Japanese

Wanna Know How to Write in Japanese?

Image credit: Kanko* from Nagasaki, JAPAN

Did you know that there is a correct way to write in Japanese and an incorrect way? It might come as a surprise to you since in English you can write the letters of the alphabet in any way that you like.

What do I mean by this? Well if you were going to write the letter A for example, you could make the arch part by starting at the lower left side, going up, and then coming down and to the right. Or you could do it in the reverse way that I just described and both ways would be fine.

This is not the case in Japanese. There is a specific order for the strokes of each Hiragana, each Katakana, and each Kanji. Fortunately there are a few rules (sometimes they don’t apply) that will help you know how to write in Japanese correctly almost every time, even when it is a brand new Kana or Kanji.

There are a few irregular Kanji however, that you will have to learn the correct stroke order by heart. Let’s start with what will help us out the most and work on the irregulars at a later time.

Stoke order


There are nine rules to follow when writing Japanese. I’m talking primarily about Kanji here, but it also applies to both hiragana and katakana. For the most part the Kanas max out at four strokes, so they are easy to do.

Kanji on the other hand can have upwards of twelve strokes, so knowing the correct stoke order is a lifesaver. Trust me, when you want to look up a new Kanji in the dictionary, you are going to need to know how many strokes are in that bad boy. By knowing the general rules for writing Kanji, you can deconstruct a new one and look it up in the dictionary by stroke count.

Stroke Direction
Stroke Direction

Two last things:

  1. When you draw a horizontal line, go from the left to the right.
  2. When you draw a vertical line, go from the top to the bottom.

Alright, let’s begin!

Rule #1 – Write from the left to the right

SHUU (provence)
SHUU (provence)

Rule #2 – Write from the top to the bottom

SAN (three)
SAN (three)

Rule #3 – Write horizontal lines before vertical lines

I (well)
I (well)

Rule #4 – If symmetrical  (line in middle) do the middle first, then go left, then right

CHII (small)
CHII (small)

Rule #5 – Do the outside (except bottom) before the center

HI (sun)
HI (sun)

Rule #6 – A left diagonal comes before a right diagonal

CHICHI (father)
CHICHI (father)

When you write a diagonal, start at the top, and go down and to the left or right.

Rule #7 – If the middle line PIERCES the Kanji, write it last

NAKA (middle)
NAKA (middle)

By now you will have noticed that a horizontal line that is immediately followed by a line going down is one stroke.

Rule #8 – A horizontal line that PIERCES the middle goes last

KO (child)
KO (child)

Rule #9 – A short left diagonal comes before a horizontal line

MIGI (right)
MIGI (right)

However, a long left diagonal comes after a horizontal line

HIDARI (left)
HIDARI (left)

Whew! What a workout!

I know that may seem like a lot, but there are very good reasons for having proper stroke order.

First of all, it’s a smooth way to go from one stroke to the next in order to create the complete Kanji.

And secondly, everyone’s handwriting is a little bit different from each other. And sometimes a LOT different! But as long as you wrote it the correct way, other people can follow it logically and figure out which Kanji it is.

Now I want to hear from you! Did you find it hard? Easy? Interesting? Have you every written things like Kanji before? Let me know!

2 Comments

  • Summerly

    Wow this is very interesting. I didn’t know that there was a proper way to write in Japanese, even though you will still end up with the same outcome. Why is that? Because you still end up with the same result, why are there rules you need to follow to get there, and you can’t just write it anyway you wish? Seems like there is alot to learn but it is very interesting.

    • Nick

      Yeah, so first of all there’s an efficiency to it. Just like how English cursive writing has a correct way to write each letter in order for the whole thing to be done in a quick and smooth fashion.

      Also, when you encounter a Kanji you don’t know, if you know the rules on how to construct it, you can then DE-construct it to figure out how many strokes the Kanji is composed of. This is necessary because when you look up Kanji in a dictionary they are organized by stoke count.

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