Why is horizontal text on book spines upside down?

I noticed that for all of the right-to-left Japanese books I have with horizontal text on the spine, that text is upside down when the book is laid flat with the front cover facing up. This seems to be standard across magazines, novels, different publishers. Does anyone know why this is?


Isn’t it just because the spine is designed to be read when the book is on a shelf? If it was “rightside up” relative to the cover in that situation, you would have to read it from the bottom of the book to the top when it was sitting on the shelf, and that seems awkward.


I don’t think there’s any universal rule about which way is right-side up.

I’m pretty sure German books, for example, generally put horizontal text from bottom to top along the spine. I think it’s just a case of different publishing industries standardizing in coincidentally different ways. Kind of like which side of the street to drive on, I suppose.

Although that said I suppose since Japanese is commonly written either left to right or top to bottom, it does make the most sense for “further along the text” to be down when on the shelf. Otherwise vertical Japanese that doesn’t have to be rotated and horizontal non-Japanese that’s been squished into the same space would be going opposite directions!

For reference just in case we’re talking about different things, to me these are what I would expect:

An American book with title going down the spine

A German book with title going up the spine

A Japanese book with title going down the spine (Japanese text vertically laid out)

I don’t really think it has anything to do with which side the front cover is on – after all, non-flipped US editions of manga still have the cover going down the spine! If you’re looking at the front cover, you aren’t looking at the spine, and vice versa.


I’ve also noticed that sometimes store signs with horizontal text read right to left. I think this is also how Chinese is read, and I wonder if there is a connection.

I’m bad with shapes and I can’t picture this.


Another option I didn’t think of in my first post:
are we talking about horizontal text on a spine like 完全版 here?

In which case – it would never be right side up if the book were flat on the front or back cover, because
完全版 written vertically would be:

with the characters individually rotated so the bottom of one meets the top of the next. You can’t rotate one to get the other - so horizontal text is only meant to be read horizontally.

(either way, hopefully the visual references are helpful, at least)


Same, I have no idea what OP is talking about. I’m staring at a bunch of manga volumes I have and can’t figure it out. All the horizontal text on the spines seem fine to me.

OP, can you share some pictures?


I’m talking about the text like “Pretty Guardian…” in your example. That actually makes a lot of sense that it would read in the same direction as the vertical text. Thanks!

Also, very interesting that German books have it the same way despite being left-to-right.


Ah, I see now. Aria the Masterpiece shows the title that way as well. I never really thought about it since it’s top to bottom just like Japanese text would be.

probably has more to do with the direction you read the book that it being “upside down”

Not books, but related to character order in both vertical and horizontal contexts — notifications painted on a highway in Japan that are vertical will be painted in the order you first encounter a character, which means you’re reading from bottom to top — not how you’d print vertical text in a Japanese book, but makes perfect sense in the context of a highway. Also, characters painted horizontally on each side of public vehicles will go from front to back, so will be in the opposite order on the left and right side of a vehicle. In English we’d never write AMBULANCE on one side and ECNALUBMA on the other, but 救急車 and 車急救 is quite acceptable on ambulances in Japan.


I’ve noticed that about roads! It the same on signs for the nearest cities- the closest one is on the bottom.

I hadn’t noticed that for emergency vehicles. I’ll have to see if I can take a peak at the local firehouse or safely try to read an ambulance next time I see one.

There’s a pretty easy way to see an ambulance, you know what you have to do.


I haven’t checked if it happens in North America but when I was in Spain, ambulances had the front text flipped so that it would appear normal in the rear view mirror.


Find a serial killer with a thing for hands :thinking:


Interestingly, this too depends on the country:

P. S. Sorry, I hope I’m not offtoping with this :sweat_smile:


This is my guess too. All my English language books have spine text running top to bottom (ie when you’re looking at a shelf of books you have to tilt your head to the right to read them). I have some French books and they make it run bottom-to-top (tilt head to left). Japanese books seem to have followed English top-to-bottom practice for horizontal text (tilt head right again).

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Haha, I got really curious and had to check my bookshelf too.

English books: top to bottom
German and French books: bottom to top
I even own one Danish book (don’t ask ok :sweat_smile:) which is bottom to top as well.
BUT I have two scientific books (maths/CS) written in German who have their title run top to bottom. They’re published by Springer, so maybe they just unified their printing process across all languages :thinking:
Oh, and I found two Reclam books in German (you know, the little yellow ones) and they also run top to bottom.

This is really interesting - I never noticed this before :sweat_smile:


I found two regular German bookseries on my shelf that also run top to bottom

But yeah, they seem to be outliers. Rebellious little books :melting_face:

Me neither :sweat_smile:


Now that you speak about it, I haven’t paid attention to it with the books, but recently it struck me with the spines of J-cards for compact cassettes, since it seems that BASF ones (German) have their text the other way around than Maxell and TDK (Japanese) :wink: And whenever I record something, I always have a moment of hesitation - “In which direction should I write the album title on the spine?”