Declining kanji-writing skill of Japanese blamed on cell phones, computers

TOKYO —

The Cultural Agency said in a report this week that 66.5% of Japanese surveyed believe their ability to write kanji characters has deteriorated due to the proliferation of cell phones and computers.

The nationwide survey was conducted between February and March of this year among people over the age of 16, in an attempt to establish the perceived influence of the electronic communication methods, TBS reported.

Of the 2,069 respondents, 66.5% responded that their ability to write kanji had decreased, due to constantly texting emails. That figure has risen 25% in the last 10 years, the agency said.

For respondents in their 40s, that figure rose to 79.5%, while it accounted for 57.7% of people in their 30s.

Furthermore, the agency added that the number of respondents who said that some oral communication could now just as easily be carried out via email was 29.5%, an increase of 12.3%. Respondents who felt it has become a burden to have to meet people face-to-face accounted for 18.6% of the total, a 7.3% increase, the agency said.

Japan Today

  • 4

    Lunchbox

    I read about this in the Japanese newspaper. The findings they came up with were so obvious I thought it was a satirical joke when I first started reading!

    What a waste of taxpayer money, I wonder how many monbosho bafoons worked on this report . The report had no data to back any of the findings, and announced them like they were revolutionary insights that would change the way we thought about cell phones. Of course people are going to say their kanji writing skills have dropped, that's just putting words in their mouths, how about actually testing them every 2 years to come up with some scientific data, or using the time to read through real scientific reports that have already been done by professional academics. The funniest part, they made the conclusions by comparing the survey results with the ones they had done in 2002. That's a decade ago!!

  • -2

    LostinNagoya

    @Lunchbox: a study carried out three or four years ago among university students showed that there was an average of two strokes missing for more complex kanjis. IMO, kanjis should turned into a sort of art, like ikebana, and Latin alphabet should be taught more and more.

  • 3

    Hiroicci

    I've read many articles that blame mobile phones and PCs for not knowing correct spelling or having good vocabulary. I guess this occurs to ANY languages, more or less, if those language users are exposed to those media.

  • 9

    Disillusioned

    Declining kanji-writing skill of Japanese blamed on cell phones, computers

    Wow! What a flash of genius this is, NOT! Gees, even I can type a letter in Japanese, but be damned if I could write one. It is just a sign of the times and it will be a continuing trend into the future as more and more people rely on electronic media instead of hand written. Sadly, I fear the J-Gov will respond by putting more pressure on students to learn kanji, as if there isn't enough already (roll eyes).

  • 6

    Pukey2

    The same can be said of people in other countries and their ability to spell properly. Awful!

  • 5

    SimondB

    This is happening all over the world. Until I was 11 we used to have hand writing lessons at school and were taught how to write letters and addresses corectly. My handwriting now is awful because I so rarely write anything other than notes by hand and then sometimes have trouble reading them later. But a few years ago I did make a special effort and wrote by hand quite a long letter to one of my daughters. She was blown away to recieve a hand written letter. And looking back, wasn't it nice getting long hand written letters from friends and family?

  • 0

    paulinusa

    I can speak OK but read not so good. When I'm in Japan and ask someone to translate complicated kanji, I invariably get a perplexed look and guess where they turn to for help? Their computer.

  • -2

    saru_au

    Cool, do away with it by the 2030's then :)

  • 1

    Yubaru

    Sadly, I fear the J-Gov will respond by putting more pressure on students to learn kanji, as if there isn't enough already (roll eyes).

    IMO, kanjis should turned into a sort of art, like ikebana, and Latin alphabet should be taught more and more.

    While people are entitled to their opinions try to keep in mind that this is Japan and the language of choice is Japanese first.

    It is a sign of the times, and to keep up with it the government has to learn to adapt to it as well and learn to quit butting their heads against a brick wall.

  • 1

    yildiray

    IMO, kanjis should turned into a sort of art, like ikebana, and Latin alphabet should be taught more and more

    I'm guessing you don't use much Japanese, but the problem with that suggestion is that (although it would be easier to read) the meaning would be very difficult to understand in many situations if written solely in hiragana/romaji.

