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A Japanese graphics editor called Non Ishida came up with a prize-winning idea to brighten the night-time cityscape of Tokyo, in 1987. By switching certain lights in skyscrapers on or off, he was able to create images on the buildings. He called it Window Art.
At around the same time, a professional Japanese puzzler named Tetsuya Nishio invented a puzzle that worked on a similar principle, called Oekaki-Logic. Puzzles filtered through to several Japanese titles. In 1990, The Sunday Telegraph published Non Ishida's puzzles under the name Nonograms (so-named by the UK supplier James Dalgety, with a nod to Non Ishida).
The enduring popularity of this puzzle outside Japan is largely due to the persistance and enthusiasm of one man, Dave Green. He came across the puzzle on a trip to Tokyo in 1994, began to create his own puzzles with the help of a friend (Igor Lerner) and set up a company called Conceptis to market them. He has since introduced Hanjie to publishers in 35 countries.
Puzzler Media began publishing Hanjie in 1999 under the name Tsunami. Following the catastrophic Boxing Day disaster in South-East Asia, in 2004, a decision was taken to change the name to Hanjie, an old Japanese word meaning 'judge picture'.