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If I don't know the kanji of a thing but I know the hiragana of it, can I just write the hiragana if I have to write it down? Is it a free choice? Or some rules or social formalities?

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    The reason there are Kanji is to differentiate the exact meanings of what you want to say. せいふくをきる。 Could mean either I wear the uniform (MOST LIKELY) or I cut the uniform (POSSIBLE BUT UNLIKELY). The Kanji 着る and 切る would differentiate your intent (whereas Hiragana would not perfectly). If you are just beginning and this is a classroom environment then you shouldn't have any problems writing in Hiragana, similarly so if you are writing to a pen-pal. However in general Japanese society, you can't really get by unless you know at least the basic Kanji for everyday life. – The Wandering Coder Nov 26 '15 at 2:53
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First, as @TheWanderingCoder states, sometimes hiragana can be ambiguous. かみ can be (God), (Paper), or (Hair) for example. So Kanji is required here to understand the intended meaning, even though there are situations where it is understood from context.

To answer your questions

Can I just write the hiragana if I have to write it down?

Most of the time, yes as people will understand from context. I've seen people write 会議 as 会ギ on whiteboards before because is a pain to write.

Be careful though, a big glob of Hiragana/Katakana is hard to read. Japanese speakers (readers?) "chunk" the text by Kanji, so too much Kana will take them longer to read.

Is it a free choice? Or some rules or social formalities?

1) There are modern preferences that exist, for example おいしい is often written in Hiragana and not as 美味しい. You can experiment with your preferred style as the choice can give a different persona, particularly when chatting/texting. Heavy use of Hiragana can come off as young and sometimes feminine.

2) Take this phrase that you will write at the bottom of every business email you write in Japanese よろしくおねがいいたします.

Quickly looking through my emails, the following patterns all occur:

  • よろしくお願いいたします
  • よろしくお願い致します
  • 宜しくお願い致します

The top being the least formal and the bottom being the most. Note though, the difference in formality is not that big. If I get an email with the 1st pattern vs the 3rd, it's not an insult or anything like that.

I'm pretty sure I've seen 宜しく御願い致します before too, which would be even more formal.

I personally use よろしくお願い致します, but on formal/serious emails I will use 宜しくお願い致します.

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    A third point that might be worth including is that for at least two types of cases (not sure which kanji to use and kanji that no one uses), Japanese people themselves prefer かな . – virmaior Nov 26 '15 at 4:34
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If you write a thing in hiragana that should be written in kanji, it looks like a kid who didn't know kanji so much wrote it. There's no rigid rule whether you use kanji or hiragana, but you should use kanji in something formal. And it's better to use kanji even in informal texts.

but there are some exceptions. If the kanji of the things is difficult to write even for Japanese, we usually write them in hiragana or katakana. ex) rose is 薔薇(bara) in kanji, but it's hard even for Japanese to remember the kanji, so we usually write ばら.

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Quoting from mirka's final comment in
How can one stop “去年教職” from looking like a weird 4 kanji compound?

Kanji/hira/katakana is a pretty deliberate choice, especially in writing intended for publication (speaking from my experience in the industry). Sometimes it's to stop a secondary kanji from “sticking out” (食べ始める→食べはじめる), sometimes it's to alter the nuance of a word (かれ/彼/カレ, よみがえる→蘇る). They all change the “feel” to the reader, and it's one of the things that make Japanese such an expressive language.

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