  • 0

    TokyoGas

    I thought everyone knew this.

  • -5

    tmarie

    Thanks for wasting my tax money on yet another "study" about this.

  • 0

    lucabrasi

    the meaning would be very difficult to understand in many situations if written solely in hiragana/romaji.

    I'm not in any way in favour of getting rid of the kanji, but I don't think this is true. The Koreans and the Vietnamese both got rid of kanji and replaced them with hangul and romaji respectively, and they don't have any trouble understanding the written word.

    And when people speak, you don't see the kanji appearing in a speech bubble above their heads, but nobody has any trouble here either.

    So while I think kanji are of huge cultural and educational value, the idea that they're necessary for communication is erroneous.

  • -1

    astroboy

    I don't believe such a thing to be happening similarly everywhere else. Since most other countries (other than China) have a phonetic alphabet so the buttons you press on a keyboard or a phone screen are generally the same things you pronounce (other than special cases like "gh" in English or the ending of French words). In Japanese (and Chinese I guess) it isn't like that, the keyboards are either Hiragana or Romaji but the output (what goes on the screen and is read) is Kanji! Another complication is that it isn't only the shape of the Kanji that matters, the stroke order is also vital in writing it, so only by reading Kanji or typing them, your Japanese writing ability will seriously deteriorate. So I believe the only country this trend should be compared to should be China, but we have to have in mind that the Chinese have more such letters (in the order of ~30,000 I have heard as compared to the ~2000 in Japanese) and they don't have other forms of writing like Hiragana, Katakana and Romaji.

  • 2

    Suginamiguy

    I wonder what the end result will be. If this trend continues, will Japan have to reconsider its writing system? I doubt that would be anytime soon, but in 10 or 20 years (or even longer) it might be conceivable. There are so many positives and negatives to the whole debate that it will be very interesting to watch.

  • 3

    Lowly

    Yeah, for HANDWRITING!

    This article is misleading. The fact is cell phones/ pcs enable ppl to use more difficult kanji more often much more easily. Difficult kanji words that in the past would be likely written in kana can now be rendered in kanji at the click of a button. ppl use kanji all the time, and if you can read jpns you will realize how handy and useful it is in the language, even tho it is a seemingly ridiculously long task to get literate.

    But the electric world has definitely increased handiness of kanji, as much as it has made it harder to recall for handwriting.

  • 0

    astroboy

    It"S ME,

    Thanks for the corrections.

  • 0

    GW

    Well this article is certainly stating the obvious LOL!

    I remember the decline started with the first WAPURO's back in the early 90s after that I noticed people were starting to have trouble remember a kanji now & then but this has steadily increased as the years pass & will continue.

    So while people will be able to SPOT the kanji, but ask them to write it without a visual aid & they have problems, so will all other languages with complex writing systems, Chinese being the most obvious

  • 2

    yildiray

    The Koreans and the Vietnamese both got rid of kanji and replaced them with hangul and romaji respectively, and they don't have any trouble understanding the written word.

    While I can't comment on the Vietnamese language, hangul's arrangement is not the same as romaji since the individual characters are grouped in a way that give a direct meaning like kanji. It avoids similar sound confusion from that way.

    And when people speak, you don't see the kanji appearing in a speech bubble above their heads, but nobody has any trouble here either.

    Try using Japanese in a technical sense, you will often need to explain words based on the kanji (or paraphrase yourself). Japanese has an incredible amount of homonyms so the kanji WILL be more and more important once you start getting away from daily conversation.

    It's similar to reading English though - why are "here" and "hear" pronounced the same yet spelt differently? We spell them differently to avoid confusion, and that is the same reason kanji is important for Japanese. You don't see that words appearing in speech bubbles over heads either, yet we still need to spell them in their individual form.

  • 0

    noriyosan73

    Decline of English skills blamed on text messaging in USA. Spell check and incorrect grammatical errors are underlined in most programs, but continuous sentence that use "I" for "I" are not appropriate. It is unfortunate that japan chose not to use ONE spelling alphabet when it had an opportunity many years ago.

