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Forgive me if this question seems foolish, but perhaps curiosity has gotten the best of me 'cause I am asking away. Every time I sit down to practice some good ol' kanji writing, I can't help but notice the lack of rounded shapes, circles, spheres, etc.. Sure, there are some curved strokes, but even in words that speak of "circular" and "rounded" things (丸、円...), there is nothing remotely "round" in the kanji to speak of.

I know very little about the etymology of kanji, so perhaps I am embarrassing myself by asking this question. However, I am curious to know -- were there ever circular strokes in kanji? What's the story, if there is one at all...?

  • 2
    Sphere is hard to write on paper. :) – Tsuyoshi Ito Nov 18 '11 at 3:35
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    Does 〇 (kanji numeral zero) count? Japanese Wikipedia includes it in the list of an article on 漢数字, which begins "漢数字(かんすうじ)とは数を表記するのに使われる 漢字 である", though it stops short of referring to 〇 individually as a kanji in the text, as far as I can tell from a quick scan. – Hyperworm Nov 18 '11 at 10:41
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    To amaze your friends at spotting the difference between Chinese, Japanese, and Korean: If it has any circles as part of characters it's Korean. If it has any katakana or hiragana it's Japanese. Otherwise it's Chinese. (yeah yeah oversimplified) – hippietrail Nov 20 '11 at 19:38
  • Technically no, however I have seen people cheat and draw little circles where there should be a 口 (for example 語). And if you think "Maybe they just didn't know about stroke order", I'm talking about my Chinese teacher...who is Chinese. Not an answer but an interesting anecdote. – silvermaple Dec 7 '11 at 21:53
  • I just stumbled over this thread with the same Q in mind (expect looking at it from a Chinese language point of view). Already in ancient Chinese a circle was used as part of the punctuation system, so this might be the reason that there is no single circlur-shaped character (see here: en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_punctuation) But still, this wouldnt explain why there are no circular elements / strokes – Takitani Nov 27 '16 at 22:14
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No need to be embarrassed. We all start somewhere.

I first erroneously answered by saying, "there are no rounded stokes in Japanese kanji." However, only after I submitted my answer did I notice you were specifically asking if there were ever rounded strokes. D'oh!

Okay, so... to start, there are, as you know, no current circular strokes in kanji.

However, if you go back far enough into the origins of kanji, you can see that they were based on pictographs, which can be curvy and all sorts of shapes. So, in a way, yes, there used to be rounded shapes.

The trick is where do you draw the line on when they can be considered "Japanese" kanji. As you know, kanji was brought over from China and then adapted to fit Japanese needs.

It has evolved, but I believe that by the time Japan started using the characters, they were already formalized on the mainland and no longer had any distinct circles. (History available here).

So I think a sensible answer could be that Japanese kanji has never had round shapes.

However, I think one could argue that kanji itself, if you go back far enough, had some circular(ish) shapes in it.

5

There are many ways to write Kanji, similar to how there are many ways to write Romaji. The main difference I think is that we generally haven't needed an "official writing style" for Romaji, probably because there are so few letters.

But with Kanji there are many different parts and even different types of lines that can make a difference in meaning so there have been several "official writing styles" over thousands of years which improve legibility.

The "official writing style" for Kanji taught in Japan does not use circular shapes.

However, some people will use circles in handwriting or fonts to make the writing seem "cute":

enter image description here

Also, there are other styles of writing, like Grass Script(草書)or Seal Script(篆書)that make heavy use of curves and circles. These were "official writing styles" hundreds of years ago. The highlighted text below reads,「天地玄黄」

enter image description here

As was mentioned by @Questioner, some of the oldest standardized forms of Kanji that have yet been found in China very commonly use curved and circular shapes.

Ancient inscriptions like these found on ritual metal cooking pots that you can see in museums show this older type of writing with lots of curves and circles. This was the "official writing style" of the time, though there were still many differences compared to the standardization of today.

enter image description here

Here's a side-by-side comparision of the common character「果」in modern angular and ancient circular styles:

enter image description here

It might be worth mentioning that Hiragana (with curved shapes) were developed from Kanji (usually similar to the Grass Script versions). Here's a good resource that shows how that works:

http://ameblo.jp/hikkobo/entry-11900991321.html

  • Fantastic! This is the answer I was looking for! – Kesarion Mar 31 '18 at 12:14
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There is 「㪳」but I’m not sure what it means, it may be phonetic.

3

This thread is already quite old, but @ひまわり's recent contribution caught my attention.

As far as Kanji are concerned, i.e. Chinese characters used in Japanese language, it is safe to assume indeed that they don't contain rounded or circular strokes, at least in printed form, and it could be expected to be the same for all other languages (Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese).

However, the Unicode set of Unihan characters contains some quite surprising exceptions I happened to run into.

1/ There are three characters with an elliptic component, very similar to what can be found in Hangul:

㔔㪳㫈

㔔㪳㫈

Interestingly enough, there are also three characters with the same angular component replacing the elliptic one:

㔖㪲㫇

㔖㪲㫇

BTW, the source of these six characters is definitely Korean.

2/ Two characters have rounded parts, one looking like a vertical sine wave, and another one similar to Japanese hiragana り:

𢀓𭍻

𢀓𭍻

3/ Even more puzzling, some characters contain loops:

𠆭𠇇𠍋𠪳𡆢𡦹𡧑𦹗𭁇

𠆭𠇇𠍋𠪳𡆢𡦹𡧑𦹗𭁇

I must confess that these Unihan characters are somehow an enigma to me, I ignore which texts they originally come from, and wonder how they've made their way to the Unicode set altogether...

Please note that operating systems may not correctly display all these characters, since they are quite unusual. In order to be able to see them properly, an appropriate font such as the Hanazono Minchō typeface has to be installed first.

Another way to have a look at them is to access the relevant PDF code charts from the official Unicode web site. They are found in the following blocks:

  • Apparently 𠇇 = 傳 = 伝! – Ringil Feb 24 at 15:34

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