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?

  • 4
    Japanese has its own set of simplifications (with some overlap), which are touched on in this answer: japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/2676/…
    – user1478
    Jan 16 '13 at 16:07
  • 3
    In a sense both hiragana and katakana are simplified kanji.
    – Earthliŋ
    Jan 16 '13 at 18:57
  • 3
    What about Taiwan?
    – ssb
    Jan 16 '13 at 23:24

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

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 in both systems 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

  • 2
    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 '14 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)." Jun 3 '14 at 1:51
  • 2
    simplified Chinese applies to all Han characters this is not correct. Character simplification applies only within the 8,105 characters subject to national standardisation, not anything outside it. These 8,105 characters are equivalent to Japanese's Jōyō kanji.
    – dROOOze
    Jul 7 '19 at 9:28
  • @droooze please read my previous comment again. That information is from the wiki page Jul 7 '19 at 13:29
  • 1
    Yes, and I’m pointing out that Wikipedia is wrong in that statement. “Wikipedia says so” is not a valid position.
    – dROOOze
    Jul 7 '19 at 18:30

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!

  • 4
    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
  • 2
    David @ZhenLin Some more discussion of this point over at Language Log: languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2667#comment-86512
    – user1478
    Jan 17 '13 at 12:47
  • 1
    @ZhenLin no... you don't have body language in writing do you?
    – David
    Jan 18 '13 at 0:26

Japanese use a combination of traditional Chinese and its own version of simplified Kanji. I believe that actually during the Republic of China era, the Nationalists took some characters from Japan. During that time, they already planned to simplify characters. I grew up with traditional and though I prefer to write in traditional, it really is a pain in the butt especially when you're running against the clock, such as in an exam or writing orders in a restaurant. Simplified really does.. simplify everything. It's the truth and I don't care how many people in Hong Kong/Macau or Taiwan object to it. However, like the guy above said, there are some Japanese Kanji characters that are simplified in a way that is only unique to the Japanese language. These characters may or may not exist in the Chinese dictionary such as the Kangxi Dictionary, compiled in 1710. Also, sometimes Chinese people will use these simplified Japanese Kanji charcters incorrectly to convey a meaning.


as a native chinese traditional chinese user,i don't think it's hard to use them 。when you grow up with a language that's hard,it doesn't seem all that hard because it's your native tongue 。just like how georgians can speak and write georgian even though it's an insanely hard language with thousands of grammar rules and dozens of cases,prefixes,suffixes,tenses,etc 。

i've tried simplified chinese and it always feels so unnatural and forced which is why i don't use it 。traditional chinese is the same script from over 2000 years ago,preserved from middle chinese,and it's absolutely beautiful 。simplified chinese is a script made 70 years ago by the chinese communist party to try and eradicate traditional chinese values and meanings in chinese characters,because enlightenment and individual thought opposed communist ideologies 。

most traditional chinese users also use it because of the beauty and heritage that comes with each character 。simiplified characters are a sign of communism and the eradication of traditional chinese culture and language 。in japanese,some kanji have been changed during the mid-late 1900s,such as 國 to 国 and 學 to 学 。

but for the most part japanese still uses traditional characters 。that's also why japanese shipping companies often prefer to ship to hong kong,macau and taiwan as opposed to the mainland because they can communicate by writing characters down,whereas they have no way to communicate to mainlanders since they barely share any characters to communicate with 。

it also doesn't take too long to write down traditional characters 。only 1-4 seconds at most 。about as long as it takes to write most english words,depending on how neat/legible your handwriting is 。sure,simplified characters are faster to write for the most part,but the thing about traditional chinese characters is that they have thousands of years of history behind them 。simplified characters have nothing to their name except 80 years of communism,facism,oppression,censorship,imprisonment,nazism,mass-slaughter and death 。

no one really finds traditional characters too hard to use and that's why over an estimated 50-200 million people across the world still use traditional characters,high than the total population in the u.s.,the third-most populated country in the world 。the lower estimate only accounts for people in taiwan,hong and macau,however most overseas chinese communities use traditional characters 。

hope this helps you understand the history and reasoning behind traditional characters 。i hope we can keep our language healthy and alive because there's thousands of years of culture in every traditional chinese character 。

  • Japan has lots of connections with mainland China these days. Usually the Japanese write the Chinese names and place names using the Japanese versions of Chinese characters I think.
    – user36788
    Mar 1 '20 at 8:01

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