Twenty Years Ago…

Twenty years ago this month, in September of 1993, something remarkable happened in my life. My first book, entitled Understanding Japanese Information Processing (日本語情報処理), was published by O’Reilly Media (called O’Reilly & Associates back then). It had a very distinctive cover, which is shown with the two subsequent books:

UJIP CoverCJKV CoverCJKV2E Cover


I’d like to use this opportunity to share some random thoughts about this book, including what went into writing it. In a way, to commemorate its birth.

First, some interesting statistics. The number of pages was 470, and it took me approximately nine months to write and typeset it. When I originally proposed the book, in mid-1992, my estimate was 250 pages. I had no idea that the number of pages would nearly double before I was done. The first printing was 8,000 copies, which sold out in early 1994, and which prompted a second printing. Its Japanese translation, entitled simply 『日本語情報処理』, was published by SOFTBANK Corporation in August of 1995, and had several printings, the first of which was for 5,000 copies.

Reviews of my book appeared in many English- and Japanese-language publications, and one of the most memorable, at least for me, was the brief one that appeared in the January 1994 issue of WIRED magazine.

One of the most frequently asked questions is about its cover, specifically the animal that is depicted on it. The same animal also graces my two subsequent books, CJKV Information Processing (中日韓越情報処理) in the beginning of 1999 and CJKV Information Processing, Second Edition at the end of 2008. It is a blowfish, and like the covers of most O’Reilly Media books, it comes from the Dover Pictorial Archive. Edie Freedman of O’Reilly Media usually selects the animal that appears on a book cover, but sometimes the author has a strong opinion about which animal is used. In this case, I suggested the blowfish because the following analogy could be drawn between the animal and the content of the book: If blowfish is not prepared correctly, it can kill you; likewise, if software is not prepared correctly (referring to internationalization), you kill your ability to market your product to other regions. Interestingly, this analogy still applies today.

I am not going to bother readers of this article with the details that went into typesetting this book, which are clearly recorded in the book’s Colophon. Speaking of typesetting this book, it is actually the second book that I typeset. The first was Basic Technical Japanese (1990, The University of Wisconsin Press), written by Professors Daub, Bird, and Inoue. (Professors Daub and Bird had a profound influence on me, and Professor Daub is my son’s namesake.)

The book actually began its life as a “plain text” information file named JAPAN.INF, which I maintained for almost five years. After the book was published, I began a new information file named CJK.INF, which was simply a CJK expansion of JAPAN.INF.

Of course, because this was my first book, there was cause for celebration at Adobe, which included having commemorate T-shirts produced. Below are some photos:

Ken trying to open a bottle of champagneKen with Dan Mills (my former manager at Adobe)

Ken with Peter Mui (the book's editor)

Ken with Steve Amerige (a former colleague and close friend) and Peter Mui

(First photo: Yours truly trying to coerce a bottle of champagne to open. Second photo: With Dan Mills, my former manager at Adobe. Third photo: With Peter Mui, my editor. Fourth photo: With Steve Amerige, a former colleague and close friend, and Peter.)

My next major writing project was my PhD dissertation entitled Prescriptive Kanji Simplification, which I completed and defended in May of 1994, and which consisted of a mere 70 pages. Of course, Understanding Japanese Information Processing evolved into CJKV Information Processing, which is currently in its second edition.

Comments are closed.