I’ve come to the conclusion that writing is not a high priority in time spent learning Japanese. Now before I start, I still think writing kanji is useful for remembering them when you are going over kanji reviews in anki. But besides that, I’m not sold on its other uses.
Regardless of your views on the changing digital world and the sadness of the loss of the written word, 95% of what you are going to write in Japanese will be done by computer or cell phone. And of course that is not just you the Japanese learner. Japanese (who are no longer in school) follow along the same percentage, with the computer and cellphone causing a massive hemorrhage in the kanji-writing memory.
Of course it does come down to what you want to do with your Japanese. Below are some of the uses of writing Japanese by hand. You may want to evaluate how important these are to you in deciding whether to practice writing.
– Greeting cards/letters. Handwritten messages have a certain warmth and personal feeling to them.
– Filling out forms.
– Writing quick notes/reminders to yourself. Sometimes quicker than a computer.
– Taking the Kanji Kentei test, or any other Japanese proficiency test that involves writing.
– Deeper appreciation of the beauty of kanji.
– Taking Japanese at school or actually attending a school in Japan.
– Bragging to Japanese how you can write more kanji than them.
– Preparing for an asteroid/alien/zombie/robot/natural disaster apocalypse where computers become unusable.
Here is how I analyzed these uses for myself.
I write a few greeting cards/letters a year, and when there are words I can’t write out, I first type it out and then copy it by hand. Forms are filled out in the same way, except that since forms usually repeat the same commonly asked questions, I can usually remember what I need to write. I type most notes to myself, but when I do handwrite a note in a rush, I’ll use a mix of kanji I can remember and hiragana/katakana. I never plan or need to take a test to tell me what level my Japanese is. I can appreciate beauty without replicating it myself. Calligraphy is completely different from writing, and would have to be practiced separately regardless. I’m done with school. I don’t brag (much). And finally, if I’m fending off a horde of zombies, I think the value of writing in Japanese will have slightly declined.
Now I’ve waivered a little back and forth on the issue since the beginning of my Japanese studies. There were times when I practiced writing and did silly writing exercises. There were times when I used to fill in those annoying kanji box worksheets. There were times when I wrote out sentences from Anki. But now I find myself only writing by finger or visually in my head when going through Anki kanji cards. Of course while my writing isn’t great, I’ve never had an issue. And yes, even if you are living in Japan (which I did for 3 years), I still believe you will have no issues.
Now I know this is a sensitive topic. If you ever mention the contents of this post to any Japanese teacher, Japanese person, or someone who has studied Japanese, they will give you a dirty look and tell you the importance of writing. They will tell you how you can’t truly learn Japanese properly without all 4 elements. Or most irritating of all, they will tell you that you must know the stroke order of kanji to learn Japanese. Stroke order . . . the most overly idolized element of Japanese. No comment.
Make the decision for yourself.
If you found any of the uses I listed to be very important to you, then I encourage you to practice writing. You are limited with your time in your life, and you are limited with your time in studying Japanese. While I definitely don’t think the writing by hand element of Japanese has little value, I tend to think it is time better spent elsewhere.
However, I would be curious to hear some other uses you’ve found.
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