Bad news everyone. It looks like if you want to be considered as a literate member of the Japanese society, you’re going to have to learn an additional 196 kanji to make it in every day life. A proposal is in (and it seems like it’s going to pass… I guess the folks at the Agency For Cultural Affairs don’t have anything better to do) to increase “everyday kanji” to 2136 (that’s up from 1945).
It’s Happened Before
Changing the number of Joyo kanji (i.e. all the kanji you’re supposed to know if you want to be a functioning adult) isn’t new, though. They’ve done it a good number of times in the past.
1923: There were 1962 kanji considered to be standard kanji everyone should learn.
1931: This number went down to 1858 (how great would it be to live back when kanji numbers were this low? It feels like we’re talking gas prices, here).
1942: There was a lot of nationalistic fervor going on, so they jacked the kanji numbers up to 2528. Who cares about all the death and tragedy from the war. The real tragedy is the number of kanji kids had to learn. This was the true kanjipocolypse.
1946: Things came back under control, and kanji goes down to 1850. I’m actually surprised by this one, especially since there was so much interest in “Japanese-ness” because of the occupation. I would have guessed this number to be higher, but perhaps they just switched back to pre-war numbers, shifting a few around to make it seem different.
1981: This is the number most of you know now, if you’re shooting for Joyo proficiency. Right now you learn 1945 kanji, and this is also the number I use on TextFugu (though I actually get rid of some of the useless ones), and a lot of other people use it too. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens when this number goes up.
November, 2010: This is when it’s looking like things could go through officially. At this time, Joyo kanji will jump from 1945 to 2136. This is going to be fun!
Why The Kanji Change, Guys?
So, there is actually some logic behind this change (believe it or not!). It seems as though technology is changing the way people interact with kanji, making it so recognizing kanji is more important than being able to write it properly. It’s the same with English, too. Ask me how to spell almost anything with more than three words and I’ll get it wroung. If spell check didn’t exist, it’d be over for me.
Writing in Japanese is as simple as writing out the sounds and then picking the correct kanji that you want to correlate with that sound. As long as you can recognize the kanji, you can also write it (at least, with your cell phone, computer, or iPad). Since more people are relying on these devices, the powers that be decided that they should add some “commonly used kanji” to the master list, even though many people don’t know how to write them. Since technology is changing the way we read and write, though, it seems to work out okay.
So, you can thank your iPhones, iPads, laptops, computers, and so on for this 10% increase in kanji you’ll have to learn, come this November.
Oh, well, there is one consolation prize. Even though they’re adding 196 kanji, they’re removing some too. How many? Well… it’s only five, but I’m sure they’re really really useless, and you probably never learned them anyways.
So how will you prepare for the kanjipocolypse?
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