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How I memorized Japanese kanji - Part 2

by Kim Christian Botho Pedersen

Part 2

In part 1, I wrote about the very basics about kanji. As you may understand, kanji is actually forming much of the Japanese people.

Kanji is a huge part of the Japanese life

Kanji is one of the biggest cornerstones in Japanese life. Obviously, it is necessary for daily communications, for reading and writing. It is one of the things which forms Japanese people throughout their upbringing and also later in life. Japanese spend enormous time during their upbringing to memorize kanjis. But it is not only during childhood but expanding your knowledge of kanji continues during all your life.

As a kid, I remember we had to memorize something between 10 to 15 kanjis every week. We had to write each kanji a hundred times, while we also had to read them out loud. Thats the best way to memorize it, they told us. So after having had a very long school day, from 8:00 to 16:00 or later for #primary_school (08:00 to 18:00 or later for #secondary_school), we had to go back home and write kanjis and do our other #homework. Next day, we had to show the teacher, we actually did our homework, so there was no way we could cheat.

If we got something wrong, like one stroke too much or wrote a part of the #kanji wrong (はねる、とめる etc.), we could very well be asked to write those kanjis a hundred times again or until we got them right. So, we spend much time just writing kanjis day after day. It was really a never-ending story.

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If you forgot your homework or did something which made the teacher angry, you could be #detained after school for hours. Part of being detained was to get some kind of #punishment, which often was to write kanjis. So again, we were forced to write extra kanjis. 100 of this kanji, 100 of this and so on.

Obviously, no kids, liked to write so many kanjis and being detained after school. But it is also a fact that writing kanjis again and again, was what made the difference between actually memorizing more or less kanjis. This is the major difference between a non-Japanese / foreigner, trying to master kanji, versus a Japanese, who grew up writing countless numbers of kanjis every day.

Beautiful handwriting is part of the education

When we grew up, at some point, the kanji #education changed from simply having to memorize it, to also having #beautiful_handwriting skills. This started from the secondary school if I remember correctly. Unfortunately, I only got a very limited part of this classes, so my kanji still looks like if a kid wrote it. During the years, I have tried to catch up a bit, but never really spend much time on it.

Many of you who have lived in #Japan for years, probably have noted Japanese tend to be focused on their handwriting. The Japanese peoples beautiful handwriting does not come out of the blue. They have spent hours and hours during their upbringing #perfectioning their handwriting skills. They care about their handwriting, whether that is Japanese or English letters. And no doubt they will also look at my handwriting or yours, thinking there are definitely "room for improvement" 😊 If you watch a Japanese when they fill in public forms or some important document by hand, they will usually be very carefully, writing each single letter slowly but surely, thinking about the #form, #balance, whether they got everything right and so on. It takes a bit longer time, but the result is usually beautiful. I bet, many of you have wondered, how do they do it? How come they write so perfectly? The answer is simply #practice, practice, practice and practice during many years.

Kanji education in Secondary school

During the class called “shuji”, Japanese first learn how to write with big brushes, also called “fude”. Usually, we got an A4 sized paper, on which we wrote one or two kanjis. The point was to get the form right. It does matter, whether the left or right size is same size or different, whether you have the balance of the kanji right or not. The teacher would go around and point out what you did right and where you were wrong etc. Week after week, we had “shuji” classes, where our kanji writing skills were commented and improved. We all have our tendencies when writing. Those were carefully corrected each time. And all kids did everything they could to get "well done" marks from the teacher.

In the secondary school, we went from writing with big brushes to small brushers, more kanjis on same page and at some point, to write with pencils or ball pens. This was all part of the “shuji” class, aiming at giving the kids a beautiful handwriting.

Eventually the kids #graduate and start working in a company or public institution. I suppose things have changed somewhat during the past 10 to 20 years, but in the good old Japan, it was not uncommon to be told to improve your handwriting skills at the workplace. It was considered embarrassing if an adult had a handwriting like a kid. After retirement, many Japanese will go even further, attending courses where they learn to master their #handwriting skills even further. If you have visited Japanese temples, you may have seen papers with a lot of almost transparent grey kanjis and small “fude” next to it. The idea is, you sit down, try to replicate the text with a "fude", trying to write all kanjis as perfect as possible, while thinking about the text written. It's kind of meditation, letting your mind get away from the busy world and relax.

Japanese kanji writing

Kanji is an endless journey for Japanese people. At the same time, due to the even wider use of computers, the occasions for actually using handwriting are decreasing year after year. This means, Japanese are also losing their ability to recall all the kanji they once were able to write. This is obviously frustrating to Japanese. So, I wonder what kind of apps or systems will be invented in the future, for Japanese to maintain the writing skills. Maybe it will go a completely other direction, and the use of kanji will be limited? Who knows...

For Japanese, kanji is a passion. It used to be much more focus on it than today.

In next article, I will focus on what you should do. Is it really so important for you to memorize all these kanjis, or can you get around with a limited knowledge? And most importantly, are there any shortcuts?

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