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When writing the kanji for dragon, should I use the simplified or traditional or can I use either. My Japanese dictionary tells me that Japanese people learn both character forms in school. I know that the simplified version is more common, but I just think that the traditional versions look better. This question also applies for kanji that have a similar problem like 国 and 國.

Thanks for your help.

  • i've always perceived these two characters for dragon as having distinct uses:. but beyond that sense, i'm not really in a position to say. – A.Ellett Aug 3 '17 at 13:33
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    Use 龍, because 竜 is stupid... – istrasci Aug 3 '17 at 14:22
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    竜 is stupid -- へえ・・私のいとこの名前、「竜介」。。。w – Chocolate Aug 4 '17 at 1:16
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    I like the traditional much more. Which is why I named my son 龍佑. Although my friend's name is 竜也 – stack reader Aug 4 '17 at 7:22
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    @Tommy: I'm fond of writing characters with a brush. From my experience, the shape of the character of "龍" is really beautiful and easy to write beautifully. On the other hand, the shape of the "竜" is really troublesome. The last stroke is still troubling how it will become beautiful when it is written. "童" whose shape resembles to "竜" to the halfway is easier to write beautifully because the shape of the right and that of left are constructed symmetrical. Perhaps there is no deep meaning, but I think this kind of things I feel usually could be a reason why "竜" is not popular. – mackygoo Aug 7 '17 at 5:41
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Putting aside the etymology (I did not know which is older), both 竜 and 龍 are very common today, and are actively used by many people. I don't think one is "essentially more beautiful" than the other. Basically it's a matter of taste, and you should respect the kanji choice used by the person who named it. But one tendency is that Western dragons are often rendered as 竜 (or ドラゴン), whereas Chinese dragons are often rendered as 龍. Nicopedia says:

簡易な分類として、西洋的な特徴を持つドラゴンを「西洋竜(西洋龍)」或いは新字体の「竜」で表し、東洋的な特徴を持つドラゴンを「東洋竜(東洋龍)」或いは旧字体の「龍」で表すなどとする場合が多い。

For example...

  • 龍 is the default kanji in Dragon Ball, which obviously has a Chinese flavor. Shen-ron (神龍) appears like a "floating snake".
  • 竜 is the default kanji in Dragon Quest, whose main motif is the medieval Europe. Dragons in this franchise tend to look like a "winged lizard" (although some are wingless). Note that many monsters in Dragon Quest were designed by Akira Toriyama, the author of Dragon Ball.
  • Final Fantasy also uses the the kanji 竜 in most places (竜騎士 is a famous job in the franchise).
  • Monster Hunter is a game franchise that effectively uses both 竜 and 龍. In the game, lower-ranked enemies are generally called 〇竜, and they are depicted as extensions of ordinary animals. A few difficult bosses are called 古龍, which is defined in the game as mysterious, god-like species which refuse ordinary biological analyses. Interestingly, many 古龍 are named using the Japanese or Chinese naming convention, which is rather exceptional in Monster Hunter.
  • Western dragoons (cavalry units) are almost always translated as 竜騎兵, although this may be a misnomer.

Anyway, don't think of this as an ironclad rule. I understand many people prefer the appearance of 龍 just because it's more complicated and thus looks stronger.

7

It seems to me the answers given so far could be improved and I also find them to be a bit too much opinion-based. Nobody really gave any insight about the etymology and origins of those characters.

I found this interesting article, that I will report fully below, that addresses exactly this point and seems to give some explanations that go beyond "looks cool to me".

According to that article, although it is true that the general classification today distinguishes these two kanji by saying that 龍 is the old version of 竜, the truth seems to be that in the past 竜 was the one considered most correct.

Look at the following picture:

enter image description here

The figure on the left is what is found on the 甲骨文字 (the ancient inscriptions on oracle bones). The one on the right is found on the 金文, that are the most ancient inscriptions right after the oracle bones. Whichever you look at, it seems that 竜 is the closest to the original form.

However if you look very closely you could say that on the right side of the oracle bones inscription, you can see what could be a "dorsal fin" and hence 「龍」 was written in a way to stress out that point.

