Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Furigana Dots ﹅ Bouten 傍点

Sometimes when reading manga you might come across certain dots, points, circles, diagonal marks, or something of the sort in the furigana 振り仮名 space beside the words, and you might ask: what do these furigana dots mean???

Furigana dots in the manga Boku no Hero Academia 僕のヒーローアカデミア. Transcript: Izuku-kun ni wa kansetsu ga futatsu aru kono sekai ja mezurashii. In Izuku-kun's case there are two joints, in this world that's rare.

What Are They For?

Basically, these dots are meant to add emphasis in Japanese. What does emphasis mean? It means something is so important-er it needs to be written in a special way to get the point across in text.

English Comparison

In English, we'd emphasize text in the following ways:
  1. Bold text.
  2. Italic text.
  3. Underlined text.
  4. All caps.
  5. Marked text.
  6. Bigger text.
  7. All of the above!

But in Japanese that's a bit troublesome. In particular, making Japanese text bolder makes it harder to read complex kanji, specially in smaller type. Italics has the same problem.

By the way, when a computer font is made, the italics and bold versions are normally a whole font by itself. That means a designer went through all the letters and remade them. Japanese, which has very few fonts by comparison, wouldn't afford this luxury with their thousands and thousands of characters. So this is impractical.

Of course, it's possible to make the text tilted or bold programmatically, and it's done sometimes on the internet. By the way, italic text done programmatically it's called "oblique" sometimes.

Japanese doesn't have lowercase and uppercase, so no caps. It's true the hiragana and katakana are similar as they're counterparts, but it's just not the same thing, but there's no counterpart for the kanji.

In manga, you can find some text balloons with bigger text for emphasis, but that wouldn't be silly in a document or textbook to mark passages of text.

So what remains is putting color in the background, which doesn't work when you have only black and white to work with, and underling text.

The furigana dots are like underlining text.

Effect in Practice

Alright, so furigana dots in Japanese are like underlining text in English. What are the practical implications of this?

Basically, just like underlining text in English, what exactly the furigana dots mean depend entirely on the author.

The idea that the dots are supposed to emphasize thing remains the same. Some authors use them sparingly. Like, super sparingly. Only adding the furigana dots when they want to hint to the reader something they might overlook. Examples include:

Different voicing.

Generally speaking, dots adding emphasis and all, implies characters marked by the furigana dots have an emphatic voicing, being pronounced stronger than the rest of the text.


Since you're supposed to read them differently, they might used to hint that the character spoke them differently.

For example: "they didn't steal the money" has nothing special in it. But "they didn't steal the money" might mean the character who said this phrase is implying they stole something else by voicing that word differently. The same happens in Japanese.


Sometimes, the dots may be used to imply not that a character said the words with emphasis, but that the words struck a chord with the main character or listener.

This usually happens in stories with mystery solving when a character is just reporting facts poker-faced and then he says something that gives someone a mind-blowing epiphany that solves everything, catches every criminal, cures cancer and makes everybody happy forever after.


When there's a wordplay in text the reader might not get, the furigana dot may be used to hint it exists at all.


Sometimes, a word appear to be misspelled in manga, as if there was an editorial error, and the furigana dot may be used to tell that it's not misspelled after all, it's written as intended.

This is usually the case in that trope when a character is trying to disguise themselves, and then they're supposed to give their fake names, and everybody knows coming up with names is literally the hardest thing ever, so they just make up something on spot, a slight variation of their real name, and that'll look like the author misspelled their name, so they put a furigana dot in there and it becomes clear it was totally on purpose and no mistakes were made.

Satou from Ajin calling himself Katou, an usage example of the Japanese emphasis mark, bouten 傍点

Overabundance of Emphasizing

So far we've been talking about putting a dot or two on a character or two to hint that a word or two must have emphasis, but that's not always the case.

Some authors... they fucking underline every fucking damn thing!

Furigana dots in the manga JoJo no Kimyou na Bouken ジョジョの奇妙な冒険

Seriously, what the fuck. It looks like they took this sharpie and just started stabbing the motherfucking text over and over to kill it with EMPHASIS. It's like, you know how some old people on Facebook TYPE EVERYTHING IN ALL CAPS ALL THE DAMN TIME? It's like that, except we're talking about underlining every fucking last single fucking word in the fucking sentence like why'd you even do that what's the point emphasis is relative if everything has emphasis nothing has emphasis goddamnit!!!111

Like I said, how the furigana dots are used depends on the author. Some use them sparingly, with precision, like a scalpel to achieve maximum effectiveness. They're like furigana dot assassins, maxing that DEX and CRIT'ng. Meanwhile others just spam the dots like you'd spam Hadouken in Street Fighter.

What Are They Called

The furigana dots are called in Japanese by the names of bouten 傍点, kenten 圏点 and wakiten 脇点, meaning "side mark," because it's written on the furigana space, besides the text, except for kenten which means "circle mark," because it usually looks like a circle, although it has other shapes.

If you want to know how to use it in a phrase:
  • kanji ni bouten wo tsukeru 漢字に傍点を付ける
    To add "furigana dots" to kanji.

