Ever wonder what makes Japanese design so…Japanese? Here are ten techniques observed by the graphic design world that typify Japanese style.

Have you ever seen an advertisement or poster and thought, “Wow, that looks very Japanese”? There is just something about that Japanese design and their unique sense of style. Take for example, the tourism posters from the early 1900s or the iconic Kikkoman soy sauce bottle. Of course, through time that sense of style changes, yet, even in the 21st century, Japanese graphic design still has that unique quality and there are actually some techniques that graphic designers from elsewhere study in the effort to find inspiration from and emulate.

Mary Stribley, a writer for graphic design website Canva‘s “Design School,” compiled a list of ten common elements of Japanese graphic design, let’s see what she came up with:

1. Bright colors


Osawa Yu-dai

If you’ve spent any time people watching or window shopping in Tokyo, this one should come as no surprise. The bold clash of colors extends past fashion into the paper world too.

2. Mixed languages

language 1

Li Jikai and Wang Jinsong via Art Link Art

Despite English being a dreaded subject for many a student, Japanese design often features English words, especially on T-shirts. Although the English may not always be correct or appropriate, it looks cool, especially when intermingled with any of the three Japanese scripts.

3. Custom typography



It could be said that the controversy over the 2020 Tokyo Olympics design was merely due to two designers’ affinity for a certain pre-fab typography, however, many Japanese graphic designers don’t face that issue because they just make their own from the start. You won’t be finding the unique typeface seen above in any templates.

4. Brush strokes


Hideo Pedro Yamashita via Tumblr/Gurafiku

A deep-rooted part of Japanese culture is calligraphy, known as shodo in Japanese. Kids start studying shodo in school in first grade, but many choose to continue to practice after that, aspiring to reach “master” level, on a grading system similar to that of martial arts. Needless to say, it’s no joke, and shodo and its characteristic brush strokes have also found their place in the graphic design world.

5. Gradients


Chigasaki City Museum of Art

Ombré is on the up and up in both fashion and hair design, but the gentle transition between colors is quite the popular tool in Japanese graphic design as well, often seen in both full-page fading, like above, and also as a technique for font coloring.

6. Organic floral patterns



Ikebana, or flower arrangement, is another deep-rooted cultural activity. Ikebana is also connected to hanakotoba, or “the language flowers,” which dictates that each flower is characterized with specific ideas, symbols, and emotions. Cherry blossoms quite possibly are the most commonly featured flower in art, but next time you see another flower on a poster or package, think about what it symbolizes.

7. Circles/Symmetry


Yusaku Kamekura via Tumblr/ Gurafiku

Circles and symmetry have been an integral in Japanese design for a very long time, with mon, circular family crests, at the forefront. This circular design is also seen and admired today with Japan’s extravagant manhole art, in addition to its presence in graphic design.

8. Cuteness


Yosuke Nakanishi/ Yusuke Mashiba via Tumblr/ Gurafiku

Need we say more? At this point we could just drop names like Hello Kitty, Kumamon and Funasshi. “Cute culture” isn’t just for kids in Japan and cute drawings and characters are used even by telecommunication companies (above), as well as just about everything else.

9. High information-density


Urawa Art Museum via Tumblr/Gurafiku

Have you ever noticed that Japanese advertisements are chock full of text? For many designers and companies, the more information they can give on their posters the better. Sometimes it’s used as a visual tool, but other times, they just really want to put their words out there.

10. Collage and layering


Chikako Oguma via Tumblr/ Gurafiku

Sure, this may look like a jumbled mess at first glance, but really, it is a delicately and purposefully pieced together collage. Layering and busy collages are part of what make Japanese design so eye-catching and unique.

These ten elements are by no means the only elements of Japanese design, nor are they found only in Japan, but they are ten craft techniques often utilized by Japanese graphic artists. Next time you find yourself perusing ads or wandering the streets of Japan, keep your eye out for these elements!

Source: Canva Design School
Top Image: Un & Co. (edited by RocketNews24)