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When writing compound kana the small kana is slightly lower than centre.

But is it slightly left of centre as well ?

Take じゃあ

Here we have 3 kana.

Firstly, when writing, is the total width of the space allocated to the small kana the same as if it were a big kana ?

じゃあじゃあじゃあじゃあじゃあじゃあじゃあじゃあじゃあじゃあじゃあ

じやあじやあじやあじやあじやあじやあじやあじやあじやあじやあじやあ

The font I'm using here certainly gives them equal width.

Secondly, and mainly, when writing, is the small kana slightly left of centre and hence spatially closer to じ than あ ? The typing font seems to place it central. But I read somewhere that it should be slightly left of centre of the square allocated to it.

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In handwriting, we are taught in the writing class to put small kana at such position in each square as on the image below (from How to Use Japanese Manuscript Paper):

kana-punct-position

And this is the commonest way how we conceive they should be written. In free handwriting, however, characters are rarely written in equal width, that means a small kana only occupies as much width/height as it takes up, so this would not be a real problem. (A random example below)

handwriting

On the other hand, small kana in typefaces are normally centralized per the direction of text flow. According to Requirements for Japanese Text Layout:

In vertical writing mode, the letter face of small kana (cl-11) characters (ぁぃぅァィゥ etc.) is placed at the vertical center and to the right of the horizontal center of the character frame; in horizontal writing mode, it is placed at the horizontal center and below the vertical center (see Fig. 2.4). Also there are punctuation marks with letter faces that are not placed at the vertical and horizontal center of the character frame.

Small kana and the position of their letter face in the character frame.

Aligning beside previous character was only conventional in the metal type age, because small kana was realized by using half-sized pieces of type at that time, and it was easier for typesetters to either align by one side or leave no spaces. (Another random example below)

pre-wwii printing

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  • When you handwrite on a blank piece of paper or a western-style notebook, characters can (or should) have variable widths and sizes. Characters like り and し should be thin, and kanji like 国 should be wide. IMHO, you should put equal spaces between two characters, even if one of them is a small kana. See these image search results for examples. (Well, in this example, a small-よ is written closer to the previous character, but I personally feel this is not very nice...).

  • When you typeset, the majority of Japanese fonts have a fixed width for kana and kanji, and characters tend to align neatly in a grid (left). Small kana are placed below the center of the square. There are also variable-width fonts such as MS UI Gothic (right).

    enter image description here

  • If you ever have a chance to handwrite something on a horizontal 原稿用紙, place small kana below the center of the square, just like the image above.

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