Japanese government tells teachers not to be so strict, at least about some kanji radicals
Students rejoice and adults gripe as the government Agency for Cultural Affairs declares some writing “rules” undecided.
Japanese calligraphy can be truly beautiful, elevating the writing of kanji characters to an art form with graceful sweeps of the brush. But, as anyone who’s ever tried to read a Japanese note hand-written in haste will tell you, there are other times when Japanese script just looks like a bunch of very small squid have fitted and spasmed their way across the page. To try to keep things at least semi-legible, Japanese children are told by their teachers that there is a correct way to write the characters and a wrong way, but it now turns out that some educators might have been a little bit over-zealous.
A good way to learn how to write kanji is to learn the radicals, the individual components that make up most of the 2,000 or so official kanji in regular use. Sometimes if you’re really lucky, they might even give you a hint into the kanji’s meaning.
▼ The kanji for toki/time, for example, is made of radicals resembling the simpler kanji for “sun” (日) and “temple” (寺).
Unfortunately most Japanese teachers will have you believe that writing them isn’t just a case of copying them any-old-how as long as they look the same, but that there’s a specific order to be followed, and the squiggles should go from left to right, or vice versa according to an only sometimes logical system. The Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs, though, has told teachers that in the case of three line writing styles, there isn’t any officially recognised way to write them, so teachers should lay off their students a little bit.
The three line types the Agency specified are the tome line stop, the hane flick, and the harai curved diagonal line. Unfortunately, the shinyo wave radical that I was always having corrected didn’t make the Agency’s pardon list.
▼ A video demonstration of the tome, hane, and harai
While the government announcement was actually last year, its only now caused collective wringing of hands (and possibly brushes) thanks to being revealed on a TV quiz show by TV teacher-for-hire/know-it-all Osamu Hayashi. Many Japanese rushed to social media to recall the misery inflicted on them by their overly-strict teachers, who it turns out weren’t basing their criticism in established tradition, but probably in what their own teachers had told them; possibly similar to the rule in English not to finish a sentence with a preposition, a hangover from Latin education.
▼ This Twitter user dug out their old textbook, where their teacher corrected them off for not adding a hane flick up at the end of the line.