Horizontal and vertical writing in East Asian scripts

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Horizontal writing
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese橫排
Simplified Chinese横排
Vietnamese name
Vietnamese alphabetviết ngang
Korean name
Hangul횡서 or 가로쓰기
Japanese name
Kanji横書き or 横組み
Hiraganaよこがき or よこぐみ
Vertical writing
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese縱排
Simplified Chinese纵排
Vietnamese name
Vietnamese alphabetviết dọc
Korean name
Hangul종서 or 세로쓰기
Japanese name
Hiraganaたてがき or たてぐみ
Kyūjitai縱書き or 縱組み
Shinjitai縦書き or 縦組み
An excerpt from The Cold Food Observance (寒食帖) by Song dynasty scholar Su Shi (蘇軾). The calligraphy is read in columns from top to bottom, from right to left.

Many East Asian scripts can be written horizontally or vertically. Chinese, Vietnamese Hán-Nôm, Korean, and Japanese scripts can be oriented along either axis, as they consist mainly of disconnected logographic or syllabic units, each occupying a square block of space, thus allowing for flexibility for which direction texts can be written, be it horizontally from left-to-right, horizontally from right-to-left, vertically from top-to-bottom, and even vertically from bottom-to-top.

Traditionally, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese are written vertically in columns going from top to bottom and ordered from right to left, with each new column starting to the left of the preceding one. The stroke order and stroke direction of Chinese characters (hanzi in Chinese, chữ Hán in Vietnamese, Hanja in Korean, and kanji in Japanese,), Vietnamese chữ Nôm, Korean Hangul, and Japanese kana all facilitate writing in this manner. In addition, writing in vertical columns from right to left facilitated writing with a brush in the right hand while continually unrolling the sheet of paper or scroll with the left. Since the nineteenth century, it has become increasingly common for these languages to be written horizontally, from left to right, with successive rows going from top to bottom, under the influence of European languages such as English, although vertical writing is still frequently used in Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Macau, and Taiwan.

Differences between horizontal and vertical writing[edit]

Chinese characters, Japanese kana, Vietnamese chữ Nôm and Korean Hangul can be written horizontally or vertically. There are some small differences in orthography. In horizontal writing it is more common to use Arabic numerals, whereas Chinese numerals are more common in vertical text.

In these scripts, the positions of punctuation marks, for example the relative position of commas and full stops (periods), differ between horizontal and vertical writing. Punctuation such as the parentheses, quotation marks, book title marks (Chinese), ellipsis mark, dash, wavy dash (Japanese), proper noun mark (Chinese), wavy book title mark (Chinese), emphasis mark, and chōon mark (Japanese) are all rotated 90 degrees when switching between horizontal and vertical text.

Where a text is written in horizontal format, pages are read in the same order as English books, with the binding at the left and pages progressing to the right. Vertical books are printed the other way round, with the binding at the right, and pages progressing to the left.

Ruby characters, like furigana in Japanese which provides a phonetic guide for unusual or difficult-to-read characters, follow the direction of the main text. Example in Japanese, with furigana in green:


However, zhuyin in Taiwanese Chinese is usually written vertically regardless of the direction of the main text.

Inserted text in the Roman alphabet is usually written horizontally, or turned sideways when it appears in vertical text, with the base of the characters on the left.

Right-to-left horizontal writing[edit]

Historically, vertical writing was the standard system, and horizontal writing was only used where a sign had to fit in a constrained space, such as over the gate of a temple or the signboard of a shop.

Therefore, before the end of World War II in Japan, those signs were read right to left.

Today, the left-to-right direction is dominant in all three languages for horizontal writing: this is due partly to the influence of English and other Western languages to make it easier to read when the two languages are found together (for example, on signs at an airport or train station), and partly to the increased use of computerized typesetting and word processing software, most of which does not directly support right-to-left layout of East Asian languages. However, right-to-left horizontal writing is still seen in these scripts, in such places as signs, on the right-hand side of vehicles, and on the right-hand side of stands selling food at festivals. It is also used to simulate archaic writing, for example in reconstructions of old Japan for tourists, and it is still found in the captions and titles of some newspapers.

Imperial throne inside the Forbidden City in Beijing. The plaque at the top, "正大光明", uses right-to-left horizontal writing, while the plaques on the sides use vertical writing.
The word kasutera (カステラ) written from right to left on the right-hand side of a festival stall in Hakone, Japan.
Two examples of right-to-left characters on a Chinese postcard from 1901, "津天" and "京北" instead of "天津" and "北京" in modern direction.
First issue of The Dong-a Ilbo on April 1st, 1920. The title "報日亞東" and "號刊創" were written in right-to-left direction.

