I am interested in kanji variants. Please consider these three variant pairs:

(normal kanji) 剣 ---> (variant) 劍
(normal kanji) 海 ---> (variant) 海
(normal kanji) 器 ---> (variant) 器

Are「劍道」、「海外」、「器械」even considered words? Or, for native speakers, are kanji variants a not so important side-note to the language?

If native speakers do pay some attention to kanji variants, then do the definitions change at all?
「剣道{けんどう}」の定義{ていぎ} = 「劍道」の定義?
「海外{かいがい}」の定義 = 「海外」の定義?
「器械{きかい}」の定義 = 「器械」の定義?

How do you say "kanji variant" in Japanese?
Are kanji variants tested for on 漢字検定試験?What level?

  • For kanji variants you're probably looking at some mixture of 異体字, 旧字体, or others.
    – ssb
    Jan 9, 2015 at 5:18
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    𝕿𝖍𝖊𝖗𝖊 𝖒𝖆𝖞 𝖇𝖊 𝖆𝖊𝖘𝖙𝖍𝖊𝖙𝖎𝖈 𝖎𝖘𝖘𝖚𝖊𝖘, 𝖇𝖚𝖙 𝖚𝖘𝖎𝖓𝖌 𝖆 𝖉𝖎𝖋𝖋𝖊𝖗𝖊𝖓𝖙 𝖘𝖙𝖞𝖑𝖊 𝖔𝖗 𝖋𝖔𝖓𝖙 𝖉𝖔𝖊𝖘 𝖓𝖔𝖙 𝖈𝖍𝖆𝖓𝖌𝖊 𝖙𝖍𝖊 𝖜𝖔𝖗𝖉. 𝖀𝖘𝖚𝖆𝖑𝖑𝖞 𝖞𝖔𝖚 𝖑𝖊𝖆𝖗𝖓 𝖙𝖔 𝖘𝖕𝖊𝖆𝖐 𝖞𝖔𝖚𝖗 𝖓𝖆𝖙𝖎𝖛𝖊 𝖑𝖆𝖓𝖌𝖚𝖆𝖌𝖊 𝖇𝖊𝖋𝖔𝖗𝖊 𝖞𝖔𝖚 𝖑𝖊𝖆𝖗𝖓 𝖙𝖔 𝖜𝖗𝖎𝖙𝖊 𝖎𝖙.
    – blutorange
    Jan 9, 2015 at 12:21
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    @blutorange Your point has zoomed right over my head. Your comparing changing the font to using a variant is wrong. "Does 'god' = 'God'" is a close example. Upper and lower case "god" are the same basic idea, but the case assigns attributes. So, does using a variant assign attributes? Would a good dictionary have definitions for each?
    – user312440
    Jan 9, 2015 at 15:13
  • @user312440 en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackletter
    – blutorange
    Jan 10, 2015 at 11:10
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    blutorange made a good point, but perhaps spelling differences would be a more accurate comparison: there are olde spelyngs, and then there are regional spellings, like color/colour. None of these change the meanings of words, and dictionaries will note the different forms, then go on to give one definition of the meaning. Jan 10, 2015 at 12:33

1 Answer 1


More precisely, they are older forms ([旧字体]{きゅうじたい}) of kanji, rather than variants.

Japanese kanji went through an artificial simplification conducted by the government in 1950s. Now old forms are no longer in use, except occasionally in proper nouns they could be used for the purpose of kind of characterizing or "flavoring" the names. Most people can still read them, but no one uses them in their daily writings or printings. Schools no longer teach them either.

You can learn details about the simplification here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shinjitai

  • I wasn't quite sure if you were right, because the printing of some of this characters in pre-WW2 books looked like the 新字体 to me, but per benricho.org/moji_conv/14_shin_kyu_kanji.html you're exactly right.
    – virmaior
    Jan 10, 2015 at 11:18
  • Yes, in fact there had been a certain amount of naturally-generated simplified forms before the 新字体, and some of the 新字体 forms are just taken from them.
    – isayamag
    Jan 10, 2015 at 14:23

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