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I was just curious what the most complex kanji—in terms of number of strokes—is, whether or not it's actually used often.

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Not specific to Japanese, but there's some information in the "rare and complex characters" section of the Wikipedia article for Chinese characters. – cypher Apr 26 '12 at 12:56
Wow, this is a great find. It does touch on Japanese kanji as well, but even the obscure Chinese characters are really cool. Thanks! – LucasTizma Apr 26 '12 at 19:56
up vote 8 down vote accepted

That really depends what you mean by "kanji". Remember that kanji are derived from Chinese characters of which there are not a defined number.

The 常用 (general use) kanji set is the one prescribed for education in schools and treated as a "safe" list to use in newspapers and other publications. The 常用 kanji with the most strokes is currently (as noted by atlantiza), with 29 strokes. However according to the usage stats given by KanjiDic2 it is not one of the 2500 most used kanji in newspapers, so while it's taught in school it would be likely be considered as a "tricky" kanji.

The 常用 kanji that does feature in the 2500 most-used by newspapers is , which KanjiDic2 places at the 1391st most commonly used kanji in newspapers, basically meaning all literate Japanese will know it.

Outside of general use it's a lot less difficult to define, as there are many classical kanji that very few people would know today, so the "one with the most strokes" really just depends on how much you want to search. For example, in KanjiDic2 it appears to be , with 34 strokes. This is not a widely-used kanji and much less likely to be recognised by the average person.

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Yeah, I was more asking about all non-kana characters in general, whether for general use or extremely archaic. :) – LucasTizma Apr 25 '12 at 18:05
I'm just gonna throw this in for trivia value: たいと (you can find it at Wikipedia). Undeniably on the Japanese side of the line, 84 strokes. – Matt Apr 25 '12 at 21:05
@Matt That's a really nice find, probably worthy of its own answer. (wikipedia link for anyone interested.) – ジョン Apr 25 '12 at 21:17
@ジョン Huh, you CAN do links in comments! Thanks. I don't think it's worth an answer, though, since as you say it really depends on how much you want to search. I'm sure someone, somewhere has proposed a kanji made of three "taito" (a la 晶 made of three 日s); would that then be the winner? If we're restricting ourselves to "real" kanji, is "taito" really real? (Wikipedia offers no evidence supporting this proposition, and some against it.) As your answer explains, it's like asking what the longest word in English is: the answer depends on how you define the set of acceptable candidates. – Matt Apr 26 '12 at 0:04
@LucasTizma Close, but the company is pronounced タイトー, not たいと ;) – ジョン Apr 26 '12 at 21:13

For common (常用) kanji, I think 鬱 has the most strokes - 29. It is probably not as common as 鑑, but it's not exactly rare either. It's used in 憂鬱【ゆううつ】 (depression, the way you feel after writing that kanji) and a lot of other emotion-filled words.

And for archaic ones, I've also heard that 䯂 has the most strokes - 34. It's so uncommon these days though that it's not even in my online dictionary.

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Just found that one in my dictionary ><. I was surprised to see it in 常用 as I mostly see it written in hiragana (a la うつ病) – ジョン Apr 25 '12 at 18:38

鸞 ラン. That's a character with 30 strokes, but I think there's bigger...

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