Phonetikana – Nihongo never sounded…I mean read any better.


So what do you do when you can’t read Japanese? Get a dictionary? Nope…create a font that has the phonetics embedded. At least that’s what the people at Johnson Banks are thinking. Driven by trips to Japan and continual frustration at being unable to read the language, Michael Johnson and his team at Johnson Banks have been trying to design a Katakana typeface that has English phonetic sounds embedded: ‘phonetikana’.

Their first forays into it are great proof of concept…In fact this might be used with any language with symbols that aren’t the alphabet. It’s worth exploring more and especially with something trickier — Kanji, but after learning Japanese the hard way I’m sure there will be some that find this cheating. But, how many times have you slightly got something wrong and read it that way only to have to start back over. For those that have studied Japanese the phonetics might throw you off a bit as you may be used to seeing things like “GU” for “GOO” or just “RO” for “ROH”. Though, I think sounding out Japanese this way is awesome as that’s the only way I was ever able to understand any of it. I would love to see it put to use on signs around Tokyo for those of us that would really use it.

Johnson Banks acknowledges this as a work in progress, so apologies to our readers for any linguistic blunders. But. if you’re interested in finding out more about Phonetikana, (or just want to correct their grammar) please email info (at) johnsonbanks (dot) co (dot) uk.


characters from the phonetikana typeface


for example, UNIQLO in japanese is pronounced ‘yoo nee koo roh’
above are the four characters in phonetikana.


‘big apple’




‘doki doki’ (Japanese for the ‘sound of my beating heart’)


‘baa + moo’


‘big in Japan’


‘nee-koh’ – Japanese for ‘smile’

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