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.
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.
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.
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
- 東 > 东
- 語 > 语
- 電 > 电
- 飛 > 飞
- 後 > 后
- 開 > 开
- 夢 > 梦
- 僕 > 仆
- 認 > 认
- 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?
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.
Right when you’ve gotten halfway through Kanji Kingdom! At least you don’t have to redo the entire deck……
Right? Only 1000 cards need to be redone. Just give me a few minutes.
Wow Adam, you got me man! I thought my life was over for a sec.
What, you don’t want to do a full game restart?
“Wait a minute…” date check.
Don’t give them ideas XD
I’ll try not too. But no promises…
I legit fell for it without considering the day omg
And right when you had a sudden surge of new motivation!
Yes I know right, I only have 360~ cards left for RTK and that was going to seriously bum me out.
Oh my god, that was about 5 minutes of pure misery on my end. Nice one, man.
Sorry about the misery. But hopefully it brought a great sigh of relief at the end!
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.
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.
See how exciting Japanese can be? :P
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 :)
I tried to make it as serious as possible, in the exact same writing style I normally use.
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)
..oh. That’s just mean. 10/10
I get one day a year to be mean!
I love you Adam.
Which means you want more articles like this…?
Well played, literally had my blood boiling before I read the comments.
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.
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).
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 :)
The first person who actually was almost happy!
I literally… almost threw in the towel. I was like.. forget this. Nope. No way. I’m done.
Lol!! I wish that would be true!!! I’m just starting with Kanjis
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.
oh my god you made my heart hurt so much
You really got me! Ahahahaha very well done!
OMG I almost died. It’s like I drop off the Japanese learning websites for a second and the WHOLE game changes.
My gaigokujin opinion is that Kanji should be entirely eliminated and rules should be simplified to remove exceptions and 10 different counting systems and just generally give a more predictable structure to words and their modifications.
There are SO many variations on how to say or write something.
First step would be to pick either katakana or hiragana. The fact that there’s two identical alphabets is unfathomable to me.
Japanese has a much more limited set of phonemes, so eliminating kanji would making reading and writing very difficult (even for native speakers). You need them to add context because there are so many homonymns.
Language is also a somewhat chaotic, organic system that you can’t just change on a whim. It’s already been tried with many older European languages (and even English, at one point) and it never works in real life.
English also has dozens of different ways to say the same thing, due to its rich linguistic background.
https://japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/4281/why-was-both-katakana-and-hiragana-created and this might help you understand why there are both hiragana and katakana.
The worst part is that this article still comes up in google searches about kanji in 2019! You gave me a healthy scare!
That’s a bad Google :P
I’m writing my senior thesis on character simplification in Japan and China, and I think I nearly started crying when I read this article.
Lol, well, the bright side is, even if they did decide to do this, it really wouldn’t matter. All the massive amounts of media that Japan has already produced would always be available in the original way it was written (enough for a lifetime) and so the kanji skills tou developed would always be useful.
The same goes for people being worried about the increase of loan words being used. Even if 3/4 of the language became loan words it really wouldn’t matter since you still have all that other prior media to enjoy. Really, the sad part for me is them losing their culture (language included) :(
This was written in 2016, and they are still the original. I guess the people got some sense and did not simplify them. Simplification just makes them harder to recognize, and it doesn’t help with writing.
This article was an April fool’s joke.