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According to Wikipedia, kanji was introduced and imported from chinese hanzi long time ago before Japanese language even had a writing system. From there, Japanese kanji has transformed and evolved from the original hanzi and became what is is today. To my knowledge, it is not clear how long the process took but I'm guessing that, except for modification and simplification, the assimilation has already matured long time ago. Is this true?

Are there any kanji characters that were recently (i.e. post-1946 reform) created or imported from hanzi? What I mean are characters that were previously still not used in Japanese until they were created or imported from hanzi, not characters that had been assigned new meanings or readings, nor characters that had been simplified like 惡 -> 悪.

Related to that, is it possible in the future that newly coined words like むかつく to be assigned brand new kanji characters instead of reusing existing ones?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 7 down vote accepted

When the caretaker registers a new born child at a local government, the name is submitted in handwritten form, and, until recent, that character became official even if there is a mistake such as missing or extra stroke, etc. Therefore, every time someone makes a mistake previously not made, that character was added to the inventory of the kanji used in Japanese. These are called 俗字 'folk character', 誤字 'wrong character', or 異体字 'character variant'. In my personal opinion, that is stupid. Recently, a law was passed that restricts usage of such characters.

Besides that, as a game, people sometimes create new kanjis by combining the existing ones, but those characters almost never come to be used.

It is less likely that a newly created kanji come to be assigned to some word. For one thing, there are laws and notes by the government that define what is the right way of writing in kanji. Second, in this digital age, being able to input and output on the computer has become one criterion for a character to be used, and is less likely that a newly created character will achive enough popularity despite not being in the list of characters usable on the computer. Third, in the recent history of Japan, several political claims/attempts have been made to discard or lessen the kanji characters, but going in the other way to add kanji characters is rare.

Explanation expanded since my intention does not seem to be understood
I think it is a general understanding shared by all countries using chinese characters that chinese characters take too much time to write, or require extra effort to input on the computers. It is a solid fact that putting East Asian languages on the computer was delayed because of the difficulty in handling chinese characters on the computers. First, chinese characters have much more strokes compared to phonograms like most western languages, so the display had to become higher in resolution, and still it would take more space to display them compared to latin alphabet. Second, since the number of Chinese characters are vast, it could not fit within one-byte character code, and required modification to the software architecture. Third, since the number of characters are vast, it cannot be simply mapped to a layout on an ordinary-sized keyboard; it had to wait for the development of input method programs for these langauges. Each of these was a major obstacle to computerization of the language. And it is true that this fact worked as a rationale for considering to dispence chinese characters in these languages. But as usual, an attempt to artificially change a language does not succeed that easily.

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“I think it is a general understanding shared by all countries using chinese characters that chinese characters take too much time to write, or require extra effort to input on the computers, and are not convinient.” I do not think that it is fair to say that that view is shared in Japan. Some people agree, others do not. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Jul 24 '11 at 14:03
@Tsuyoshi_Ito Okay. I will weaken the statement to "many people think ...". –  sawa Jul 24 '11 at 14:05
@Tsuyoshi_Ito At a personal level, there may be controversy, but at the level of a country, they are always towards discarding/lessening the characters. So I will revert by edit. –  sawa Jul 24 '11 at 14:11
I still think that that is just the personal feeling of you and some other people. If the consensus is that Chinese characters take too much time to write, why is the Japanese government still using them? –  Tsuyoshi Ito Jul 24 '11 at 14:34
@Tsuyoshi_Ito That is because of other factors. For example, it would be very difficult to actually suddenly discard kanji; I can't imagine people will follow that. People claim that, if that is to ever happen, it would be only when the whole country is being rebuilt under extra-ordinarily strong political power such as during Meiji restoration or under the GHQ occupation. Another reason is that, even though it is inconvinient from the point of view of writing, it plays a crucial role in Japanese to identify the stem of the word since Japanese does not put spaces between words. –  sawa Jul 24 '11 at 14:46

I doubt that any kanji characters commonly used in Japanese were made after 1946.

Some kanji characters used in Japanese are actually made in Japan. They are called 和製漢字 (わせいかんじ) or 国字 (こくじ). However, although I do not know when they were made, I guess that most of them were made before 1946.

JIS X 0208 regulates basic characters commonly used in Japanese for information processing on computers, and the first version was made in 1978 (it was labeled JIS C 6226 at that time). A later investigation by Hiroyuki Sasahara and other researchers revealed that the specification included twelve kanji characters which have no known origin. They are sometimes called ghost characters (幽霊文字; ゆうれいもじ). We can say that in a sense, ghost characters are kanji characters which were created recently (probably by accident), but they are by no means commonly used.

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+1 for mentioning the little known ghost characters! –  hippietrail Jul 24 '11 at 17:46
Are those characters already assigned a meaning and reading? Is there possibility for them to get assigned? (sorry my level of nihongo doesn't allow me to skim through a page full of japanese writing yet) –  Lukman Jul 25 '11 at 10:14
@Lukman: I guess that you are asking about ghost characters. No, I do not think that ghost characters have any meaning. We can guess how some of them would be read: 駲 would probably be read as しゅう because other kanji characters (州, 洲, 酬) having the same part as the right half of the character are read as しゅう. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Jul 25 '11 at 10:27

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