The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Friday, July 13, 2018

The Japanese War on Kanji

As a pastime, I study the Japanese language. In 2019, I will be traveling with my employer to Japan again and I hope to be better able to hold my own there. 

As far as reading and writing goes, I have hiragana and katakana down pat. At the beginning of the year, I began to study kanji. Once I get through the ~2000 kanji required of high school students, I am going to begin trying to read Japanese books, to put the study into practice.

I came across this article that describes how the Japanese government has over time, actually tried to suppress the use of kanji. Below is an excerpt. The original post may be read here.

Reformers and Abolitionists

In 1866, as the Edo period drew to a close, the statesman Maejima Hisoka submitted a proposal suggesting that Japan abolish kanji to the last shōgun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu. Maejima, who had both learned and taught English, bemoaned the amount of time students spent memorizing Chinese characters, which could have been used for other study. He was just one of many would-be reformers and abolitionists of the kanji system in the modern era.
The idea of doing away with kanji altogether has rarely been seriously considered at the highest level. Reform, however, has been a constant topic for discussion. The early postwar era was a high-water mark for the reformers. The government introduced a list of 1,850 characters in 1946, known as the tōyō kanji. Official instructions accompanying the rollout stated that when words used kanji not in the list, the writer should either choose a different word or write in kana.
The aim of this rule was to thoroughly discontinue usage of any kanji not in the list. It was applied to laws, public documents, newspapers, and magazines. However, the excluded kanji did not die so easily, and critics complained that preventing their use was a barrier to free expression. In 1981, the list was replaced with the jōyō kanji, consisting of 1,945 characters. More importantly, the wording of the accompanying introduction was softened to emphasize that these were simply guidelines, and compliance was optional.
Today, restriction of kanji usage is highly variable, depending on the text. Elementary school teaching materials are carefully graded to exclude characters children are not due to encounter until later in their studies. Newspapers are expected to largely stick to their slightly different version of the jōyō kanji, although numerous exceptions are allowed, such as characters used in the titles of films and television programs or terms used in the classical arts. Commonly used words also often appear in kanji rather than kana, such as the tei in 鼎談 (teidan; three-way talks) even though 鼎—also pronounced kanae, meaning a three-legged metal vessel from ancient China—is not part of the newspaper list. Many writers for adults, however, are limited only by the audience they wish to reach.

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