In other words 竜 is a direct descendant of the oracle bones while 龍 is a descendant that has been "exaggerated".

So if you see it this way, it's not much a matter of which is the "parent kanji" and which one is the "son" but rather you should see them as siblings.

However as I said above it is still true that historically nowadays those two are seen as one being the older version than the other.

So to answer "which one should you use", it doesn't really matter as the meaning is the same, it's all about your taste. It's true that it seems that the majority of Japanese people tend to like 龍 better. However, I tried to add some context to explain why moreover not only 竜 certainly isn't wrong, but actually it also might not be even true that is just a newer version of 龍.

Full article:

「竜」と「龍」というのは、こだわりを持つ人が多い漢字で、「芥川竜之介」などと書こうものなら、「そんなんじゃ芥川じゃない!」と怒り出す人がいるくらいです。しかしこの2つの漢字、いわゆる異体字の関係にあって、「竜」が新字体、「龍」が旧字体であること、ご質問をくださった方がおっしゃるとおりです。 旧字体というからには、当然ながら「龍」の方が古いものと思われます。しかし、最も古い時代の漢字の形を伝えている甲骨文字では、この字は図の左側のような形をしています。さらに、甲骨文字の次に古いとされる金文(きんぶん)では、右側のような形になります。これらの形を見ている限り、どちらかと言えば「竜」の方が本来の形に近いものと思われます。 しかしよく見てみると、甲骨文字では、右側に背びれ(?)のようなものが突き出ていることがわかります「龍」という漢字は、この背びれの部分を強調して書いたものだと言われています。つまり、「竜」は甲骨文字の直系の子孫なのに対して、「龍」はかなり誇張された子孫だ、というわけです。なんだか、紅白歌合戦の某歌手の衣装を思わせるほどの誇張のされ方ですよね。 このように考えると、「竜」と「龍」とは、どちらかが親でどちらかが子という関係ではなく、兄弟の関係だということになります。にもかかわらず、「竜」が新字体で「龍」が旧字体だというのは、歴史的にはずっと「龍」の方が正字だとされてきたからに他なりません。純朴な長男よりも、派手好きな次男の方が世間の受けはよかった、というわけです。 それが第二次世界大戦後の国語改革によって、その書きやすさから、「竜」の方が正字であるとされることになりました。純朴な長男の苦労が、ついに認められるときがやってきたのです。私は実は次男なのですが、この「帰ってきた長男」には、惜しみない拍手を送りたいと思います。

BONUS:

Since you mention 国」and「國」, as far as I know in this case the first one is a simplification of the first one that was done just to reduce the number of strokes.

I will tell you more, there is actually also the character 圀, that has the same meaning of country. This comes from the Tang dinasty in China and it seems to be due to Empress Wu Zitian (武則天) who didn't like that 或 (which recalls 惑 that bears the meaning of delusion/disappointment) was part of the character 國. You can find more here.

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    Actually a good point but it's not accurate to say 竜 is "more correct", because pictographic characters in Oracle-Bronze ages allow a vast range of variety, of which two shapes acquired standardized status today merely by chance. – broccoli forest Jun 29 '18 at 9:27
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I just think that the traditional versions look better. This question also applies for kanji that have a similar problem like 国 and 國.

As for 龍 vs. 竜, I agree that the traditional version looks better. I'm also fond of the shape of 龍 than that of 竜.

If you search for images on the Internet with a keyword of "凧{たこ} kite", you'll find that 龍 is more commonly used in the design of kites than 竜.

I think it is because the shape of 龍 is nearly a square, which fits the shape of a square kite, and also it seems more solemn than 竜 which has many spaces in the shape.

But as for 国 vs. 國, we rarely see 國 and I've never used 國.

As a whole, I could say 龍 is one of rare examples that the traditional versions are still commonly used.


