漢字 [kanji] to an outsider, at some point in their Japanese learning career, has taken on the meaning ‘headache’ rather than its actual meaning, ‘Chinese characters’. It’s probably the most dreaded part about tackling this notoriously difficult language. There is an endless rainbow of controversy over whether it’s necessary or not. Usually, the “it’s not” argument comes from the individual who has yet to conquer the quest of Khan. The one who doesn’t want to punch in the time.
I’ll admit, I was on the ‘nay’ side in round one of my fight with 日本語, the dark ages of textbook Japanese in the realm of the classroom. I had so many reasons why I thought I didn’t need 漢字. One of the first I ever learned was 下 [below]. Simple enough. However, I could hardly grasp the idea of why it was used in 下さい when the word didn’t literally have anything to do with going ‘down’, and ください was just as easily written using characters from the actual Japanese alphabet which are much more straight forward as far as reading. Look how many strokes it takes to write 日本語 over にほんご: twenty-three to twelve. 好き vs. すき. It just didn’t make sense time-wise. On top of that, it is strongly frowned upon if each stroke is not written in its proper order. Why does that have any importance?! Plus, you add into the equation that each 漢字 can, and almost always will, have more than one reading. How are you supposed to know which is used at what time!?! Not only that, but also, many individual 漢字 have more than one meaning/idea attached to them. What’s the point of having pictures represent ideas and things when they switch their meanings at any given time!?!?
Absolutely 100% not worth the trouble, I thought.
Of course, I now have a slightly, completely different point of view. I know a lot more of the facts behind why things are the way they are. I now think 漢字 is pretty darn nifty, and here’s why:
Have you ever seen a whole page of kana? Holy dingle-berries, where does one word stop and the next begin? With a language that has no spaces and a limited set of combinations of sounds, it’s gonna be like the newspaper’s Sunday morning word search trying to figure which is what (though particles definitely can help in that kind of situation). 漢字 breaks up the text so it’s not a constant guessing game over whether that is a topic particle ‘は’[WA] or a regular ‘は’[HA]. Plus, it is a lot easier on the eyes. Sentences just look nicer and more balanced with 漢字 thrown into the mix.
Before I thought 漢字 was important, whenever I read some Japanese, I skipped all the 漢字, which allowed me to read only half the page and grasp zero ideas of what was going on. If you know the meanings of the 漢字, you won’t even have to know any Japanese to be able to piece together what a page of text is saying. Just look at the pictures and you should be able to get a general idea of what is happening in the article. This can give you a slight edge when taking written tests in classes that use 漢字 they have yet to teach, (“You may not know all the Japanese, but use your best knowledge and imagination”). I like being in the know. 漢字 helps me actually visualize what is being described, and you know how gay I am for visualization. I’m a lot more satisfied with my Japanese baby now that it’s peacefully coinciding with Khan.
漢字 people. Learn it. Perhaps the girthiest cloud of controversy over 漢字’s head is not why to learn it, but how to learn it. As for me, I recommend you learn it right from the get-go, before you learn anything else. Actually, completely separate it from your Japanese project so you don’t associate its “difficult” vibes with the language itself. Trust me, it gets tedious and you’ll want to quit. Don’t! You’ll be glad you kept at it. It will make your Japanese journey a whole lot smoother and more enjoyable down the road. I used the Heisig method, which involves attaching an English keyword to each 漢字 and recognizing each one by creating a story that breaks it up into parts. I didn’t even read the book, ‘Remembering the Kanji’. I just used the general idea, downloaded a deck of 3000+ in my SRS [Spaced Repetition Sequence [electronic flashcards]] and went at it.
Honestly, 漢字 really isn’t that bad if you allow yourself time to soak it up. Japan is not gonna punt Mr. Khan to the curb any time soon [EVER], so you will need him if you want to be functional in their society as well as be able to fully enjoy their society. Make it a part of your everyday as Japanese people do. They can’t avoid it. It’s all around them. They bathe in it. They’re used to it. You can get used to it, too. Suds up, buck-o!
Accept your quest. Let your baby play with a Mongolian warlord.