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This is my understanding but please correct me if some of my details are wrong:

  • In 1946 the Japanese language underwent a reform and standardization process
  • A set of 1850 kanji were made official and others more or less obsoleted
  • A smaller subset of these kanji were simplified, the new forms becoming known as shinjitai and the previous forms as kyujitai

But some words which used characters made obsolete had their spellings changed to use similar looking characters, my favourite being:

"濠洲" (ごうしゅう, Gōshū), an ateji for "Australia" became "豪州"

  • Does this replacement of characters have a name? They are not shinjitai since they already existed and they are not in shinjitai tables.
  • Does this only happen with ateji or also with regular words?
  • Does it only happen when the replacement characters have a same reading as the replaced characters?
  • If not, does this add to the confusion of which readings apply to which characters?
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2 Answers 2

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As it turns out, I actually researched this phenomenon the other day while doing some reading up on 旧字体【きゅうじたい】. As it turns out, what you're referring to are 書換字【かきかえじ】. Essentially, with the promogulation of the 当用漢字【とうようかんじ】 in 1946, the Japanese government decided to try to encourage some additional, more informal simplifications to bring vocabulary that depended on 表外字【ひょうがいじ】 into compliance with the new set without the need to resort to 交ぜ書き【まぜがき】(aka. substituting katakana for missing characters, such as 天プラ instead of 天麩羅).

As for why the need to create a second tier of simplifications instead of simply declaring these additional 新字体【しんじたい】 forms, I imagine a fair bit of that stems from maintaining overall linguistic integrity. The 新字体【しんじたい】 characters were based off of long-standing traditions and 略字【りゃくじ】 (abbreviated forms of characters used in handwriting) forms of their corresponding 旧字体【きゅうじたい】 characters. As such, there is a degree of continuity in terms of meaning.

In the case of 書換字【かきかえじ】, the substitutions are based primarily on substituting characters that are within the 当用【とうよう】・常用漢字【じょうようかんじ】 for ones outside of it. Oftentimes this involved preserving a phonetic element and just changing the accompanying semantic radical (e.g. changing from 骼 to 格). Other times it was something a bit more dramatic (such as changing 誨 to 戒). In some cases it involved simply removing parts altogether (e.g. 廻, 蛔, and 洄 all became 回).

With that foundation laid, let's touch back on the questions at the end of the original post:

Does this replacement of characters have a name? They are not shinjitai since they already existed and they are not in shinjitai tables.

As mentioned above, these are called 書換字【かきかえじ】.

Does this only happen with ateji or also with regular words?

The list I link at the end shows a great number of regular words. The primary reason for this was to bring words using characters that were left out of the 当用漢字【とうようかんじ】 list into compliance. As a matter of fact, there are a couple of rather common words that were affected by it (e.g. 注文【ちゅうもん】 was originally 註文【ちゅうもん】

Does it only happen when the replacement characters have a same reading as the replaced characters?

Yes, all characters have the same reading as the ones they replaced, at least for the purposes of the word in which they are serving as a replacement. Another feature that distinguishes 書換字【かきかえじ】 from 新字体【しんじたい】 that I've observed is that from what I can tell the 書換字【かきかえじ】 were simplified as words, whereas 新字体【しんじたい】 were simplified as characters.

If not, does this add to the confusion of which readings apply to which characters?

As mentioned above, they generally aren't adding any new readings to the "simplified" characters. So no, it doesn't add to the complexity in that regard.

If you want an overview of just what was changed and how far-ranging these changes were, this is the most comprehensive list I've been able to find. For simplicity, the columns from left to right are:

  • The modern reading of the character replaced
  • The classical reading of the character replaced
  • The characters involved (new on the left, old on the right)
  • The authority promogulating the change (either the government 国 or newspapers 新)
  • Affected words
  • Additional notes

This might have been a bit more information than you were looking for, but I hope it helps!

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Apologies if I have missed something obvious but why doesn't this list contain 仏 <-> 沸 (ふつ)or 学 <-> 學 (がく)? –  Tim Mar 21 at 2:08
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Those are covered under the 新字体 reforms; this is a separate simplification effort that was not as concerned with preserving the linguistic heritage of the characters used to write words. –  Kaji Mar 21 at 2:27
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Thanks. So, to identify the changes made just after the war (as opposed to recent revisions) we just need two lists, 新字体 and 書換字? Do you by any chance have a similar list for 新字体? (Your list is more convenient that the info in wikipedia.) –  Tim Mar 21 at 2:47
    
Absolutely! You can find the 新字体 list here: benricho.org/moji_conv/14_shin_kyu_kanji.html –  Kaji Mar 21 at 5:01
    
This is the answer I've been waiting for for so long! I've changed to this as the accepted answer since it has more detailed and specific information I wasn't able to uncover before even with the previous accepted answer. –  hippietrail Mar 21 at 12:21

I do not know any name for rewriting of kanji (because of a kanji reform) using a similar-looking kanji.

I am not sure if 濠洲 was replaced by 豪州 because they look similar. I guess that the biggest factor that contributed to this rewriting was they can be read in the same way. Because 濠洲 is ateji, the most important property of the kanji 濠 must be its pronunciation. But these two facts (濠 and 豪 looking similar and 濠 and 豪 pronounced identically) are related because the kanji 濠 is 形声文字 (けいせいもじ; a kanji character consisting of a part representing its meaning and a part representing its pronunciation).

Also note that in many other words, a kanji was rewritten with another kanji with the same pronunciation and different meaning and shape (although meanings are often related in some way). In 1956, 文部省国語審議会 (the Council on National Language (?) of the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture) published an official report describing guidelines for rewriting the kanji which are not tōyō kanji (the kanji included in the 1946 list). The report was entitled “同音の漢字による書きかえ” (どうおんのかんじによるかきかえ; Rewriting by Kanji with the Same Pronunciation), and it included many such examples (see an article in the Japanese Wikipedia). This also suggests that the pronunciation was a bigger factor than the shape when choosing how to rewrite kanji.

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Does this mean 伝書鳥 must be でんしょどり and not a simplified way of writing 伝書鳩? –  snailboat Sep 20 '12 at 15:30
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@snailplane: I had never seen word 伝書鳥, but I do not think that anyone reads 伝書鳥 as でんしょばと unless he/she thinks (by mistake) that it is written as 伝書鳩. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Sep 20 '12 at 15:38
    
I've been familiar with the concept of 形声文字 for a long time, but I'd never heard the term before. Thanks for sharing! –  Kaji Mar 22 at 4:38

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