  • 1

    zenkan

    I think it's important for people to be able to use language effectively - written and spoken. These days, the written aspect will be mainly achieved electronically, and I can't see that changing. When I was a student we had to do a lot of writing, just as students do today. And, then as today, after finishing formal education people don't really have any need to write so much in day to day life, so they become rusty. I think it's a global phenomenon. Getting a solid grounding in one's language is important in formative years, and this is when aspects such as handwriting kanji should be emphasized. In later life, people will not be able to avoid forgetting some things and relying on technology.

  • -4

    notelling

    Kanji needs to go the way of the dinosaur anyway.

    The homonym problem can be solved by differentiating use of hiragana and katakana, so that nose is ハナ and flower is はな for example. Spell the loan words in romaji, either the correct spelling of their native origin or katakanized spelling, I don't care. But this crazy mix of pictograms and phonetic spelling is insane and needs to go. Its an impediment to children's education, as they cannot just pick up a book and suss out the pronunciation and meanings by themselves, or turn to a dictionary for help.

  • 1

    yildiray

    The homonym problem can be solved by differentiating use of hiragana and katakana, so that nose is ハナ and flower is はな for example

    Works with 2, what about the other words pronounced "hana" though? Japanese simply doesn't have enough syllables to cut kanji without making reading near-impossible.

    Or even more so, what about words pronounced "Shou" - my jisho shows 34 results, each with different kanji and meanings, for that word.

  • -2

    tairitsuiken

    Agree with many of you that everybody would benefit if Kanji left this world. Or as LostInNagoya said make it into a pure art that a few enthusiasts can spend their time on...

    Overly complicated system with 3 (or 4 with rōmaji) alphabets that is mixed like crazy. Take rāmen for example: Usually spelled ラーメン, it can also be seen spelle らーめん sometimes, even though hiragana typically don't make use of the dash to longen the vowel. I have even seen it spelled WITH kanji as 拉麺.

    Although I think kanji is interesting I think everybody would benefit from it dissapearing more and more. And maybe, just maybe, rōmaji could be taught better so that when people pronounce The Heart Rocker it doesn't sound the same as The Hurt Locker.

  • 0

    Lowly

    Anyone commenting that kanji is useless or ready to go the way of the dinosaur, simply doesn't know kanji or Japanse very well. It is used in ways that are unfortunately not easily describable on a message board to someone not already deeply familiar with the language. Yes, it takes a lot of time to learn, but it doesn't have to. (Took me 1 year to become book reading literate). Once you know how to use it fluently, then you can understand what it really is, so all I can say is, try getting literate to see what it is.

    I stand by my earlier claim that electric medium has INCREASED kanji use, while hurting handwriting-recall.

  • 1

    Lowly

    PS

    Language is a lot more complex than some ppl imagine. The reason we write "here" and "hear" differently has nothing to do with being similar sounds and purposefully choosing different spellings to distinguish them. (Would you really mistake the meaning if you read "Speak up! I can't here you!") What about bass guitar and bass fishing? Spellings, esp in English are related to a lot of linguistic changes over centuries and the multitude of other languages that we borrowed from.

    In the case of jpns, as others said, there are simply too many homonyms to distinguish by different kanji/ kana/ roman letter spellings. Not to mention you have a population of 100 some odd million most of whom are very literate who would suddenly have to learn a new system that would seem simply bizarre to them.

    Most jpns really like kanji.

  • 0

    timeon

    It's Me, don't fall for the recent Korean propaganda (everything originated in Korea, kanji, sushi, ninja). Kapakana was developed in the Heian period by buddhist monks in Japan, and only the comma may have originated in Korea. the traditional use of katanana was for men, as opposite to women who used hiragana. the use of katakana for imported words is more recent

    and yes, you forget kanjis, as you forget anything you don't practice. I was proud of my ability to write kanjis when I finished school, I can't write even the simple one now. But several days ago I realized I can't write a formal letter in my native language, while I have no problem in Japanese or English

  • 2

    timeon

    It's Me, various internet sources (Wiki, omniglot, etc.) state the same thing:

    Origin The katakana syllabary was derived from abbreviated Chinese characters used by Buddhist monks to indicate the correct pronunciations of Chinese texts in the 9th century.

