“One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish”

Dr Ken Lunde
8 min readJul 15, 2020

By Dr Ken Lunde, Janitor, Spirits of Christmas Past

A blowfish image from the Dover Pictorial Archive
A blowfish image from the Dover Pictorial Archive

Can you guess the reference? For those who are not aware, the title of this article is the title of the eleventh episode of the second season of The Simpsons, which originally aired in early 1991.

This particular article will instead focus on the history and evolution of the blowfish (河豚 fugu in Japanese) image that appears on the cover of all three of my books that were published by O’Reilly Media. The following is the very first paragraph of the Colophon of CJKV Information Processing, Second Edition, which nicely describes the cover image:

The animal on the cover of CJKV Information Processing is a blowfish, also known as a globefish, swellfish, puffer, and porcupine fish. It exists in tropical waters throughout the world. In Japan it is known as fugu (河豚 fugu), and is a treasured delicacy, usually eaten raw in thin slices. While parts of the blowfish are deliciously narcotic, other parts contain a deadly toxin. Because of this, only specially certified and licensed chefs are allowed to prepare the fish for people to eat. The skin of the blowfish is often used for making lanterns and other decorative items.

I first proposed a book idea to O’Reilly & Associates (O’Reilly Media’s original name) in the latter half of 1992, and part of the process involved visiting their headquarters in Sebastopol, California during which my editor, Peter Mui, and I paged through the Dover Pictorial Archive looking for suitable blowfish images. If memory serves, we found three candidates. The responsibility of selecting an appropriate animal for a book cover was usually left in the capable hands of Edie Freedman, who also designed the book covers themselves. Sometimes, when an author makes a case for selecting a particular animal, that animal is sometimes chosen. It doesn’t happen very often, though. That was the case for Understanding Japanese Information Processing (日本語情報処理 nihongo jōhō shori in Japanese), which was published in 1993.

Why a blowfish?

Just three decades ago, back in the early 1990s, localizing software for non-English regions involved not only translating the UI (user interface) and documentation, but also dealing with various character sets and encodings. For regions such as Japan, this meant dealing with three different encoding systems—ISO-2022-JP, Shift-JIS, and EUC-JP—along with a relative newcomer known as Unicode that has since become the de facto encoding for digital text. Consider the following analogy:

If you don’t prepare blowfish properly, it will kill you. Likewise, if you don’t prepare your software to properly support Japanese, it will kill your market potential.

The blowfish is sometimes referred to as ハリセンボン (harisenbon) in Japanese, and because the last two characters, ボン (bon), can be interpreted as a reading for the kanji that means book, 本, I was told that my books are often—and affectionately—referred to as ハリセン本 that has the same reading, and effectively means “blowfish book.”

In terms of alternate cover animals, the following footnote appears on page xxxiv of the Preface of the latest book:

Michael Slinn made the astute observation that the Babel Fish would have been more appropriate as a cover creature for this book — according to Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you simply stick a Babel Fish in your ear, it connects with your brain, and you can suddenly understand all languages.

Three books, one image

Keeping with tradition, all three of the books, along with their Japanese (1995 and 2002) and Chinese (2002) translations, use the same blowfish image, because each subsequent book is either effectively—or literally—a new edition of the previous book.

Interestingly, the first two books, published in 1993 and 1999, respectively, have the blowfish image facing to the left. This was changed in the third and current book. Below are the cover images of all three books:

Understanding Japanese Information Processing (1993), CJKV Information Processing (1999) & CJKV Information Processing, Second Edition (2009) covers

The first book even had a bilingual rear cover as shown below:

Understanding Japanese Information Processing rear cover

Speaking of bilingual, the Japanese translation of Understanding Japanese Information Processing, which was translated by my longtime friend Jack Halpern (春遍雀來) and Takeo Suzuki (鈴木武生), was published in 1995 by SoftBank (ソフトバンク株式会社), and its cover is shown below:

Understanding Japanese Information Processing (Japanese translation, 1995) cover

The rear cover text is identical to the Japanese text that appears at the bottom of the rear cover of the original English edition, except that the following sentence has been removed, because it means that the book is written in English, but its content is about Japanese:


The Japanese and Chinese (traditional) translations of CJKV Information Processing were published in 2002, and their covers are shown below:

CJKV Information Processing in Japanese (left) and Chinese (right)

Note how the Japanese cover uses 日中韓越 instead of 中日韓越 in the background, behind “CJKV,” which is because 日中 (nitchū) is the preferred way to express “Chinese and Japanese” in Japanese. The full Japanese title is given as 日中韓越情報処理 (nitchūkanetsu jōhō shori) in smaller print. Also note how the “CJKV” text on the Chinese cover is in the background, while 中日韓越 is in the foreground. The text 資訊處理 in smaller print means “information processing.”

