Writing? Kanji? おい、おじさん、2017年だぞ!みんなはコンピューターを使ていますぜ!

No need to get upset, I know quite well that the IT revolution has made Japanese resources so abundant that even a clod like me can study the language in the comfort of my own home.

You just fire up your IME (on computer), or keyboard app (on your smartphone), and start typing in sweet, sweet English letters. These letters form kana. The drop-down list shows you a bunch of kanji that match the kana you are entering. If you know your kanji well enough, just pick it from the list. If not, just leave the kana in and hope anyone reading what you’re writing is excellent at deciphering from context.

What could be simpler? Who wants to pick up a brush and ink stick and ink stone and paper and write, like some 明治 era bureaucrat? Or even a pen and paper? No way!

Well, that’s a perfectly valid viewpoint, really. Even many Japanese people love the convenience of using devices to create their kanji for them.

The following reasons are why I like to write kanji:

  • It’s fun
  • It might help you learn
  • Stroke order

Fun? Sure. It’s like being allowed to scribble on a pad of paper again, like you could as a child, with no one going, “Tut, tut! How old does he think he is?” They will ask, however, “Is that Chinese?”, so be ready.

Different people learn in different ways. Writing things down might help you better retain the kanji you are studying. I think it helps me a lot, other people might find it a waste of time. But if you haven’t tried it, you’ll never know.

Stroke order is maybe the most important. Sure, when you’re writing, you could slap down the old brush any way you wanted to, but this is radically inefficient if you’re writing more than one character. Stroke order on kanji got developed back in the good old ink and ink stone days, when you had to write things quickly and cleanly without a Ctrl-Z in sight.

This matters now, because if you want to search in an electronic dictionary for an unknown kanji, and you want to draw it, then you have to match the stroke order, because every dictionary I’ve found cares about that. Fortunately, there are a set of rules that are mostly universal. Mostly, because humans don’t like things to be 100% standard.

But you don’t even need stroke order for dictionaries, because you can search by radicals, by the SKIP system, and more than a few other ways.

Still. Why not pet the cranky dog and draw a kanji or two? They really won’t bite you.

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