Why I Hate Kanji

For those who aren’t already aware, Kanji is one of the three alphabets used here in Japan, along with hiragana ひらがな, and katakana カタカナ. Kanji are sometimes referred to as “Chinese Characters”, as they are borrowed straight out of written Chinese, though their pronunciation, and sometimes their meaning are very different.

So where do flowers = snow? Japan, that’s where.

Remember when The-artist-who-was-formerly-known-as-but-is-now-more-commonly-and-recently-legally-known-again-as-Prince changed his name to that weird symbol? Remember when people were completely flummoxed about how to pronounce it; confused by the very meaning of it? Yeah, that’s what Kanji is like.

Say the person’s name is Yukiko. There’s about a dozen ways to spell this in Kanji, all pronounced the same way, but in order to type the name, you are required to input some sort of bizarre pronunciation on the keyboard which you would never use in speech. It’s honestly worse than you could imagine. Kind of like a couple deciding to name their child Josephine, but instead writing Stalin-q-fine, and saying that “Stalin” should be pronounced Joe, because they have the same meaning, “fine” should be pronounced “feen”, and the “q” should be pronounced as “ah” because they kinda look similar. “Aren’t we clever?!”

You know how you hate those kids whose parents thought they were being clever, and named their kid Christina, with a “K” and 2 “Y”s? Yeah, it’s kind of like that, only 2000 times worse! The Japanese require you to know about 2000 kanji to be considered literate, to read the paper and so on. However, if you actually want to remember the name of the person you talked with earlier in the day, you need to know, by my estimates, about 8 billion of the little fuckers!

Thankfully every now and then my Kanji Dictionary throws me a bone, as if to say “yes, I understand your frustration, and I’m pretty sure that this combination of random short lines in a tiny box could mean nothing other than this unintelligible glyph, WHICH by the way has no connection to how the name is pronounced.” This somewhat makes up for the times when I draw in two parallel lines, but the dictionary decides for me that this couldn’t possibly be right, and places a right angle into one of them for good measure.

Take this other wonderful example. This woman’s name is Yukiko, pronounced You-key-koh, if you read it English, right? Now if you saw this the Kanji for it and spoke Japanese, you’d probably think it was Ayako, and in most cases you’d probably be right. Except that you’re WRONG! Yukiko’s name has NO RELATION TO WHAT THE KANJI ACTUALLY MEANS. This makes even less sense than the previous (and still wildly outrageous) Stalin-q-fine example. This is like me writing my name is Baphomet, and saying that it’s still pronounced IAN!

As a usability nut, this smacks of stupidity. Unfortunately, being in their country of origin it would be rather difficult to lead any sort of rebellion. I’d like to learn the language, but that’s going to be rather difficult, as truly understanding kanji is like turning my back on science to pick up Alchemy, where black is white, gold comes from lead, and I can squeeze blood from a stone.

10 Responses to “Why I Hate Kanji”


  • i just hate it… im studying it right now!

  • Aren’t you glad you are learning Japanese not not Chinese…? Ganbatte.

  • Well at least about 20% of the joyo kanji have only one reading so it is good thing right? It happens very often that you just get sick of looking at kanji all day long and just want to give up. But I suppose the appeal of understanding,writing,speaking, and reading a language that is very different from English wins over for me. Most Americans now a days only now english and sometimes spanish or french. But those are boring languages. Oh when will the day come when i will have memorized all the joyo kanji and be able to read fluently *sigh*. I can only remember the only joyo kanji which has 23 strokes all together. Seriously is that tough to write.鑑. I mean there is kanji for feeling, feelings, feel. There is even a kanji for “to draw up water with one’s hands”

  • I thought about interrupting japanese studies. We have to learn 50 to 80 Kanjis a week and it’s horrible. It’s more than an elementary school student has to learn in one year. But only Kanji would be manageable but grammar, vokabulary history and so on (I speak about 90 pages to read in a week)
    So decide if you want to live or if you want to study Japanese. Even though I think the vokabulary we are learning is kind of unnessecairy. To learn words like “industrial relations” before even knowing how to order some food is a bit strange. In my opinion learning Japanese in a training course is much more useful than other ways are.

  • My mom has a Japanese friend who came to America the year I was born, and my mom decided she wanted to give me a Japanese name because she was “inspired”. (I am not even Japanese!) Anyways, the lady gave my mom a page with the kanji crap on it. I can’t even read it. My mom has been paying the woman to teach my japanese and I have learning for 14 years now. I am learning kanji now. I hate it!!! It’s not as bad as chinese because the japanese do have another two alphabets that make sense, but it sucks and it is senseless. It makes life so much harder. Would it be easier without it?

  • I live in Japan, and I feel your pain. Even though I’ve gotten good at it, I think kanji can and should be dumped. They’re like the useless English letters C, J, Q and X, letters the language could do without, only Japanese has a couple thousand of them. Honestly, kids here finish first grade knowing all the letters they need to write their language coherently. All-hiragana text is too hard to read, I can hear the weeaboos moaning now. The ancient Greeks had the same problem when they devised their alphabet, a problem they handily solved by putting spaces between the words. これ は よみやすい ね?

  • I’m trying to learn Japanese, and agree about kanji.

    It’s like trying to memorize QR codes.

  • I hate it. Kanji is the reason I have stopped studying Japanese. The language reminds me of some prehistoric system and is absolutely ridiculous. I understand why kanji is necessary but I still regret wasting my time. They always make things complicated by simplifying them. Kanji is the reason for the uneducated masses effortlessly exploited by the politicians. The easier the writing system-the more educated people you get. But, nooo, they had to make it a vowel+consonant system, they haven’t changed their pronunciation since they came out of caves and started cultivating plants. Now they are stuck with kanji.
    When I enrolled the UNI, they told us not to study the radicals, ever. Some VIP Chinese language studies people gave me the same advice. Can’t you see how ridiculous that is? They never even introduced the 3 writing systems properly either. Then we simply wrote kanji all the time, just trying to memorize it, while the library remained locked away. They will never let foreigners learn their language, ever.
    So, I have come half way, and gave up just when I was ready to pass nihongo nouryoku shiken 2kyu. Japan is an awful place too, I ain’t going back, ever!

  • Kanji is the reason for the uneducated masses effortlessly exploited by the politicians situation* :D

  • I hate Kanji too and I have to study it now; you’re not alone :(

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