    In that sense, you may argue that they are of Chinese origin, which is perfectly correct.

    And my Japanese professor (university professor with a PhD in kanji) did tell us the same thing. So if you want to go against the main stream of thought, you should bring proof (not that it really matters or I care, but the recent push of Korea to convince that everything originated there starts pissing me off)

  • -1

    Lowly

    paulinusa-

    That is as likely to be a result of a cultural custom in Japan where ppl don't want to define things or pretend to be an "expert" on anything when they are not, as it is a symptom of having no idea of what a kanji is. This results in far less "bs" talk than say America, but with the added effect that simple common-knowledge statements even can be avoided, and will quickly defer to an authority, whether person or dictionary.

    They may know or "more or less" know something, but often don't want to say directly "I know x".

  • -1

    breakingpoint

    Kanji isn't even Japanese. It's Chinese characters, nothing much.

  • -1

    timeon

    It"S ME, Apple and Samsung are fighting for so long who discovered whatever a few years ago, so guessing who cut off a part of a Chinese character 1500 years ago is not that easy...

  • 1

    Alan

    The fact that people's ability to use kanji is declining is not a reason to get rid of kanji. It's a reason to improve education and make good handwriting fashionable again.

    Japanese written with kanji is a wonderful communication tool. Meanings are instantly apparent on a visual level, and huge amounts of information can be expressed with a very small number of characters. Without kanji Japanese would be almost impossible to read with any certainty. And I think that Japan's kana-kanji script is perhaps the most beautiful writing system in the world.

  • -3

    Thomas Anderson

    I believe Katakana and Hiragana are based on Sanskrit which was the language of where Buddhism originated. Both the Hangul and Katakana look like parts of Kanji characters to me.

  • 1

    AnonymousNJ

    I really can't imagine the Japanese language without kanji.

    How can you differentiate kami (hair) and kami (god) if these were written out in hiragana and katakana? Byouin (hospital) and byouin (beauty salon)? (Ok, the usage of the "yo" would give these away so they're not the best examples in that sense.) Yasui (cheap) and yasui (easy)?

    Knowing the yomi of the kanji, on top of knowing a lot of their meanings and stroke orders, does feel overwhelming. It does get a little tricky when I come across a kanji that has multiple meanings. However, I can understand their functionality. They really do help make sentences shorter.

    It's very comfortable to write in kana, but I feel that kanji makes up the second half. So, knowing some of the kanji is worth the challenge and experience. When it comes to writing some kanji on the computer, I don't just rely on the Japanese language pack to automatically see what kind of kanji i want to use. I use a tablet to write in some kanji so I get my stroke order work-out that way. However, I do have an issue with some of the so-called "obsolete" kanji.

    As for the article itself, I just can't believe they're doing a study as of now in Japan. I remember when the US had the study of how the computer age is changing the way people are writing years ago. I believe that in any culture and country, handwriting is important. The digital age may be growing stronger, but, handwriting must never be forgotten. Ok, I can completely understand the ease of using technology with kanji, but the English alphabet shouldn't be totally used by a generation relying on a spell checker.

  • -1

    bajhista65

    That's what to expect children, with the fast growing high technology and the western influence japanese indulged with. Bear with it children.

  • 0

    tairitsuiken

    Languages evolve, wether or not people like it. The old guard will forever deride the young ones for not being able to spell "correctly", use the "wrong words" or what have you... I personally find it surprising that so many native English speakers don't seem to know the difference between your and you're, there and their, etc, whereas I as a non-native, don't have those problems.

    I find texts full of kanji to look messy and stylishly unpleasant. Think a newspaper or (the horror) those weekly rags that you can see in the subway. Can't think of anything worse in Japanese.

    On the other hand, a few beautifully calligraphed kanji (ocha commercials) look very pleasing to me.

  • 0

    lucabrasi

    hangul's arrangement is not the same as romaji since the individual characters are grouped in a way that give a direct meaning like kanji. It avoids similar sound confusion from that way.

    You're misinformed here, yildiray. Hangul is based entirely on sound. "Yu" means either "milk" or "oil". Either way, the hangul is written the same. "Hwa" means "story" or "fire" or "flower" or "talk" or "picture". The hangul is the same in every case.

  • 0

    As I would not be a slave

    Of course everyone recognizes this but still someone needs to verify in a certain scientific way so that other people can use it as an objective fact. I've been teaching at a university in the US for 7 years but we say the same here. The students are getting worse and cannot write, read, nor think logically, and we believe this is because of those new technologies.

  • 0

    HonestDictator

    I don't have a problem with english typing and writing, but even with my very limited kanji knowledge I think it is easier to type kanji then write it since its typed out in kana first and the PC gives you an option to find the proper kanji. But trying to write kanji requires remembering the kanji off hand then knowing the strokes. Just seems that way to me.

  • 0

    tamanegi

    Wow! Now I can ask my students the question they always ask me "can you write japanese mr peter-san?"

  • 0

    VladK

    It is used in ways that are unfortunately not easily describable on a message board to someone not already deeply familiar with the language.

    Well Lowly, that is a black mark against kanji already! I should think that at least some benefits would be easy to describe. Definitely the disadvantages are! As soon as everyone pretty much can't write by hand any more, what happens when the power goes out? And the many extra hurdles of kanji will definitely hinder those who wish to learn the language as a foreign language, preventing the language from becoming a world language. And it can also hinder trade in its many forms. Remember, Japan's time as world economy number two was rather brief, and collapsed and will continue to collapse for the many things making this country insular, including this archaic writing system.

    In the case of jpns, as others said, there are simply too many homonyms to distinguish by different kanji/ kana/ roman letter spellings.

    Amazing that you draw this conclusion after pointing out how homonyms are differentiated in English. The word bear has many meanings, like an animal, to carry, or to endure. The word bare has many meanings, like exposed, naked, or to make visible. And both have more meanings besides. English has been adapted to account for this and so can Japanese. In fact, Japanese has already been adapted for speaking the homonyms! All they need now is adaptation for writing! Its not so hard! If I made a list of animals, and wrote the word bare, you would know what I meant!

    If Korea could swap kanji for Hangul, surely the Japanese can eliminate those esoteric, antiquated, clumsy kanji as well. I swear, to love kanji you have to be some kind of masochist!

  • -1

    breakingpoint

    Kanji wasn't even suitable to the Japanese language, hence why they are Katakana and Hiragana with it.

  • 0

    Lowly

    Sorry, VladK, you are not making much sense. As for Kanji, the advantages are simply not readily explainable on a board, and I would add, therefore the disadvantages are as well. Why? Because you have to know what you are talking about to talk about it at any depth. I have had conversations with jpns (and other nationalities) who cannot speak English fluently but feel comfortable making statements like "English is SVO (subject verb object) so therefore all Americans think like x and do y because their grammar makes them." Not only does the person saying that not understand English grammar at all, they do not understand the x and y of American culture they are talking about. They are blowing hot air. Sorry, but your post sounds the same to me. All I can say is learn to read and write jpns fluently and then you will be able to discuss it, whether you still like kanji or not. As for the homonyms there are simply less sounds in the jpns language and they wind up with exponentially more homonyms than English. You can't imagine. It would just be bizarre, not to mention incomprehensible and illegible to try and not use kanji when writing them. Kanji is convenient for these and many tasks.

