If you’re using Japanese these days, it’s most likely in a digital format. Reading and writing are primarily done on phones and computers, which means there’s a chance your handwriting is atrophying.
To avoid that, I’m going to give you some tips to improve your Japanese penmanship.
Is it even necessary to be able to write Japanese these days? Perhaps not.
Back when I was a kid, we had to take cursive writing in school as a mandatory subject. But nowadays kids are learning how to type, instead of how to write.
Still, there are some benefits to writing Japanese as a method of learning it. And things like love-letters will never go out of style. If you’re going to write Japanese anyway, you might as well get good at it.
Tips When It Comes To Writing In General
(1) – You should use a “correct” grip when you write. There are many different ways to hold a pen, some of them are good and some of them are not so good.
As it turns out, many people actually have very nice looking and neat writing even though the way they hold a pen is considered “incorrect.”
Does it really matter as long as the end result looks good?
You could argue it either way, but I believe that the primary reason why you would want to use a proper grip is because it puts less stress on the muscles and joints in your hand.
If you are going to be writing a lot, then you really want to think long term about the way you go about it. It might feel uncomfortable switching the way you use a writing utensil, but with repeated use it will start to feel perfectly natural.
(2) – Use an appropriate amount of pressure. You want to have a firm enough grip so that you can write smoothly and maintain total control over the whole writing process, but not overdo it as holding it too tightly can lead to fatigue.
When you put the pen to the paper you need to press hard enough to transfer the ink, but not so hard that you are at risk of tearing the paper.
It’s a balancing act for sure, but with repeated practice it becomes second nature.
(3) – Think ahead while writing. You shouldn’t start writing a letter until you know it from beginning to end. You want there to be no hesitation while you are in the middle of writing.
That confidence of moving from one part of the letter to the next in a single, fluid movement will contribute to a much more aesthetic appearance.
(4) – Slow Down when you write. Your first goal should be to write in a nice and neat manner. Once you’re consistently producing quality penmanship, you will naturally begin to increase in speed.
It’s all about forming the correct habit first, and then letting it move from a conscious process to an unconscious one with repeated practice. Once you can do it without thinking about it, your written words per minute goes up.
(5) – Write on the line. An easy mistake to make is to have letters that are at different heights and of different sizes from one another. The best way to correct this is to have lines that you can write in so that all letters start and stop on the same level.
I’ve talked about letters with the above tips because these are things you can use with the English alphabet right away.
Getting better at the above techniques will also help you to get better when writing Japanese.
But there are a few specific things to writing Kanji and Kana that you should also be aware of.
Tips Specifically For Writing Kanji And Kana
(1) – Use the correct stroke order. Of course you knew I was going to mention this one! This is something that gets made out to be a lot more difficult that it really needs to be.
There’s definitely a depth of knowledge when it comes to it, for example there are as many as 8 different types of strokes!
But the two Kana scripts are super simple (4 stroke maximum per Kana) and the majority of Kanji follow the exact same patterns, allowing you to correctly guess how to write ones you’ve never encountered before once you get a feel for them in general.
Correct stroke order is kind of like correct cursive writing in English: the rules exist to make it easier for you to write, and for other people to read.
Even when your Kanji are looking a little sloppy, as long as you used correct stroke order other people can follow the pattern and decipher what your wrote.
(2) – Instead of lines, write in boxes! As I’m sure you know, Kanji were originally pictures of the things they represented. But once people started writing lots of Kanji next to one another, it became very difficult to keep everything uniform.
Thus, all Kanji went through a transformation of “being squared off” so they all looked nice when written in succession. This means that the best way to practice writing Japanese is by filling up squares in a pleasing manner.
What kind of paper can you buy like this? It’s called Graph Paper.
(3) – When you’re starting out, WRITE BIG. Just like it’s okay at first to write slowly so that you develop the correct muscle memory, it is also okay for you to write Kana and Kanji in a bigger than normal format so that you can get the stroke order down, and make everything look nice.
Then as you get better, you should be able to shrink the size of your writing down to a normal level without losing that clean appearance to each character.
(4) – Trace a print-out. Look, we all learned how to write by imitation when we were kids. There’s really no reason why you can do that again, but this time with Japanese.
All you have to do is write out (or copy-paste) a Japanese sentence into a document like Word and then make the characters large and change the color to a light gray.
Then you can print out as many sheets as you like and just follow the lines until you’ve mastered it.
Recap and What’s Next?
Let’s review all nine points from this post so that the overall process is easy to see and understand. The Japanese specific tips are underlined:
- Use a correct grip
- Use an appropriate amount of pressure
- Think ahead before you write
- Slow down while you write
- Write on the line
- Use correct stroke order
- Write in boxes
- Write big
- Trace an outline of the Kanji / Kana
Now that you know how to write beautiful Kana and Kanji, you might start doing it all the time to master the language.
Or you could go old school and find a pen pal over in Japan to write letters to and have fun that way.
Either way, I hope you got a lot out of this article. Thanks for reading!
Further Resources for Learning Japanese: