Japan’s Recent Decision To Change To A Simplified Kanji System

How many of you are studying kanji? 100%. While you are all at different levels of your kanji studying, everyone has and will spend an enormous amount of time and energy to master the Japanese writing system that dominates the country. So hearing the news that all that studying will have to be redone for the sake of progress leaves you in quite a puzzling situation as to what to do.

I never thought I’d see the day, but after continuing discussions for years (decades?), Japan decided to follow the trend that China set many years ago. Simplify the kanji.

Japan Recent Decision To Change To A Simplified Writing System Means To You

For those of you unfamiliar with how Mainland Chinese works, in the middle of the 20th century, in an effort to increase literacy, China officially created a simplified version of hanzi (which we know in Japanese as kanji). While it didn’t affect every character, it changes a majority of them. It reduces stroke order, and makes complex kanji less complex.

While changing an entire written language takes time, Japan has had China to look at for example, and has had time to figure out what it wanted to do with its own kanji. Apparently now it is finally the time to take action. With the increasing aging population, and the decreasing youth population, this seemed like the perfect timing, especially with the Tokyo Olympics right around the corner in 2020.

The result?

Over the next few years, the current kanji in everything will start being replaced with their new government-created simplified version. This will affect everything from signs to books to menus to TV.

Japan Recent Decision To Change To A Simplified Writing System Means To You 2

So what does this mean to the Japanese learner?

You have a new set of Japanese characters you are going to have to learn.

Luckily it’s not that incredibly different. It’s meant to make things easier, it doesn’t influence every character (especially the already simple ones), and you start to notice patterns. If it’s any consolation, Japanese people have to relearn them as well. If anything, as a Japanese learner who has only put a limited time into studying kanji, you are actually better off than a native Japanese person who has spent their whole life with them. That’s quite a nice advantage to have.

To get you started, I wanted to introduce a few simplified characters, to show you the way it works, and to calm any fears that you may have.

Japanese > Simplified Japanese

  1. 東  >  东
  2. 語  >  语
  3. 電  >  电
  4. 飛  >  飞
  5. 後  >  后
  6. 開  >  开
  7. 夢  >  梦
  8. 僕  >  仆
  9. 認  >  认
  10. 習  >  习

Not so bad right? Time to adjust. I’m already starting to create a new Anki deck to reflect these changes. We’re in this together. Just think of this as new world, with all new enemies opened up for players to enter.

What’s your game plan?

How will you handle the new changes to Simplified Japanese? What’s your plan of attack?

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Founder of Jalup. Spends most of his time absorbing and spreading thrilling information about learning Japanese.


Japan’s Recent Decision To Change To A Simplified Kanji System — 41 Comments

  1. Right when you’ve gotten halfway through Kanji Kingdom! At least you don’t have to redo the entire deck……


  2. “Simplified Japanese”

    悪戯だと分かっていましたけど、when I read this phrase, I almost couldn’t breathe for a second! It sounded like blasphemy. Like something that shouldn’t ever be just stood there and smirked at you in the face like a scary misshapen clown. I am aware that kanji was already simplified but they call it 新字体 (NEW vs. SIMPLIFIED), so the thought of the phrase “Simplified Japanese” being an actual thing that everyone accepts really struck me. Like, “Hey dude, is that text in Simplified Japanese?” NO! JUST NO!! NOT IN MY LIFETIME, PLEASE JAPAN XD

    • I should’ve included that part as well, as that would make it look like there was more history to it and would’ve made it more believable!

      The thought of a real simplified Japanese makes me shudder.

  3. Ah man, I didn’t realize that it was April Fools until near the end of the article, and my heart was pounding so hard aahh (;▽;) Nice one.

  4. Rofl, I have been laughing at all the silly april’s fool jokes all day and still you completely got me with this one. Well done :)

  5. Holy crap I literally finished RTK yesterday so I actually considered hanging myself till I read the comments!

    • It would probably be the saddest day in the history of learning Japanese (especially those who had done RTK)

    • Even writing it, and thinking about a what if scenario, made my own blood boil. Which makes you wonder how Chinese people felt when their language was changed.

  6. And you even found characters for the simplified versions. Was about to go crazy for a moment. I do wonder how something like this would be taken in Japan. 日本語 vs 日本语, 東京 vs 东京.

    • I figured that would add to the realism. I think the only reason why it worked in China is because they banned the traditional characters and enforced it. That would never work in a country like Japan (I think).

  7. Oh wow I have to say I’m a little embarrassed but I was kind of excited. I’ve only been studying the kanji for about 2 months and they aren’t fully etched into my mind yet so I was thinking… “I’ll have some work to do at first but this could be good for me in the long run…”

    All things considered though, I’m still happy they didn’t change :)

  8. Heh, you used the real Simplified Chinese versions. Good job.

    I wish Japanese actually did this, though. This is one of the things I miss from Mandarin (well, that and phonetic radicals). I’m getting pretty tired of remembering the difference between 繊 and 殲 instead of 纤 and 歼.

    • I dunno, I feel like the drawbacks of simplifying at this point outweigh the benefits. It’s not like literacy is an issue with the current character set, and the need to handwrite is becoming increasingly rare. Not to mention it’ll become a hindrance for the upcoming generation if they want to read anything written in the last 60ish years.

      • Yeah, literacy was never really a serious problem in Japan. Only in China and Korea did they have that problem, which led to hanzi being simplified in China, and hanja being abolished in Korea. The other “kanji countries” like Taiwan and Hong Kong didn’t have any problems and continued using traditional characters.

        Also despite the purported benefits and logic of simplified Chinese, it’s not completely logical at all. Many times, the structure and underlying meaning is destroyed just to lower the number of strokes.

  9. OMG I almost died. It’s like I drop off the Japanese learning websites for a second and the WHOLE game changes.

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