    What you say about English is not exactly true either, btw, you might like to read up on linguistics. The reasons why homonyms like read and reed are given different spellings is almost never for the purpose of distinguishing homonyms. It usually has to do with the history of the word and sound changes from Old English to Modern English, and how sounds, and ways of representing sounds changed over time. Oftn, they didn't used to sound the same, and that is why they are spelled differently now! Often but not always, the sound changes and the spelling changes didn't happen together or at the same time. To use just one of your words, bear, the bear animal comes from a germanic word with similar meaning, and the word bear to carry, comes from various old European words which, in some languages used to mean giving birth. These two "bears" are coincidentally spelled the same. Pine the tree, and pine to cry are spelled the same but also come from different roots. Pine the tree comes from words meaning and related to "fat" (like the trunk of the tree is), however it underwent a sound change to "p" from "f" and it is not immediately evident to non-scholars that it is related to fat. Pine to cry is more visually obviously related to "pain". Again, we don't have a problem with this because bear, bear and bare, and pine and pine -like occurrences are relatively infrequent in English. Not so jpns.

    I hope you get the point. Linguistics, and English language history, is very complicated and convoluted and you can't just make a glance at something and see a pattern that you can trust. It is an interesting subject tho, and if you are interested, I highly recommend you read up on it. It is a lot of fun, really.

  • -1

    PT24881

    " 0 Good Bad breakingpointSEP. 23, 2012 - 12:42PM JST Kanji wasn't even suitable to the Japanese language, hence why they are Katakana and Hiragana with it."

    @breaking point Better off abolishing the use of Kanji ( Kan = Chinese ) like in Korean language.. If no confusions resulted ?

  • 1

    airco

    I've only been studying the language for about a year, so I can't claim to be an expert on this, but I can't imagine that anyone who's bothered to learn kanji at all could honestly say that Japanese would be better without it. You can't compare compare the homonym issue of Japanese with other languages simply due to the massive density of homonyms in the former due to (1) the small amount of available sounds, and (2) most kanji compounds using onyomi readings, which use even fewer variations in sound than that (I don't want to count how many kanji are read as sei, shou, or jou). The latter issue mainly affects more technical or obscure words, which would be all but killed off without kanji to distinguish them.

    On top of that, creative kanji use is an art form in itself. For example, I started playing Dangan Ronpa recently, which revolves around a high school that only accepts the most highly skilled students within its doors. When referring to some of its graduates, the narrator describes them as 高校級 (koukoukyuu), a portmanteau of 高校 (high school, koukou) and 高級 (high class, koukyuu), essentially translating to "High (school) class", or something. It's a rather simple pun, but it's a nuance that would be mostly lost without the kanji to point it out, and effectively utilizing the nuances of a language is something that makes a writer good.

    Back on topic, I don't really see the issue with handwriting skills dying out. I've always preferred typing to handwriting, since writing character by character is a pain in the ass. And if anything, computers can improve the average Japanese person's linguistic skills, since anyone can copy-paste an unknown kanji into an online dictionary or draw it in an IME pad - it certainly beats having to navigate a textbook sized dictionary in 8 point font trying to find the one kanji you're looking for. And writers don't have to hold back on using obscure kanji, since they'll show up in an IME with the same reading as a more common alternative, meaning people who read would still be introduced to a wide variety of kanji. The only thing that's really at stake here is sentimentality, since some people attach emotional value to handwritten crap for some reason.

  • 0

    airco

    http://www.guidetojapanese.org/learn/grammar/kanji

    Alternatively, I can just post this (See the "Why Kanji" section).

  • 0

    kurisupisu

    The rise of the smart phone is to be applauded!

    As a non native speaker of Japanese I can now send emails faster in the Japanese language than English

  • 0

    Lowly

    kurisupisu,

    That goes for regular cell phones, too, actually.

  • 0

    BigDan

    Kanji and the other artifiacts of the Chinese writings system NEED to die out.

    While Japanese is a logically structured and impressive language the writing style STINKS!

    The Japanese could make the switch to a simpler writing style with but a fraction of the effort they put into learning the serveral character sets that make up the current Japanese language's attempt to deal wit the modern world.

    Pictograms are soooo first Millenium.

  • 0

    dali44

    I really hope that japanese children will not have to suffer any more by learning all these Kanji's
    Als far more foreigners should be able to learn Japanese easily without the use of Kanji's

    Sure, I know that Kanji learning is good for the memory. But there are far more and better ways to enhance our memories.

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