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  • Man, why does everyone say kanji are so difficult?

  • This one looks pretty easy.

  • So does this one.

  • And this one. It's not bad.

  • And how about the next one?

  • Oh my gosh. What the heck is that?

  • [♪ Peppy music with saxophone and percussion ♪]

  • Hello everyone, welcome to the Langfocus Channel, and my name is Paul.

  • Today, we're going to talk about the Japanese writing system.

  • Well, not the entire writing system.

  • Japanese is written with three different scripts:

  • hiragana, katakana, and kanji,

  • which is the one that we want to focus on today.

  • Hiragana and katakana were developed in Japan,

  • but kanji are actually Chinese characters that were adapted to fit the Japanese language.

  • Kanji are logograms.

  • A logogram is a character that represents a word or a meaningful part of a word.

  • Kanji are not characters that you read phonetically,

  • but rather each kanji represents a distinct idea rather than a sound.

  • For example, this kanji on its own represents the concept of a mountain,

  • but just from looking at it, there's no way to know that it's pronounced asyama.”

  • You have to remember how the character is pronounced,

  • and when you see the character you associate it with the sound.

  • But some kanji do also contain a phonetic element,

  • which is something we'll look at later.

  • Japan initially came into contact with Chinese characters during diplomatic missions

  • between the Han dynasty and the Yamato state of Japan,

  • which eventually led to the Japanese adoption and adaptation of kanji.

  • I talk more about this in my video on the Japanese language, which you can find right here.

  • If we include every kanji that has ever been used in Japanese, there are tens of thousands of them.

  • But of course, that includes many obscure or archaic kanji

  • that really aren't worth learning for the average person.

  • In 1946, the Japanese government aimed to simplify orthography

  • by limiting the number of kanji to a smaller list of 1,850 kanji,

  • known as the Tōyō kanji, orcommon usekanji.

  • That list has since been updated to include 2,136 basic kanji,

  • which are referred to as the Jōyō kanji, orregular usekanji.

  • This list determines what kanji students are expected to learn at school

  • and what kanji are used in official government documents.

  • With this part of the reform,

  • the Japanese government also simplified some of the more complex kanji,

  • so that they could be read more easily.

  • These kanji are calledshinjitai,” which literally meansnew character forms.”

  • For example, this kanji, meaningiron.”

  • The component on the right was simplified.

  • And this kanji, meaningwide.”

  • Its inner component was simplified, like this.

  • You might be aware that such a simplification also occurred

  • in the adoption of Simplified Chinese writing in China,

  • but shinjitai were much more limited in scope

  • and these changes only affected a limited number of characters in Japanese.

  • Types of Kanji

  • Kanji can be divided into several categories ofmoji,” or

  • characters,” based on how each character is formed.

  • For example, there are Shōkei moji.

  • This refers to pictograph kanji,

  • such as this one, formountain,”

  • or this one, fortree.”

  • These ones look something like the objects that they represent.

  • Shiji moji and Kaii moji are ideographs,

  • characters that represent ideas rather than visually representing an object.

  • For example, this kanji, meaningup,”

  • and this one, meaningrest.”

  • The difference between these two types of ideographs

  • is that Shiji moji are rather simple,

  • whereas Kaii moji are compound ideographs that use multiple components

  • that combine together to create an overall meaning,

  • with each of the components also existing as independent kanji.

  • The component on the left meansperson

  • and the component on the right meanstree.”

  • A person leaning against the tree isresting.

  • This is a good example of a Kaii moji.

  • Another example is this kanji.

  • Let's see if we can figure out what this one means by looking at the components.

  • I see this character, which I know meansmountain,”

  • and I see this one, which meansup,”

  • and this one, which meansdown.”

  • So I'm going to guess that this kanji has something to do with traveling up or down a mountain,

  • like, maybe it's “hiking”?

  • Now if we look at the actual meaning of this kanji,

  • we'll see that it means “a path through the mountains,” or a “mountain pass.”

  • So I'd say that's pretty close.

  • This type of kanji, that kind of tells a story, is a Kaii moji,

  • but only a small number of kanji tell a comprehensible story like that.

