Reading Others’ Handwriting: The Ultimate Weakness — 26 Comments

  1. Oh Handwriting, brings back bad memories to me.. been only learning jp since 2yrs (self-study stuff) & since i only started learning to read jp VNs i never focused much on writing, only how being able to read. when i kind of got into to write with some random japanese ppl on forums online, somehow i found someone who wanted to be penpals so she wrote me a letter in jp..that was a pretty big shock, cause eventhough she was friendly enough to put furigana over all the kanjis, reading the handwriting was just waay too hard for me lol. eventhough she was a girl – and girls usually should write pretty clear and pretty right? – that wasnt the case for me at all.. well luckily i had a friend who helped me decipher what there stood. well anyway, it took me lot of time to write her back a letter in jp, pretty shitty handwriting and i tried my best & asked her to write a bit more clear for me cuz i had troubles. but she never wrote back though, probl cuz my handwriting was too shitty.. pretty disheartening.

    that online dictionary site seems pretty good for reading practise though, almost makes me want to go back to practising jp writing but writing kanjis…. not really fun haha.

  2. I have sloppy handwriting to begin with but my sloppiness in Japanese is much different than a Japanese person’s sloppiness. Like they give up on writing the Kanji and just draw a very vague picture. I can read sloppy kana ok but Kanji…

    • Yeah it takes some time to get used to writing your own natural Japanese sloppiness (though not really a goal that needs to be aimed for).

  3. The first and third writing pictures look alright to me, so I’m curious about the second. How do native Japanese speakers decipher sloppy handwriting? Even if it’s mostly unconscious, there must still be some kind of process involved.

    Is it possible to figure out a kanji or word based on stroke mark placement? It looks like you can see the stroke order and where each began and ended even if the middle points are disconnected. Then if you’re familiar with handwriting yourself, it may be easier to mentally fill in the blanks.

    I haven’t handwritten kanji in… jeez months or possibly a couple of years, but I do remember recognizing a definite logic in how they’re formed just from the motions of writing them. Even seeing some 20 stroke kanji for the first time, I’d know how to copy it in the correct order without looking at the steps. Maybe a similar logic works for reading it. I wonder if I’m making any sense at all..

    • I’m not really that experienced on it, and I’ve just learned to pick up somewhat sloppy handwriting from brute force having to decipher what it is. The difficulty is when strokes and kanji (especially high stroke count kanji) are completely changed for ease of writing.

      There may be some systematic way of doing, but I haven’t done the research on this.

      • I noticed with English that if you write really fast, characters kind of turn into their cursive form, though not as elegantly. I believe to a certain extent Kanji ends up being the same way.

        That said, there are some Kanji dictionaries out there that actually show the cursive form of characters, so I guess if you were interested in figuring out out what the system was, then I’d start there.

  4. Even in english i write so fast and sloppy that 99% of the time noone else can read my handwriting except me. I even go back to things I wrote ages ago and cant make out all the words sometimes. When I try and read sloppy japanese handwriting now I know how it feels when others try to read mine

  5. Ugh handwriting yes. Sometimes at the back of manga volumes the author might include omake, but usually I either skip these entirely or struggle through the first couple panels and quit because reading handwriting, especially kanji, is a pain. Both my English and Japanese handwriting are practically illegible (English probably more than Japanese), though, so I’m not in a place to complain haha.

    • Ahh the handwriting in manga. I completely forgot about that. I also used to skip that because it was too much of a headache to go through.

    • Gosh yes I have the same problem. I really Want to read the author notes but man I have no clue what they’re saying (other than profusely thanking the reader for getting the volume)

  6. I haven’t had to read anything handwritten for at least 8 years, so this article brought back a lot of memories. It’s particularly difficult because even native Japanese have a hard time with kanji and there will be mistakes there that we have to learn to decipher. Another thing that I never picked up was Japanese shorthand because who wants to write the whole kanji when you can get the general shape that other native speakers will understand. Unfortunately there aren’t any resources for us to learn these and we just have to keep asking until we pick it up.

      • I’m sure there is somewhere! I remember watching a video (documentary or NHK..) where students were learning how to write the strokes for shorthand writing and what each of those strokes mean. But I forgot where I saw that…

  7. I followed the link of the second picture. It’s funny to see that even the person who received it had also troubles deciphering it:
    「これから気候も落ち着きます  皆々様の益々のご健勝を祈ります
      蛇穴へ パターでさそう ○○○○(うっ・・読めない!) 」
    (That’s toward the end of the text in the picture).

    I wonder if learning/practicing calligraphy would help getting used to reading handwriting? On the one hand, you would be focusing on an extremely stylized version of it, but on the other hand, you would probably get a deeper understanding of the hand movements involved and thus a greater ease to decipher sloppy moves (maybe?).

    • I could see knowledge of calligraphy possibly helping, even with the differences between sloppy handwriting (especially shorthand) and calligraphy.

  8. I’ve found some webcomics that are completely handwritten. For a relatively easy one try ぼくらのじかん on comico. The artist’s handwriting is pretty easy to read and at least it gets your feet wet.

    • Nice! Thanks for including that series. It’s always good to get more fun handwriting reading practice down.

    • Your link is just a little sloppy (1), but easy to read.

      And ranking the 3 pics? That’s a bit difficult and very subjective, but maybe:

      1: Neatish
      2: somewhere between sloppy and very sloppy
      3: somehwere between a little sloppy and sloppy

  9. I can’t read that second picture as a Japanese immigrant. My SO can’t read it as a classically trained Shodo instructor. Her parents can’t read it, nor can their parents. I haven’t met anyone who is able to parse the super super messy writing included in these pictures. We all write, well, normally. I can read their handwriting without issue, they can read mine, and I can also read the handwriting of everyone I personally know whose handwriting I’ve personally seen. Don’t worry about being able to read the MESSY messy stuff, it legitimately won’t come up. Learning that is on par with learning hentaigana.

  10. While I think there is a level difference in writing Japanese, there are difference with how you lift your pencil or brush or whatever instrument you use. This is just as important as stroke order and if you do either incorrectly it shows. Without doing the stroke order correctly you might as well give up.

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