Left-to-right vertical writing[edit]

There are only two types of vertical scripts known to have been written from left to right: the Old Uyghur script and its descendants — Traditional Mongolian, Oirat Clear, Manchu, and Buryat — and the 'Phags-pa script. The former developed because the Uyghurs rotated their Sogdian-derived script, originally written right to left, 90 degrees counterclockwise to emulate Chinese writing, but without changing the relative orientation of the letters. 'Phags-pa in turn was an adaptation of Tibetan script written vertically on the model of Mongolian to supplant those writing systems current in the Mongol Empire. Of these, only traditional Mongolian still remains in use today in Inner Mongolia.[1][2]: 36 



An unfolded Chinese bamboo book featuring text written vertically along the strips of bamboo.
Text on the sides of China Post vehicles runs from the front of the car to the rear, i.e. from left to right on the vehicle's left side, and from right to left on its right side. English text on the right side is also in reverse order. This arrangement is common on tour buses in China as well.

The first[citation needed] printed Chinese text in horizontal alignment was Robert Morrison's "Dictionary of the Chinese language", published in 1815–1823 in Macau.

The earliest widely known Chinese publication using horizontal alignment was the magazine Science (科學). Its first issue in January 1915 explained the (then) unusual format:

This magazine is printed so that it goes sideways from the top left, and is marked with Western punctuation. This is to make the insertion of mathematical, physical and chemical formulae convenient, not for the sake of novelty-hunting. We ask our readers to excuse us.

In the subsequent decades, the occurrence of words in a Western script (predominantly English) became increasingly frequent, and readers began to appreciate the unwieldiness of rotating the paper at each occurrence for vertically set texts. This accelerated acceptance of horizontal writing.

With the proliferation of horizontal text, both horizontal and vertical came to be used concurrently. Proponents of horizontal text argued that vertical text in right-to-left columns was smudged easily when written, and moreover demanded greater movement from the eyes when read. Vertical text proponents considered horizontal text to be a break from established tradition.

After the success of the communist revolution in 1949, the People's Republic of China decided to use horizontal writing. All newspapers in China changed from vertical to horizontal alignment on January 1, 1956. In publications, text is run horizontally although book titles on spines and some newspaper headlines remain vertical for convenience. Inscriptions of signs on most state organs are still vertical.

In Singapore, vertical writing has also become rare. In Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and among older overseas Chinese communities, horizontal writing has been gradually adopted since the 1990s. By the early 2000s, most newspapers in these areas had switched to left-to-right horizontal writing, either entirely or in a combination of vertical text with horizontal left-to-right headings.


Meiji-era offices of Nintendo, with its sign written right-to-left (migi yokogaki).

Horizontal text came into Japanese in the Meiji era, when the Japanese began to print Western language dictionaries. Initially they printed the dictionaries in a mixture of horizontal Western and vertical Japanese text, which meant readers had to rotate the book ninety degrees to read the Western text. Because this was unwieldy, the idea of yokogaki came to be accepted. One of the first publications to partially use yokogaki was a German to Japanese dictionary (袖珍挿図独和辞書, Shūchinsōzu Dokuwa Jisho, "pocket illustrated German to Japanese dictionary") published in 1885 (Meiji 18).

At the beginning of the change to horizontal alignment in Meiji era Japan, there was a short-lived form called migi yokogaki (右横書き, literally "right horizontal writing"), in contrast to hidari yokogaki, (左横書き, literally "left horizontal writing"), the current standard. This resembled the right-to-left horizontal writing style of languages such as Arabic with line breaks on the left. It was probably based on the traditional single-row right-to-left writing. This form was widely used for pre-WWII advertisements and official documents (like banknotes), but has not survived outside of old-fashioned signboards.

Vertical writing is still commonly used in Japan in novels, newspapers and magazines, including most Japanese comics and graphic novels (also known as manga), while horizontal writing is used more often in other media, especially those containing English language references. In general, dialogue in manga is written vertically. However, in scenes where a character speaks a foreign language, the dialogue may be written horizontally. In this case, there is a mixture of vertical and horizontal writing on a single page.


Hunmin Jeongeum Eonhae uses right-to-left vertical writing. It uses hanja and small hangul for ruby lettering placed to the bottom-right.

Traditionally, Korean writing has been vertical, with columns running right to left.

In 1988, The Hankyoreh became the first Korean newspaper to use horizontal writing, and after 1990, all other major newspapers followed suit. Today, major Korean newspapers hardly ever run text vertically.


Traditionally, Vietnamese writing was vertical, with columns running right to left as the language used a mixture of Chinese characters and independently developed characters derived from Chinese ones to write the native language in a script called chữ Nôm.

However, after the 1920s, when the Vietnamese alphabet, a variant of the Latin alphabet, started to be used nationwide to replace chữ Nôm, the vertical writing style was forgotten, as Latin script is never written vertically.



In East Asian calligraphy, vertical writing remains the dominant direction.

Graphic novels and comics[edit]

Japanese graphic novels and comics, also known as manga, tend to use vertical direction for text. Manga frames tend to flow in right-to-left horizontal direction. Frames in yonkoma manga (four-panel manga) tend to flow in a vertical direction. Page ordering is the same as books that use vertical direction: from right to left. Frames that are chronologically before or after each other use less spacing in between as a visual cue.

Most manga text (dialog and narration) is written vertically, which dictates the vertical shapes of the speech bubbles. Some, however, such as Levius, are aimed at the international market and strive to optimize for translation and localization, therefore make use of horizontal text and speech bubbles.

In some cases, horizontal writing in text bubbles may be used to indicate that a translation convention is in use – for example, Kenshi Hirokane uses Japanese text arranged horizontally to imply that a character is actually speaking in a foreign language, like English.

Some publishers that translate manga into European languages may choose to keep the original page order (a notable example is Shonen Jump magazine), while other publishers may reverse the page flow with use of mirrored pages. When manga was first released in Anglophone countries, it was usually in the reversed format (also known as "flipped" or "flopped"), but the non-reversed format eventually came to predominate.[3][4][5]

By modern countries[edit]

Japanese and Traditional Chinese[edit]

Both horizontal and vertical writing are used in Japan, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. Traditional Chinese is also used in Mainland China in a few limited contexts, such as some books on ancient literature, or as an aesthetic choice for some signs on shops, temples, etc. In those contexts, both horizontal and vertical writing are used as well.

Example of a newspaper article written vertically in Traditional Chinese with a left-to-right horizontal headline. Note the rotation of the Latin letters and Arabic numerals when written with the vertical text.

Vertical writing is commonly used for novels, newspapers, manga, and many other forms of writing. Because it goes downwards, vertical writing is invariably used on the spines of books. Some newspapers combine the two forms, using the vertical format for most articles but including some written horizontally, especially for headlines. Musical notation for some Japanese instruments such as the shakuhachi is written vertically.

Horizontal writing is easier for some purposes; academic texts are sometimes written this way since they often include words and phrases in other languages, which are more easily incorporated horizontally. Scientific and mathematical texts are nearly always written horizontally, since in vertical writing equations must be turned sideways, making them more difficult to read.

Similarly, English language textbooks, which contain many English words, are usually printed in horizontal writing. This is not a fixed rule, however, and it is also common to see English words printed sideways in vertical writing texts.

Computer text is usually presented in horizontal format; see Japanese language and computers.

Business cards in Japan (meishi) are often printed vertically in Japanese on one side, and horizontally in English on the other. Postcards and handwritten letters may be arranged horizontally or vertically, but the more formal the letter the more likely it is to be written vertically. Envelope addresses are usually vertical, with the recipient's address on the right and the recipient's name in the exact centre of the envelope. See also Japanese etiquette.

Simplified Chinese[edit]

The slogans on Tiananmen ("Long live the People's Republic of China" and "Long live the unity of the people of the world") are written in Simplified Chinese from left to right.
Highway markings are read from bottom to top. The right lane reads 慢车道 for "slow lane" while the middle lane reads 快车道 for "fast lane".

In mainland China, where the Simplified Chinese orthographical reform has been adopted, vertical writing is now comparatively rare, more so in print than in writing and signage. Most publications are now printed in horizontal alignment, like English. Horizontal writing is written left to right in the vast majority of cases, with a few exceptions such as bilingual dictionaries of Chinese and right-to-left scripts like Arabic, in which case Chinese may follow the right-to-left alignment. Right-to-left writing direction can also often be seen on the right side of tourist buses, as it is customary to have the text run (on both sides of the vehicle) from the front of the bus to its rear.

Vertical alignment is generally used for artistic or aesthetic purposes (e.g. on logos and book covers), in scholarly works on Classical Chinese literature, or when space constraints demand it (e.g. on the spines of books and in labelling diagrams). Naturally, vertical text is also used on signs that are longer than they are wide; such signs are the norm at the entrances of schools, government offices and police stations. Calligraphy – in Simplified or Traditional Chinese – is invariably written vertically. Additionally, vertical text may still be encountered on some business cards and personal letters in China.

Since 2012, street markings are written vertically, but unorthodoxically from bottom to top. This is so that the characters are read from nearest to furthest from the drivers' perspective.[6]


Signage in the Dongdaemun History and Culture Park SMRT station in Seoul, South Korea. The Korean texts were written vertically. The sign "동대문역사문화공원" requires two columns (lines), which run from right to left.

In modern Korea, vertical writing is uncommon. Modern Korean is usually written in left-to-right horizontally. Vertical writing is used when the writing space is long vertically and narrow horizontally. For example, titles on the spines of books are usually written vertically. When a foreign language film is subtitled into Korean, the subtitles are sometimes written vertically at the right side of the screen.

In the Standard language (표준어; 標準語) of South Korea, punctuation marks are used differently in horizontal and vertical writing. Western punctuation marks are used in horizontal writing and the Japanese/Eastern-style punctuation marks are used in vertical writing. However, vertical writing using Western punctuation marks is sometimes found.

Vertical writing in computing[edit]


Early computer installations were designed only to support left-to-right horizontal writing based on the Latin alphabet. Today, most computer programs do not fully support the vertical writing system; however, most advanced word processing and publication software that target the East Asian region support the vertical writing system either fully or to a limited extent.

Even though vertical text display is generally not well supported, composing vertical text for print has been made possible. For example, in Asian editions of Windows, Asian fonts are also available in a vertical version, with font names prefixed by "@".[7] Users can compose and edit the document as normal horizontal text. When complete, changing the text font to a vertical font converts the document to vertical orientation for printing purposes. Additionally, OpenType also has valt, vert, vhal, vkna, vkrn, vpal, vrt2, vrtr "feature tags" to define glyphs that can be transformed or adjusted within vertical text; they can be enabled or disabled in CSS3 using font-feature-settings property.[8]

Text and layout on World Wide Web[edit]

Since the late 1990s, W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) has been drafting Cascading Style Sheets properties to enable display on the Web of the various languages of the world according to their heritage text directions. Their latest efforts in 2011 show some revisions to the previous format for the Writing Mode property which provides for vertical layout and text display. The format "writing-mode:tb-rl" has been revised as "writing-mode: vertical-rl" in CSS, but the former syntax was preserved as a part of SVG 1.1 specification.

Among Web browsers, Internet Explorer is the first one that has been supporting vertical text and layout coded in HTML. Starting with IE 5.5 in 2000, Microsoft has enabled the writing mode property as a "Microsoft extension to Cascading Style Sheets (CSS)". Google Chrome (since 8.0), Safari (since 5.1), Opera (since 15.0) has supported the -webkit-writing-mode property.[9] Mozilla Firefox got support for unprefixed writing-mode property in version 38.0, later enabled by default in version 41.0.[9][10][11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ György Kara, "Aramaic Scripts for Altaic Languages", in Daniels & Bright The World's Writing Systems, 1994.
  2. ^ Janhunen, Juha (January 27, 2006). The Mongolic Languages. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-135-79690-7.
  3. ^ Casey Baseel (May 2, 2013). "Manga critic calls for Japanese comics to read from left to right". Japan Today.
  4. ^ "Flipped and Flopped: Manga Fandom In The Mid-1990s". Akihabara Renditions. August 27, 2019.
  5. ^ Deb Aoki (September 14, 2018). "Manga Answerman - How Come Some Manga Are Still Published "Flopped"?". Anime News Network.
  6. ^ Gu, Yue (古月) (August 11, 2012). "警方:竖排从下往上是新国标". Hainan Daily.
  7. ^ Kaplan, Michael S. (August 4, 2005). "Let's get vertical". MSDN Blogs. Retrieved August 23, 2008.
  8. ^ "font-feature-settings - CSS". Mozilla Developer Network. Retrieved October 30, 2015.
  9. ^ a b "writing-mode - CSS". Mozilla Developer Network. Retrieved February 7, 2016.
  10. ^ "Firefox 38 for developers". Mozilla Developer Network. Retrieved February 7, 2016.
  11. ^ "Firefox 41 for developers". Mozilla Developer Network. Retrieved February 7, 2016.

Further reading[edit]

  • Nihongo Daihakubutsukan (日本語大博物館), author: Jun'ichirō Kida (紀田順一郎), publisher: Just System (ジャストシステム, Jasuto Shisutemu) ISBN 4-88309-046-9 (in Japanese), chapter 9, deals with the change from tategaki to yokogaki in modern Japanese.
  • Ishikawa, Kyuyoh. Taction: The Drama of the Stylus in Oriental Calligraphy. Translated by Waku Miller. Tokyo: International House of Japan, 2011.
  • Obana, Yasuko. “Vertical or Horizontal? Reading Directions in Japanese,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London 60, no. 1 (1997): 86-94 (available in the JSTOR online journal archive).
  • Nishiyama, Yutaka. 2010. The Mathematics of Direction in Writing. International Journal of Pure and Applied Mathematics, Vol.61, No.3, 347-356.

External links[edit]