This blowfish image has become somewhat iconic, which is also true of the various animal images that appear on the cover of other books published by O’Reilly Media. The article entitled A short history of the O’Reilly animals, written by Edie who has since left O’Reilly Media, is a great way to learn about the history of their book covers.

CJKV Reference Guide (never published) cover

As I was writing—and typesetting along the way—CJKV Information Processing in the late 1990s, it became large—or thick—enough that O’Reilly Media seriously considered publishing it as two separate volumes. The image to the left is what the second volume’s cover would have looked like, which included a goldfish (金魚 kingyo in Japanese) image

I even went through the bother of setting up two separate “book” files in Adobe FrameMaker, which was the app that I used to both write and typeset the book, and when it was decided to publish the book as a single volume, I needed to stitch the two books back together again.

O’Reilly Media had T-shirts made for the first book, and I am told that they were quite popular. I even had a sweatshirt made. A former Adobe colleague, Lynn Shade, designed the T-shirt for the second book, CJKV Information Processing, and many were made, including a very small number of hooded sweatshirts. While I did prepare a T-shirt design for the latest book, only a small number of prototypes were ever made. The front and back of the design are shown below:

CJKV Information Processing, Second Edition T-shirt design

Our family photo that was taken in December of 2000 features the sweatshirts for the first two books:

The Lunde Clan (circa 2000)

My favorite promotional piece for the latest book was the poster shown below whose printed size is 36 inches tall and 24 inches wide, which I naturally had framed:

The Reference the Experts Use poster

Adopt a Character

Very soon after The Unicode Consortium announced its Adopt a Character program in late 2015, sponsoring U+1F421 🐡 BLOWFISH at the Silver level seemed like an appropriate way to express my particular fondness for this sea creature, as it has played an important role in my career. It was also for a good cause, particularly because my former employer matched the USD $1000 donation, which nicely doubled it. Below is my digital badge:

Silver digital badge for U+1F421 🐡 BLOWFISH

I ended up sponsoring another character, U+1F54A 🕊 DOVE OF PEACE, also at the Silver level, and you can read all about that in my article entitled In Memoriam: My Mentor.

When I get around to writing a third edition, which may actually happen, there is no doubt in my mind that the same blowfish image will once again appear on its cover…


P.S. This article associates blowfish with CJKV, so when it came time to select my first personalized license plate, I ended up choosing CJKV:

Tesla Model 3 with “CJKV” Snoopy Plate

About the Author

Dr Ken Lunde worked at Adobe for over twenty-eight years — from 1991-07-01 to 2019-10-18 — specializing in CJKV Type Development, meaning that he architected and developed fonts for East Asian typefaces, along with the standards and specifications on which they are based. He architected and developed the Adobe-branded “Source Han” (Source Han Sans, Source Han Serif, and Source Han Mono) and Google-branded “Noto CJK” (Noto Sans CJK and Noto Serif CJK) open source Pan-CJK typeface families that were released in 2014, 2017, and 2019, is the author of CJKV Information Processing Second Edition (O’Reilly Media, 2009), and published over 300 articles on Adobe’s now-static CJK Type Blog. Ken earned BA (1987), MA (1988), and PhD (1994) degrees in linguistics from The University of Wisconsin-Madison, served as Adobe’s representative to the Unicode Consortium since 2006, was Adobe’s primary representative from 2015 until 2019, serves as Unicode’s IVD (Ideographic Variation Database) Registrar, attends UTC and IRG meetings, participates in the Unicode Editorial Committee, became an individual Unicode Life Member in 2018, received the 2018 Unicode Bulldog Award, was a Unicode Technical Director from 2018 to 2020, became a Vice-Chair of the Emoji Subcommittee in 2019, published UTN #43 (Unihan Database Property “kStrange”) in 2020, and became the Chair of the CJK & Unihan Group in 2021. He and his wife, Hitomi, are proud owners of a His & Hers pair of acceleration-boosted 2018 LR AWD Tesla Model 3 EVs.



Dr Ken Lunde

Chair, CJK & Unihan Working Group—Almaden Valley—San José—CA—USA—NW Hemisphere—Terra—Sol—Orion-Cygnus Arm—Milky Way—Local Group—Laniakea Supercluster