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As I started peeking into Japanese, I see lots of characters in hiragana and kanji where the latter uses Chinese characters that are similar to traditional Chinese ones (I'm familiar with hanzi).

For example, for the following kanji 関門 there's a simplified hanzi: 关门 (I'm not talking about meaning here, just characters).

Also, country in Japanese 国 is same character in Chinese (simplified) as opposed to Traditional 國.

AFAIK in Chinese, people hardly write using traditional style characters, since they are hard to use. Is it applicable to Japanese? Or is the use of hiragana/katakana eases that difficulty or it isn't an issue for Japanese?

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Japanese has its own set of simplifications (with some overlap), which are touched on in this answer: japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/2676/… –  snailboat Jan 16 '13 at 16:07
    
In a sense both hiragana and katakana are simplified kanji. –  Earthliŋ Jan 16 '13 at 18:57
    
What about Taiwan? –  ssb Jan 16 '13 at 23:24

2 Answers 2

Japanese doesn't use simplified Chinese characters but instead they use their own system of simplification called Shinjitai (新字体).

Shinjitai only applies to the Jōyō Kanji 常用漢字 while simplified Chinese applies to all Han characters. Sometimes the simplified character is the same such as 国, sometimes Japanese version is simpler like 仏 vs 佛 in Chinese. But most of the time the Chinese version would be simpler than Japanese version

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Minor quibble: "applies to all Han characters" is a bit ambiguous, and implies much wider reach than is actually the case (e.g. simplified Chinese only applies to *Chinese*—not Japanese, Korean, or Vietnamese). Korean uses no simplifications whatsoever, Japanese simplified independently, and Vietnamese discontinued its use prior to any of the above simplification movements. –  Kaji Jun 2 at 20:23
    
@Kaji that's from the wiki page "Unlike simplified Chinese, which was applied to all characters, the simplification in shinjitai were only officially applied to characters in the Tōyō and Jōyō Kanji Lists, with the kyūjitai forms remaining the official forms of Hyōgaiji (表外字?, characters not included in the Tōyō and Jōyō Kanji Lists)." –  Lưu Vĩnh Phúc Jun 3 at 1:51

Though simplified Chinese characters are used in mainland China, traditional Chinese characters are still used in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau.

Kanji is derived from traditional Chinese characters, but has its own set of simplifications. They are not as extreme as simplified Chinese characters, and in fact looks very similar to traditional Chinese characters for the most part.

Incidentally, there are other writing systems which evolved from traditional Chinese characters just like Kanji did, such as Hanja (used with Korean, though losing popularity recently) and Chữ Nôm (used with Vietnamese until 1949)

Historically for China and Japan, complex writing systems did not fall out of use because people found them hard to use. They fell out of use because the governments decreed that it be replaced with a simpler version. So people in Japan don't have it as hard as people in Taiwan, Hong Kong or Macau when it comes to writing characters, but they don't have it as easy as mainland China. Unless the government adopts the Chinese writing system (unlikely), it's going to stay that way.

Now, would Kanji ever be replaced by Hiragana and Katakana? After all, Hangul is replacing Hanja in Korea. The answer is no. In Japan, there are so many homonyms that Kanji is necessary to decipher meaning.

This is a bit of a ramble but I tried to stick to comparing the complexity which rises from writing the characters themselves, as opposed to reading them or their cultural compatibility etc. Please read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanji for a more thorough introduction. Hope this helps!

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But when I speak, I don't speak in kanji. So how do listeners know which word I mean? :p –  Zhen Lin Jan 17 '13 at 7:45
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Context. The Japanese are masters of saying something without actually saying it. You don't even need to include the subject in a valid sentence in Japanese. Growing up with this, you become very good at picking up meaning from minimal information. On the flip side, you also become content with not always understanding everything and start saying you understand when you actually don't... –  David Jan 17 '13 at 11:33
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Precisely. So any argument that says that there are too many homophones to justify abolishing kanji are ignoring the fact that Japanese speakers are able to communicate without using kanji. –  Zhen Lin Jan 17 '13 at 11:56
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David @ZhenLin Some more discussion of this point over at Language Log: languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2667#comment-86512 –  snailboat Jan 17 '13 at 12:47
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@ZhenLin no... you don't have body language in writing do you? –  David Jan 18 '13 at 0:26

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