Types of Furigana Dots

The bouten are usually dots, but they aren't always dots. Literally speaking, bouten are "side marks," and a mark isn't necessarily a dot, likewise, bouten come in various shapes, including:

• ◦ Dot.
● ○ Circle.
◉ ◎ Double circle.
▲ △ Triangle.
﹅ ﹆ Sesame dot / diagonal tick.

Then there are asterisks, etc. that can be used too.

The simple dot or circle is the most common kind of bouten, followed by the sesame dot, that one that looks like a diagonal tick.

There's no general difference between one furigana dot and the other, it depends on the author. Most of the time, an author will stick to just one kind of dot. If they use two, then you can assume it's like the difference between italic and bold type: the least used has more emphasis.

There are also cases of people that choose the dot depending on the writing direction. For example, preferring the circle dot in horizontal writing and the sesame dot in vertical writing.

Dot Placement

Generally speaking, the furigana dots go, well, where the furigana is supposed to be. In vertical writing this is on the right side of the text, in horizontal writing this is atop of the text.

Note that usually texts do not have furigana, hence where furigana is supposed to be, would be, if there was any.

In the texts that do have furigana there's a problem: do you put the bouten there or the reading of the kanji? There are three approaches to this.
  1. Overwrite the reading aid.
    That is, remove the furigana and leave only the bouten.
  2. Put the bouten on the reading aid.
    In this case you'd have the kanji, the reading aid, and the bouten, side by side in a very wide line.
  3. Do not add the bouten.
    If the author is putting bouten on an entire phrase, he might skip the spaces that have reading aids and place the bouten only beside the okurigana and kana.

As always, which approach is used depends on the author..

Furigana Line: Bousen 傍線

Remember when I said bouten are like underlining text for emphasis? Well, ultimately, bouten are dots, not lines, so it's not really the same thing is it? As you might concur, there isn't that physically stops a Japanese person from underlining Japanese text, well, except for the fact that normally Japanese text is written vertically, so it's more like sidelining text than underlining it.

The practice of "sidelining" Japanese text would be called bousen 傍線, literally "side line." Other names include wakisen 脇線 and the katakanization of the word "sideline," saidorain サイドライン.

Sidelining, bousen 傍線, Japanese vertical writing equivalent of underlining, as seen in the anime Hyouka 氷菓

This bousen'ng normally happens when someone literally draws a side line using a pencil or pen or something, but you can sometimes encounter it in manga and printed media too.

HTML & CSS Support

As far as HTML is concerned, you can mark up underlined text with <u> and emphasized text with <em> and then use CSS to style that because those tags are a fucking retarded mess.

<i> Debacle

People were like, we gotta separate structure and presentation, and everybody agreed. What they couldn't figure out, though, was what was structure and what was presentation.

So somebody was like, italics is presentation, not structure. And then after getting high snorting apparently meaningless semantics, which to be fair you'd need a very high IQ to understand, they arbitrarily decided italic was the same as emphasis, removed <i> and put <em> in place.

And they were like "oh, you want italics but not emphasis? Then just slap some <span> in there and use C... S... S....!!11111 For presentatiooonnnnnnn~~~~!"

Then they woke up and realized italics isn't the same thing as emphasis, and italics is structural information, not just presentation, and then they put <i> back where it belonged: on HTML.

Since now italics are considered structural you'd imagine bouten are structural too, since there's no guarantee the typographic device correlates perfectly with emphasis. Likewise, whatever weird thing other languages use in their text should be be structural too, amiright?

But of course there's no tag for them lmao

It's <i> or nothing lmao

Just add bouten with CSS lmao

Adding Bouten 傍点 with CSS

Support for bouten with CSS is minimal as of now. It relies on text-emphasis properties, and caniuse.com reports text-emphasis support across browsers at tiny 16% right now. So if this doesn't work on your browser, don't be surprised. This is, after all, some ultra advanced CSS3 witchcraftery.

As far as I can tell, in Chrome, the circle option is the only one that looks alright.
text-emphasis: circle;

If you add an open you can make it hollow. For example, next I'll add a hollow triangle. It looks rather small in chrome.
text-emphasis: open triangle;

The diagonal tick that you see sometimes in manga is done using the sesame option. This one looks extremely minuscule here in Chrome, which is unfortunate. Firefox appears to render it better.
text-emphasis: sesame;

There are other options but this is documented better on Mozilla Developer Network, etc. So I guess our journey ends here.


Historic Usage

This isn't the case anymore, but it seems that, historically, the furigana dots were once used instead of dakuten in some cases. (from 日本声調史論考)

dakuon-gana ni subete 濁音仮名にすべて
dakuten ga kuwaerareru 濁点が加えられる
you ni natta no wa ようになったのは、
zutto ato no jiki ずっとあとの時期
no koto de atte のことであって
The practice of putting accent marks (dakuten) in all accented kana happened much later.

sono katoki ni その過渡期に
kenten ni yoru 圏点による
fudakuten ga 不濁点が
mochiirareteiru koto 用いられていること。
In the transition period the furigana dots (kenten) were used.

1 comment:

  1. Damn, it's amazing how much you know about all this. Not only that, but presenting it in a simple, concise, and entertaining manner. Some people try too hard to be funny on topics like that, so glad you're not like that. Lastly, when my cursor hovered over some of those images, it was literally the first time I saw my cursor horizontally before lol


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