  • By far, the largest grouping of kanji is Keisei moji.

  • These are kanji that combine semantic and phonetic elements to make up a new character.

  • The phonetic element is derived from the Chinese pronunciation of the kanji, the on-yomi,

  • which we'll talk about later.

  • A good example of Keisei moji isshiwhich meanspoem.”

  • If we look at the left side of the kanji, we see this component,

  • which is most often used in characters that have something to do with language or speaking,

  • such as this one, meaninglanguage,”

  • and this one, meaningspeaking.”

  • If we look at the component on the right side of this kanji,

  • we see the kanji fortemple.”

  • This doesn't indicate any semantic connection to temples,

  • but rather it serves as an indicator of how to pronounce this kanji.

  • The Chinese pronunciation of this kanji for temple isshiorji,”

  • and when you see it as a component within another kanji,

  • it indicates that that kanji is pronounced asshiorji.”

  • Radicals

  • In the characters we looked at in the previous example of Keisei moji,

  • the component on the left is the radical.

  • A radical is the main component of a kanji

  • that generally provides a clue about its root meaning.

  • Some people use the termradicalto refer to any component of a kanji,

  • like both of these,

  • but to be precise, only this element is the radical,

  • though both can be referred to ascomponents.”

  • Every kanji contains one radical.

  • Some radicals also exist as independent kanji,

  • such as this one, meaninggoldormoney.”

  • It appears as a radical with the root meaning ofmetal.”

  • Here we can see it in this kanji, meaningiron,”

  • and in this one, meaningcopper.”

  • Other radicals only exist as an inseparable component of a kanjilike this one,

  • which shows that the kanji has a meaning related tomovement,” like in this kanji meaningroad,”

  • and this one meaningpassorcommunicate.”

  • As for phonetic components, they don't appear in all kanji,

  • but they appear in many of them, and can be very useful in pronouncing kanji.

  • One example is this one, which we saw before in the kanji for copper.

  • This kanji on its own is pronounced “dō”

  • and when you see it as a component in another kanji,

  • it indicates that the pronunciation is “dō” or “tō.”

  • As you can see, these kanji here have nothing to do with each other semantically,

  • and the radicals are different.

  • They're only related in pronunciation.

  • Another quick example is this kanji, meaningopposition.”

  • It's pronouncedhan.”

  • Now look at this kanji, meaningcooked riceormeal.”

  • It's also pronouncedhanbased on that phonetic element,

  • and so is this one, meaningsales,”

  • and this one, meaningprintingorpublishing.”

  • They're all pronouncedhan.”

  • ... Well, they're sometimes pronouncedhan.”

  • Sometimes? What do you mean sometimes?

  • The phonetic elements of kanji are based on the Chinese reading of the kanji,

  • also known as the on-yomi reading.

  • Andyomijust meansreading,” by the way.

  • On-yomi and Kun-yomi

  • If you remember from my previous video on Japanese,

  • there are two basic ways to pronounce kanji:

  • on-yomi, Chinese-derived readings, and kun-yomi, native Japanese readings.

  • For example, this character has a native kun-reading ofkata,”

  • while also having the on-readinghen.”

  • When used in this word, “hahen,” meaning a “broken piece,”

  • the on-yomi is used.

  • When used in this wordkatamichi,” meaningeach way,”

  • the native kun-yomi is used.

  • The real complexity comes with the kanji that have multiple on-readings and multiple kun-readings,

  • requiring you to choose the correct reading based on the context.

  • One example is this kanji meaninglifeorbirth.”

  • It has two on-yomi readings, “seiandshō,”

  • so we have this word, “jinsei,” meaninghuman life,”

  • and this word, “chikushō,” which meansbeastordamn it.”

  • And it also has numerous kun-yomi readings.

  • Here are some examples.

  • There's “ikiru,” meaningto live.”

  • There's “umu,” meaningto give birth.”

  • There's “ou,” meaningto grow” (archaic.)

  • There's “haeru,” meaningto groworspring up.”

  • There's “kimeaningpureorraw,”

  • and there's “namameaningraworuncooked.”

  • As you can see, it's not always a simple matter of one kanji being equivalent to one word.

  • The kanji is used to represent the core meaning of the word,

  • but when we use them for native Japanese verbs and adjectives, a string of hiragana is attached to the end,

  • to represent the inflection of the word.

  • For example, let's look at the adjective forcold” — “samui.”

  • As you can see, there's a kanji, and the additional hiragana, “i.”

  • The kanji carries the core meaning of the word, while the inflection, shown in hiragana,

  • shows us that this word is in the non-past positive form for an i-type adjective.

  • So we read this assamui,” but when we inflect this word in the negative it becomessamukunai,”

  • where “-kunaireplaces “-i” to indicate the non past negative form.

  • When we look at this word, we know to read it assamukunai,”

  • with the first two syllables represented by the kanji,

  • and the others placed after it to show inflection.

  • Kanji also work this way with verbs,

  • where the kanji will represent the core meaning of the verb, and the hiragana represent the verb's conjugation.

  • Why bother using kanji if part of the writing is in hiragana anyway?

  • Even though kanji take a lot of effort to learn, they actually make the entire language easier to read.

  • Let's take a look at an example sentence,

  • first written without kanji and next, written with kanji.

  • The sentence means: “I eat Japanese food.” “Boku wa washoku o tabemasu.”

  • Because Japanese is written without spaces,

  • without the kanji the words all blend together.

  • And it's sometimes difficult to quickly see where one word ends and where the next word begins,

  • or it's difficult to see what part of speech, or where it is.

  • Kanji are not really read, but just recognized like symbols, so they allow you

  • to quickly skim a sentence for meaning.

  • But while kanji make Japanese easier to read once you know them,

  • they make Japanese much harder to write by hand.

  • As you can see, some kanji consist of lots of different lines orstrokes.”

  • For example, this kanji, meaningmachineoropportunity,” has 16 strokes.

  • This one, meaningappraise,” has 23 strokes.

  • If we dig back into some historical kanji that are not part of the current Jōyō kanji,

  • some of them have quite a high number of strokes.

  • This kanji, meaningroughorcrude,” has 33 strokes.

  • You can see that this one is actually created through reduplication of the same component three times.

  • That component is the kanji meaningdeer.”

  • Here's another kanji meaningdragons on the move,”

  • which has 48 strokes and consists of the kanji fordragonreduplicated three times as components.

  • And this kanji features the same component four times for a total of 64 strokes.

  • It meansverbose.”

  • The biggest freak show of a kanji is

  • this one, with 84 strokes.

  • It features this kanji as a component,

  • which is itself a reduplication of the kanji forcloud,”

  • and it also features thedragons on the movekanji as a component.

  • I don't think the origins or usage of this kanji are very clear, but it may have been used in personal names.

  • These high stroke kanji are very rare.

  • They're not really used anymore.

  • But kanji of up to 20 strokes or even a little higher are quite common.

  • Not only do you have to remember the strokes themselves,

  • but you have to write them in the correct order and the correct direction.

  • There are a series of rules that govern stroke order.

  • The most basic rule is top to bottom and left to right.

  • With the kanji forriver,” we can see that you write a stroke from top to bottom,

  • then you move to the right and add two more strokes.

  • But the first stroke seems to go from right to left.

  • That's true, but here the top to bottom rule takes precedence, so this is allowed.

  • Next, when vertical and horizontal strokes cross, the horizontal line is usually written first.

  • We can see this in the kanji for “10.”

  • Next, vertical strokes that cross through other strokes are written after the strokes they cross through.

  • We can see this in the kanji meaningmiddleorin.”

  • Horizontal strokes that cross through other strokes are written last.

  • We can see this in the kanji formother.”

  • Next, diagonal strokes are written right-to-left before left-to-right,

  • as we can see in the kanji meaningletterorwritings.”

  • Next, central vertical strokes are written before theirwings.”

  • We can see this in the kanji meaningwater.”

  • Next, left vertical strokes are written before strokes that go across and down,

  • as we can see in the kanji meaningmouth.”

  • This across and down stroke is quite common

  • and it's important not to mistake it for two strokes.