I was looking on the web for Japanese graphic design and found some pre-WWII material. Then I saw some more recent advertisement material. Comparing the two eras, I notice a difference that was beyond the visual style. In older works it seems that kanji were used more often than in their modern counterpart. Whereas katakana is used more generously in modern media than kanji. An overwhelming amount of that katakana is gairaigo, which is almost entirely based off of English.

For example,
On google translate, if one types the word 'big' in the English section, two options appear to be the most common translation in the Japanese section. One is ビッグ (biggu) while the other one is 大きい (Ōkī). Both are clearly different when written down, but are defined in English as the same word.

What is the reason for its popularity and acceptance and why aren't kanji compounds formed at the same rate as directly imported terms?

  • 1
    You mention 'Pre-WWII material' yourself. Might there be a link?
    – BJCUAI
    Aug 15, 2018 at 22:25
  • 6
    Google translate is not a reliable way to gauge the popularity of a translation. No one is going to use ビッグ in the same way that they use 大きい in natural conversation.
    – Leebo
    Aug 15, 2018 at 22:58
  • Anyway, possibly related question here
    – Tommy
    Aug 16, 2018 at 0:47

1 Answer 1


Between the late 19th century (fall of Tokugawa shogunate) and the mid 20th century (WWII), Japanese people were rapidly learning countless new concepts from Western countries, but they were also busy coining a new kanji word for each new concept they encountered. The new kanji words coined in this period are called 和製漢語 ("Japanese-coined Chinese word"). Examples include 空港 ("airport"), 映画 ("movie"), 自然 ("nature") and 野球 ("baseball"). So this is the main reason why you see less katakana words in pre-WWII materials. See also: What are the origins of the Chinese derived words?

Aside from whether it's good or bad, Japanese people have almost stopped this convention of creating new kanji words. I think this is simply because people have become even more "Westernized" and less influenced by the Chinese culture. This resulted in more and more katakana loanwords directly borrowed from English.

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