacing but at least they fit in smaller space than the kanji in the font
    – siikamiika
    Jul 25, 2017 at 16:24
  • @siikama Ah yes, Meiryo UI is a special font that uses narrower katakana than usual. Theoretically some combinations like ココ and ニロ can be confusing, but I don't recall I was actually troubled by this type of problem.
    – naruto
    Jul 25, 2017 at 16:36
  • Yeah, in English it's usually a problem only when it comes to stylized text like company logos or such (they don't have context). Anyway, your examples prove that this can also happen in Japanese so I'm accepting this answer.
    – siikamiika
    Jul 25, 2017 at 17:02

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .