Friday, August 22, 2008


Hieroglyphics are enjoying a quiet boom in Japan. Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, along with the Dongba characters that have been used by the Naxi people of Yunnan Province in southern China for about the past 1,000 years, have found their way into personal computers and cellular phones. Young people feel that the decorative designs of these hieroglyphics allow them to express feelings that are not easily conveyed with words alone, and they have been using these symbols in letters and even on business cards.

Related Books Fuel the Boom
Recently, a number of books on hieroglyphics have been released and have contributed to the boom, one of them being Philip Ardagh's The Hieroglyphs Handbook. The Japanese translation differs substantially from the original English paperback, though; while detailing how hieroglyphics were actually used on walls and sarcophagi in ancient Egypt, it contains an additional section that demonstrates how Japanese sentences may be written using hieroglyphics. The Japanese version of this book went on sale in May 2000 and has sold 50,000 copies in one year, far exceeding the publisher's expectations.

"Young women seem to view hieroglyphics as a kind of design or symbol," according to a spokesperson for Shoeisha, which published the Japanese edition. "There are a great number of people who really want to communicate using hieroglyphics."

The popularity of Dongba characters, meanwhile, has been triggered by another book. Wang Chaoying, a Chinese designer, wrote a book in Japanese introducing these characters, the only hieroglyphics currently in use anywhere in the world, as a type of design. Tonpa moji (Dongba Characters) was originally published in 1996, but its sales began taking off only last fall. It has since sold more than 20,000 copies.
The publisher, Maar, said, "There are quite a few young people who use Dongba characters in letters and postcards now. It's like a secret code between friends."

Hieroglyphics Everywhere
Waseda University offers a course open to the public on Egyptian archaeology and hieroglyphics. The number of applicants have recently been far exceeding the 30 places available each term. After taking this course, a number of people have been led to study hieroglyphics more deeply.

Attention is also being paid to the popularity of Dongba characters, which exude a heartwarming rusticity. Convenience-store chain Lawson has teamed up with camera maker Canon to install machines that can print Dongba characters on business cards and stickers in all 6,700 of its outlets across Japan. This service has been in operation since last year. A think tank has even been using Dongba characters in place of illustrations at the top of serious economic reports that it places on its Website. The Dongba characters were chosen to emphasize how easy it is to become acquainted with the material.

Emoticons, such as smileys, are often used in e-mail, but it appears as though hieroglyphics are beginning to catch up. The popularity of these symbols continues to grow.

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