Thinking Pondering Troubled Kitty cartoon girl, green eyes, pink background, hands on face, artwork, Words: 'Do I really NEED to learn Kanji?' in Japanese language and English, Words: Kiki+Koko Let's NihonGO!! on SpeRaToBo Online'Kiki+KoKo: Let's NihonGO!!

Do I REALLY need to learn Kanji? | What use is Kanji? (Let’s NihonGO!!)

Welcome to Kiki and Koko: Let’s NihonGO!!: in blog form for your reading pleasure, scribed humbly by Kiki and Koko, your guides to Japanese language via The Internet. 

Today’s question is simple but an important one that many learners of Japanese come to think of once they begin taking a look at the strokes and patterns. It might seem a little daunting. But, that’s a story for another time!

You’re probably coming across this page after looking at all of the kanji there are to learn, (or just keeping up with the latest blog posts from SpeRaToBo) and wondering if you really need that big plastic hassle like… bogus reading and writing. Well, bogus or not, young (wo)man, today, you’re going to see if learning kanji really is a plastic hassle like the Pythagorean Theorem a²+b²=c² or if it’s essential, like simplified business expense deduction when filing taxes. Who said that!?…  *ehem* Anyway~

As you can see in the featured image, normally, written Japanese often relies on all three systems. Though, in theory, as many have seen in the original Japanese handheld games as well as books geared towards children, the most basic of Japanese writing can boil down to hiragana. In the aforementioned types of literature, you’ll see that it is devoid of kanji, however when it comes to small children’s books, it will have a bit of katakana with furigana (hiragana used to show the reading of kanji, but in this case, the reading of katakana).

example no kanji on gameboy official gif

You might have seen, or still can see, old Japanese handheld games with only kana and no kanji. Leave a comment below if you can translate this one! We’ll make sure to tell you if you’ve got it correct.

So, it’s quite apparent that hiragana is the lifeblood of Japanese language, though hiragana lacks meaning, making every meaning of a word contextual. With the many homophones of Japanese language, it leaves out any of the nuance and meaning that kanji brings. Furthermore, it’s pretty difficult to read a string of un-spaced characters without anything to hint at the beginning and ends of words

example with and without kanji

‘When you write like this, it’s a little difficult to read’ It may be difficult for beginners to tell, but the kanji really helps to separate the sentence in a way that makes understanding at a glance much easier. Sure, it’s readable in context, but it really helps to differentiate the homophones.

Sure, using spaces can help the situation, breaking up said phonemes into words, and it works for children’s books and old video games…but this gets more so into hypotheticals than real life. You won’t find magazines and websites geared towards anyone above grammar school using only hiragana. 

MOSHED-2019-1-15-4-14-4.gif

Here’s an example of how you might see Japanese written for very young children, spaced out for better legibility. It’s completely hiragana in this case, but there are many times where the kanji would be included as the complexity progresses. Leave a comment below if you can translate this sentence! 

But, I think this brings about a better point– in learning a language, it’s better to learn what you’ll actually come across rather than hoping that you’ll come across something that’s adapted to an easier level. It’s just like life—challenges help us grow and preparing for them can be very satisfying when you come across something and can properly deal with it…. Like after training for hours and having just the right combo to use in a boss battle 👌

 

We think when learners look at whether or not they need to learn something, the first thing they should do is look at their goals.

  • Do you plan on becoming fluent in Japanese?
  • Do you want to be able to type and write properly in Japanese?
  • Would you like to be able to read Japanese literature?
  • Will you need to be able to read Japanese signage?
  • Do you want to be awesome and show off to your friends how you can read and write in Japanese?

If you answered yes to even one of those, then kanji is a must! Nothing in life is easy, but no matter what anyone tells you, achieving such a goal with hard work can be very rewarding! That’s not to say that you have to want to be fluent in Japanese. Maybe you just want to have a bit of fun and learn a little bit, and that’s totally fine! It’s lovely to dabble a bit in another language. But, know that if you want to be fluent, kanji is important. Imagine if you couldn’t read in your own native language? It’d be quite a pain functioning day to day. And, you don’t want life to be a pain, do you? Hah, no, but it’s just a plaster that has to be taken off sooner or later, and this is the swim in the pool that will help.

Let’s just end this off with a recap of kanji and why it’s important: 

1. It’s everywhere. 

2. It helps bring meaning to a word 

3. It differentiates homophones 

4. It breaks up sentences to be more intelligible 

5. …Kanji is cool.

And, it has so much significance; it’s so culturally inherent. I couldn’t think of an Earth without kanji.

Hopefully, this helped you understand why kanji is so important if you’re starting off on the road to fluency! A bumpy road, but we’ll be there to top off your petrol and get the convenience store snacks, then leave the plastic wrappers all over the back seat…. Until next time!

お読みしていだたいてありがとうございました!
Thank you so much for reading!

moshed-2019-1-15-4-40-50
And! If you’re interested in learning some kanji and just a generally fun read, take a look at the Sushi Chef Neko series by Indigo East! There’s another article about it right here:
About the Books  //
Available for Purchase Here 

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