EDIT

「龍」が「竜」の旧字体ではなく、実は「竜」の方が古いという情報はWikipediaをはじめこことかこことかこことかいろいろなところで書かれております。それなのに、なぜ「龍」の方が「竜」の旧字体であるかのような現在の一般の認識になっているのか、言い換えると、なぜ、歴史的に「龍」が「竜」より先輩格のような扱いになっているのか、私は、その経緯が[詳]{つまび}らかでなかったので、先の私の回答では、「龍」の字は旧字体かもしれないが「凧」の世界で生きていますとごまかしておりました。

しかし、Tommyの回答の中に、「このように考えると、「竜」と「龍」とは、どちらかが親でどちらかが子という関係ではなく、兄弟の関係だということになります。」という表現がありました。これで、私が抱いていた疑問が一気に晴れました。

すなわち、「親子関係」がひっくり返るのは問題ですが、力関係が「兄弟」なら、いずれかが優位に扱われても問題は少ないのかもしれないと思ったのです。

先ほど紹介しましたWikipediaの説明の中に、「中国の竜は神獣・霊獣であり、『史記』における劉邦出生伝説をはじめとして、中国では皇帝のシンボルとして扱われた。」という表現があります。すなわち、龍(あるいは竜)は中国の最高権威者である皇帝のシンボルです。

更に、ここここで「龍王、Dragon King」を見ると、龍が神格化されていたことが分かります。

「竜」と「龍」の文字を見比べたときに明らかに「龍」の方が見た目がきれいであることは明らかです。これは、「凧」のデザインとして「竜」ではなく「龍」が使われる理由とも通じます。「龍」の字形が単に四角だからではないような気がします。

中国において昔、似たような意味を持つ漢字が併存していたのを整理してどれが「正字」であるか定める作業をするときに、文字の形が美しいあるいは端正であるという理由で、皇帝のシンボルとしての位置づけを持つ文字として「親子」ではなく「兄弟」だから、「竜」ではなく「龍」を正字にしたのだと思います。弟がお兄さんより重用{ちょうよう}された(to be given an important position)ことになります。

それ以降は、日本においても、「竜」は「龍」を略して作った文字(後でできた文字)として不当に扱われてきたのだと思います。

経緯はともかくとして「龍」の字が美しいことに違いはなく、また、「凧」上げの文化がつづく限り、他の文字と違って「竜」の旧字とされる「龍」は、日本では使い続けられるように思います。

enter image description here

2

It does not really matter, most of the cases you should use those that are 常用漢字, which means you should use 国 or 竜.

As a matter of fact, although their meaning are exactly the same, 旧字体 like 國 or 龍 feels more serious and cool to some people.

For 竜, as the word are used to translate the western word "dragon", it feels more evil and dark. 龍 in the other hand feels sacred and royal like how lions do to the western world.
So you will see 聖龍=royal dragon 神龍=dragon-god but not 竜。

旧字体 are still used in people's names as well, always write the kanji in the way that they want you to write.

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    龍, although 旧字体, is used also in the 常用漢字 襲 and 籠. I don't know why, though. Then there's 籠 vs 篭 as well (the latter is 表外字 but still used somewhere) – siikamiika Aug 3 '17 at 11:56
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    龍 is commonly used in names. 篭 is ugly. People will prefer 籠. At least thats how I think. – ed9w2in6 Aug 3 '17 at 12:02
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    竜...feels more evil and dark. -- へえ・・私のいとこの名前、「竜((ry – Chocolate Aug 4 '17 at 7:53
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    For 竜, as the word are used to translate the western word "dragon", it feels more evil and dark. 龍 in the other hand feels sacred and royal like how lions do to the western world. -- そこ、何かソース(出典)ありましたらリンクいただけますか。 – Chocolate Aug 4 '17 at 7:57
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    @ǝʇɐןoɔoɥƆ ソースは無いですが、多くの人にとって「竜」は東洋龍の他に、西洋の「ドラゴン」を表すこともできます。一方、「龍」は東洋龍を表す‌​のみです。そんなわけで、竜は翼がついてい‌​る西洋ドラゴンのイメージがあります。龍は角とひげを持つでかい蛇のイメージです。 – ed9w2in6 Aug 4 '17 at 17:49
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I think 竜 is more common. A native speaker tells me that 龍 immediately evokes, for her, Chinese restaurants and 中華料理.

For those who think 竜 is somehow ugly or stupid, which seems nonsensical in any case (the aesthetic lies in how it's written, not its form): what about its use in 滝/たき/waterfall? Do they think that word is ugly and stupid?

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