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Forgive me if this question seems foolish, but perhaps curiosity has gotten the best of me 'cause I am asking away. Every time I sit down to practice some good ol' kanji writing, I can't help but notice the lack of rounded shapes, circles, spheres, etc.. Sure, there are some curved strokes, but even in words that speak of "circular" and "rounded" things (丸、円...), there is nothing remotely "round" in the kanji to speak of.

I know very little about the etymology of kanji, so perhaps I am embarrassing myself by asking this question. However, I am curious to know -- were there ever circular strokes in kanji? What's the story, if there is one at all...?

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Sphere is hard to write on paper. :) – Tsuyoshi Ito Nov 18 '11 at 3:35
Does 〇 (kanji numeral zero) count? Japanese Wikipedia includes it in the list of an article on 漢数字, which begins "漢数字(かんすうじ)とは数を表記するのに使われる 漢字 である", though it stops short of referring to 〇 individually as a kanji in the text, as far as I can tell from a quick scan. – Hyperworm Nov 18 '11 at 10:41
To amaze your friends at spotting the difference between Chinese, Japanese, and Korean: If it has any circles as part of characters it's Korean. If it has any katakana or hiragana it's Japanese. Otherwise it's Chinese. (yeah yeah oversimplified) – hippietrail Nov 20 '11 at 19:38
Technically no, however I have seen people cheat and draw little circles where there should be a 口 (for example 語). And if you think "Maybe they just didn't know about stroke order", I'm talking about my Chinese teacher...who is Chinese. Not an answer but an interesting anecdote. – silvermaple Dec 7 '11 at 21:53

No need to be embarrassed. We all start somewhere.

I first erroneously answered by saying, "there are no rounded stokes in Japanese kanji." However, only after I submitted my answer did I notice you were specifically asking if there were ever rounded strokes. D'oh!

Okay, so... to start, there are, as you know, no current circular strokes in kanji.

However, if you go back far enough into the origins of kanji, you can see that they were based on pictographs, which can be curvy and all sorts of shapes. So, in a way, yes, there used to be rounded shapes.

The trick is where do you draw the line on when they can be considered "Japanese" kanji. As you know, kanji was brought over from China and then adapted to fit Japanese needs.

It has evolved, but I believe that by the time Japan started using the characters, they were already formalized on the mainland and no longer had any distinct circles. (History available here).

So I think a sensible answer could be that Japanese kanji has never had round shapes.

However, I think one could argue that kanji itself, if you go back far enough, had some circular(ish) shapes in it.

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