Learning to write Japanese by hand improves culture and sharpens thinking


With the proliferation of digital devices, many people may feel like they can no longer write kanji characters correctly. There is a need to rethink how to secure opportunities to write characters in our daily lives and in educational contexts.

The Agency for Cultural Affairs has announced the results of its fiscal year 2021 public opinion survey on interest in the Japanese language, among people aged 16 and over nationwide. An 82% majority of all respondents answered that they are interested in the Japanese language, with the most common points of interest being “daily use and expression of the language” and “use of honorary titles”.

Regarding the language itself and the use of the language, 85% of the respondents answered that “there are problems in society in general”. Phenomena such as “failure to use appropriate language on formal occasions” and “defamatory and emotional remarks seen in contexts such as internet buckling” are seen by many people as problematic.

The language illustrates the personality of the user. Because we are now in the era of social networks, in which anyone can send messages, many people are apparently concerned about how to communicate with others through words.

Ninety-one percent of respondents believe that the proliferation of personal computers and smartphones has had an impact on language itself and how people use it.

Respondents overwhelmingly were concerned about ‘diminished handwriting opportunities’ and ‘diminished proficiency in writing kanji characters’.

On personal computers and smartphones, if you type a word in hiragana, it is automatically converted to kanji. Although users can select the correct kanji from the auto-generated choices for typed hiragana, everyone has experienced not being able to remember the correct kanji when writing them by hand.

In its 2010 report, the Council for Cultural Affairs highlighted the importance of handwriting. It is said that repeatedly writing kanji characters activates the brain and leads to learning them better. Handwriting is also considered important to Japanese culture because handwriting exemplifies the personality of the writer.

In the Fiscal 2014 version of the survey, 92% of respondents said the custom of handwriting “should continue to be valued in the future”.

Recently, however, the custom of writing New Year’s cards and greeting cards has faded. School teachers are also concerned that the introduction of digital textbooks and other measures will reduce teaching that requires students to use notebooks and pencils.

In universities, some students use their smartphones to take pictures of professors and other instructors writing on the board and do not use notebooks. Taking notes on paper requires deciding what to write and how to do it. Writing thinks itself.

Theses and essays can be handwritten on traditional Japanese manuscript paper. Handwritten schedules can be kept in a paper schedule book. Diaries or household account books can also be handwritten. By consciously creating such opportunities at school and at home, the culture of handwriting can be preserved.

(From Yomiuri Shimbun, October 1, 2022)


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