こんにちにゃあ！Welcome to Kiki+Koko: Let’s NihonGO!! Online in blog form for your quick referencing. We’re your hosts, Kiki and Koko, playing ‘one word story’ improv amongst the two of us until a fully coherent lesson is created.
Today, we’re taking a look at stroke order! What is it? And, do you need it? First, we’ll take a quick look at the exact nature of stroke order or 筆順, hitsujun.
If you’ve started to learn how to write in Japanese, chances are, you’ve already run into 筆順, hitsujun. Just as many two-word phrases and compound words, we can decipher what this is by reversing the words: stroke order is just the order of the strokes in a character. Whether it’s hiragana, katakana, or especially kanji, stroke order is basically the rules or guidelines of how to write them in order of stroke. (And if words like hiragana, katakana, and kanji are total nonsense to you, we recommend that if you haven’t already, you read our article: How do you write in Japanese.)
You might think to yourself, rules? Regulations? What a hassle, man! Chill with the rules, my dude– To which, we’d reply with—Well we’d reply with nothing because we’re not telepathic…yet.
But, a valid thought if nothing else: do you really NEED to learn stroke order? Is it like the pirate code? (the code is more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.) Now, we’ll give you both the responsible teacher answer and the realistic answer. The responsible teacher answer is: YES, you really need to learn stroke order if you want to learn how to write in Japanese; stroke order is essential and something you can’t ignore. It’s the backbone of learning to write and you literally cannot learn to write without it. [/end responsible teacher answer]
If you don’t like the responsible teacher answer—which we’re not huge fans of either, so confining—then maybe you’ll like the realistic answer… which is a yes but actually no…but actually yes, but… We’ll explain… by giving you all of the reasons why stroke order might secretly be your friend… Or dare we say, more than friends? Best friends?
#6. Stroke Order Helps Researching Kanji By Radical and Digital Dictionary Input
When you dive into the deep end of the pool of kanji knowledge, chances are, you’ll start reading something or a kanji that you don’t know how to read or don’t know the definition, yet you might know the general rules of stroke order to apply to it. This is where 筆順, hitsujun, can swoop in and save the day. And, if you’re not totally familiar with those rules, if anything, it helps you break down each piece of it to look up the kanji by radical. The kanji 憂鬱, yuuutsu, or melancholy, would be difficult to suss out without stroke order to figure out the radicals, knowing what piece was what.
#5. Stroke Order Helps You Read Handwriting
Another really helpful feature of stroke order is that it can help you identify even the messiest handwriting– Let’s face it, even if you use the correct stroke order, sometimes it might not look like perfect calligraphy. Every character written won’t look exactly like it does on your computer screen or printed in a textbook. Sometimes a stroke will be off to the side or rounded, looped over, but it’ll usually have a bit of sense to be made of it due to stroke order. This also helps when reading fancy or cute fonts more easily.
#4. Stroke Order Improves Legibility and Handwriting
Let’s say your handwriting just isn’t the best. It could be messy or wobbly, but that’s okay! With stroke order, it gives a general vicinity for legibility and something for people to follow– If anything, the stroke order will improve your handwriting. If you
#3. Stroke Order Helps You Differentiate VERY Similar Looking Characters
We could make an entire series on how many characters are much more easily differentiated with stroke order. A very simple example is 人 and 入. The differences might seem different based on if you know stroke order. If you’re not familiar with how 人 and 入 are written, you might think 入 is 人 with a line on top, when actually, 人, hito, actually has the left stroke on top which doesn’t really show up in this and many fonts, whilst 入, nyuu, has the right line on top. They’re still drawn in the same order but in different ways.
#2. Stroke Order Simplifies Writing
If you look at kana or kanji, it can look a bit overwhelming and you might not even know where a stroke starts or ends. Breaking this into guidelines really helps to guide you to a writing a character properly.
Though, maybe you’re someone who just gets overwhelmed memorising the exact stroke order and which way it goes– You might write and wonder, is this the first or third stroke? and get caught up in it, making it more difficult and stressful. And for those people, we say, start with stroke order to break it down in your head, and if you’re writing and another way just sticks with you more so, or it’s easier, we don’t see a whole lot of harm in that. It’s always best to learn the proper way, but hey, we understand, sometimes something else just clicks in your mind. Stroke order is like in maths when you do a different and simpler way that still gets the same result, but it’s different than the instructor’s method– We say, you do you, and we’ll still help you. Think, do you write ABCs using the proper stroke order…? You at least start off using the proper writing pattern which helps you memorise it.
Again, when it comes to kanji, it really can help to simplify things, and you’ll find yourself relying heavily on it to get a grasp of each character.
#1. Stroke Order Helps with Overall Memorisation
This is probably most important of all! Despite a lot of communication being done on the computer, a lot of learning is kinetic. If you move you involve as many senses as possible in learning, you’ll be more likely to remember it and retain it. So, in continuing to write a character the exact same way each time, you’ll be able to recall it more easily and it will stick with you.
Also, it’s not all that difficult once you get into it– Kanji reuses a lot of the first 100 you learn along with different simple radicals. So by learning this, you’ll find you’ll already know most of another kanji. It just helps your brain piece things together in a more logical and rule based way rather than a chaos of lines and squiggles.
So, in the end, while we really wanted to give more reasons to skirt the rules, the answer is… yes, you probably should learn the stroke order. The Japanese education system thinks students should, and their adult literacy rate of 99% can’t be wrong… Plus, hey, once you DO know the general rules of stroke order, you honestly don’t need to pay as much attention to it– Once you know your first 100 or so kanji, you’ll be more likely to even guess the stroke order based on what you’ve seen so far.
We’re not going to force you to learn stroke order, but *cough* we mean… that’s going to be a lot of the upcoming lessons, so….we think it’s useful, so.. so… You should probably do it, then. Learn the stuff. Do the thing. Be your best.
Thank you so much for reading!