Problems Caused by Justification with European Languages,
Left-Flush with Japanese

Conventionally, left-flush alignment has been used for typesetting European languages including, of course, English. The only real exception to this is some technology-related brochures or advertisements in which justification is intentionally used for effect. However, the use of left-flush alignment is so prevalent that Europeans and Americans tend to identify justified text as the work of a Japanese designer.

If English text is aligned flush left, the right margin does not have to be a problem. Most of the alignment can be carried out automatically–left up to the layout software. If here and there an adjustment is necessary to compensate for a particularly large gap, the designer can use the return key to add a hard line break where desired. It's all up to his or her eye to create a pleasing flow. Personally, I have always felt that the gently waving right margins formed by the ends of lines in well-laid-out European-language books are beautiful.

Recently though, this is changing. These days, we can more often find examples of justified corporate brochures or books written in English, or other European languages. According to an acquaintance of mine who is an American copywriter, some designers use justification because they are too lazy to deal with the undulating right margin created by the end of lines. One problem that can occur with justification is excessive hyphenation. And if a hard line break is used on a line ending with a hyphenated word, that hyphen can end up in the middle of the line if the layout is altered. However, if the text columns are sufficiently wide and alignment is done carefully to ensure that the spaces between words are consistent, justified European-language text can look as beautiful and natural as left-flush text.

On the other hand, lately we are seeing more examples of left-flush Japanese-language text, which is traditionally justified. In the case of headlines, lead copy, or poems, left- flush alignment can occasionally be effective. However, in general, left-flush alignment of Japanese-language body copy seems very odd to me (although there may be no other choice with web sites).

When Japanese text is checked after layout, the designer is occasionally instructed to insert line breaks at contextually appropriate points. With justified text, line breaks do not necessarily fall at the most appropriate points, so I think that the increased use of left-flush alignment in Japanese documents may be a direct result of these checks. But, basically, it is not difficult or unnatural for Japanese readers to shift their eyes from the end of one line to the head of another, as long as the column width is contained with their scope of vision. Therefore, even if line breaks are not provided at the most contextually appropriate points, reading is not a problem. On the other hand, if line breaks are inserted at every contextually appropriate spot in the entire text, it will not flow smoothly and will be difficult to read.

Unfortunately, there are many cases in which brochures that were first produced for an overseas audience have been translated into Japanese with the same left-flush alignment used for the original European-language body copy. This ignores the fact that, regardless of its origin, left-flush Japanese body copy is never beautiful, or easy to read.