The “science” of Kanji, part 5: stroke order mattersPosted: March 18, 2011 | Author: Doug 陀愚 | Filed under: Chinese, Japanese, JLPT, Language | 4 Comments »
I wanted to end the week on a lighter note, so I thought this would be a nice topic to discuss. So, I have bad handwriting. Really bad handwriting. I remember being 6 years old, and having to practice writing A B C in school on “practice” paper with thick lines (similar to what’s sold here, style #2), but I always did a sloppy job. I have no patience for handwriting I guess. I also had no patience for coloring either; I remember doing that very poorly too and annoying my first-grade teacher.
When I started to learn Japanese in college, I also had little patience for writing. I can read hiragana easily, almost naturally now, but I struggle to write it. Kanji is even worse, because they characters are more complicated, and although I can read words, I can’t write them from memory. I can type them however without much trouble. I studied Mandarin in high-school for 2 years, so I learned stroke-order and basics, but that was 15 years ago, and I never practiced it since.
Also, since writing is not part of the JLPT, I’ve always ignored it until recently. I forget why, but I finally decided I needed to fix my handwriting, both in English and in Japanese, so I bought Kodansha’s Hiragana Workbook. It’s a pretty useful book (my wife is similarly impressed). On weekends, I practice along with my daughter, who is also learning to write in both (so far her Japanese is a lot stronger than her English), and in the evening I sometimes practice too, though not very often. This photo, taken at work, was me doodling on a notepad on my desk, practicing a few basic hiragana letters, and some kanji that were in poems from the Hyakunin Isshu. I write the poetry on my board at work, so that I can memorize the poems easily, but first I had to practice first on a notepad to get it right.
In order to learn correct stroke-order for kanji I write on the board, I looked up the kanji on this website, which has animated pictures of kanji being drawn, and soon discovered I was writing some of them wrong. For example, 動. I wrote the first line in the wrong direction (left to right, not right to left as is correct), and the final two strokes were backwards. As soon as I did it correctly, my writing looked better.
Also, notice the straight lines at the top. My wife has studied calligraphy since she was a little girl, and even taught a little bit to children here in Seattle (Japanese school). She explained to me that you have to practice basics like drawing horizontal straight lines over and over, many, many times. You also have to practice drawing vertical lines too. So I’ve been trying to follow her advice. It’s actually kind of hard to draw a straight line like that. You might be surprised. Part of the reason for doing that, besides better hand control, is also developing a sense of balance. When writing kana or kanji, you should have a good sense of balance for each part, otherwise, one part is too big, one is too small, too far away, etc.
I realize, as I get older, that a lot of non-technical skills are actually really important. I spent my 20′s relying a lot on technology both as a career, and also my way to solve problems, but in recent times I’ve begun to appreciate traditional “technology” more and more. I like using pencils, paper, and other basics, and prefer reading books to reading websites more. Technology is great until it breaks, crashes, gets stolen, or has a software bug that ruins your day, plus learning things like basic handwriting, writing cards to people, and such are timeless traditions I need to learn more.
Also, astute observers will notice the comic on the right. That is the second issue of Seinto Oniisan, which I mentioned here. This comic is pretty funny, and uses a lot of very casual, conversation Japanese, which can be different than what you study in books. That’s important to know if you actually intend to converse with Japanese people.