New Joyo Kanji

The Kanji subcommittee of the national language study committee of the culture commission has announced an addition of 191 kanji to the list, which brings it to a new total of 2131. Looking at the full list of the now officially common kanji, I am actually struck at how common so many of them are. In fact, I went through the list and did a quick count, and I saw at least 125 for which I knew at least 1proper usage in Japanese (i.e. reading plus definition or place name), and a couple more I decided not to count because I only know them in Chinese. If I know this many of the 191, with still well under a decade of study of Japanese as a foreign language, I think it’s a safe bet that pretty much any native-speaker high school student knows almost all of them, plus a LOT more. If nothing else, I think we can safely put to bed the myth that “you only need to know about 2000 kanji to read Japanese fluently” because there are only about 2000 on the list of kanji that high school students are officially required to know. The joyo list really is a joke, and while I’m sure in reality you don’t need to know nearly as many characters to be fluent in reading Japanese as you do in Chinese, the numbers are probably not as far apart as is commonly believed.

Interestingly, 5 were also removed from the list, and the one example they give, 銑, I have no recollection of every seeing before, although I’m going to guess it is some sort of farming implement.

Thanks to Curzon for mailing me the article.

37 thoughts on “New Joyo Kanji”

  1. However, the Japanese (language) teachers in my office say that after they start working, the average Japanese person only remembers about 1000 kanji.

  2. Wait, isn’t there legal/regulatory significance to the Joyo list? Like newspapers and magazines are discouraged from printing kanji that aren’t on it?

    I guess this is part of what will make the new JLPT 1kyuu harder.

  3. “the average Japanese person only remembers about 1000 kanji.”

    Probably how to write 1000, no?

  4. Wait – is the Asahi saying that 岡 has not been joyo until now?
    Woah – just checked my Nelson’s – it wasn’t. What the hell were they smoking when they didn’t include it originally?

  5. I guess it probably was on the supplemental list for names, but I can’t believe that a common word like 岩石 was outside the range of Joyo. Not to mention 丼、誰、熊、亀、虎、鍋 and loads more that I am pretty shocked weren’t considered important enough for Joyo. Of course 朕 was on the list, despite most people ever only seeing it used exactly one time.

  6. I was told by a Chinese tutor that one needs between 1500 and 2500 Japanese words to be literate and more than twice that many Chinese words to be literate. Although the person who told me this was using it as proof that the Chinese language is the hardest language in the world, and therefore the Chinese people are the smartest people in the world… so perhaps a grain of salt is required!

    How many characters would you say someone needs to know to read a newspaper?

  7. Actually, I think it’s easy to say, given my experience studying both, that reading Chinese is a lot EASIER than reading Japanese. While you do have to learn more characters in Chinese, 99+% of those characters have only one possible way to read them, while the average Japanese character probably has 2 or 3 different readings and some have FAR more. Proper names of people or places in Japanese are often impossible to read unless you know that particular name, and names written the same way can often even have divergent readings. There is simply nothing like that in Chinese, which incidentally also has easier grammar than Japanese.

    On the other hand, WRITING Chinese is way harder, because there is no fallback if you can’t remember how to write a particular hanzi. In Japanese at least you can always write out a word in hiragana, as evidence to which I offer my exam from yesterday morning…

  8. Hmm. Looks like the wiktionary is wrong. All the online dictionaries and the kojien only list pig iron.

  9. Yeah, I learned it as “pig iron” early on too, but then again that was with the Heisig system that seems to have included a lot of non-joyo kanji. I am pretty sure that 虎, 亀 and 鍋 were in there too. Perhaps it just goes to show that governments make silly decisions when they decide to regulate culture.

  10. Both 亀 and 岡 (and others) probably were in the “kanji for names” list, otherwise how would 亀岡市 exist? Or are official place names not restricted to official kanji?

  11. “Might it not have been in that extra list that includes kanji common in names?”

    Nope, not even there. The mind boggles. 仙 is there, but not 岡.

    As far as I am aware, existing names, including place names, can use any kanji they like. You just can’t create new names. Hence, for example, one prof at my university, Todoroki: 轟.

    Here’s some real stinkers, especially as readings:

    This looks like a fun book:

  12. The addition of some of missing prefecture name kanji to the list was announced this time last year. I think No Sword might have had an entry about it. Here are the ones NHK highlighted:

    阪 ( as in 大阪 Osaka)
    熊 (as in 熊本 Kumamoto)
    奈 (as in 奈良 Nara)
    岡 (as in 岡山 Okayama)
    鹿 (as in 鹿児島 Kagoshima)
    梨 (as in 山梨 Yamanashi)
    阜 (as in 岐阜 Gifu)
    埼 (as in 埼玉 Saitama)
    茨 (as in 茨城 Ibaraki)
    栃 (as in 栃木 Tochigi)
    媛 (as in 愛媛 Ehime)

    There was a lot of coverage of this on TV and in the press which mentioned that the changes were prompted in part by the growing use of computers. This was making life difficult for people with common names like Fujiwara which used the character 藤 (wisteria), previously not on the list. One article mentioned that some characters were originally excluded because they were difficult to write but virtually everyone could read them easily. The widespread use of keypads and keyboards has made the writing issue less relevant. I seem to remember 虎 and 蝶 were also mentioned a lot.

    Late last year, the Agency for Cultural also announced that additional readings for some characters already in the list. You can now officially read 私 as watashi and watakushi.

  13. Talking of 朕, my favourite defunct Joyo Kanji is 爾 Imperial Seal. Okay, I have seen it used a few times on period documents and the like, but if you are reading those then the JK are irrelevant anyway.

  14. Talking of 朕, my favourite defunct Joyo Kanji is 璽Imperial Seal. Okay, I have seen it used a few times on period documents and the like, but if you are reading those then the JK are irrelevant anyway.

  15. “because there is no fallback if you can’t remember how to write a particular hanzi”

    Can’t you cheat and use pinyin?

  16. “You can now officially read 私 as watashi and watakushi.”

    Huh? That wasn’t the case before?

  17. As far as I am aware, existing names, including place names, can use any kanji they like. You just can’t create new names.

    So that explains all those awfully lame names like さいたま市 or つくば市 or my high school’s new name 咲くやこの花高校 (after merging with 此花総合高校).

  18. “Can’t you cheat and use pinyin?”

    If you’re really desperate, you could write Pinyin and it might be understood, but Pinyin isn’t generally considered to be part of Chinese the same way kana is part of Japanese-it’s just a pronunciation guide for Mandarin. Which also brings up another issue-written Chinese is meant to be somewhat universal. It’s not as big an issue these days since almost everyone who can read Chinese knows Mandarin as a second language, but in theory one of the benefits of writing in Chinese is that speakers of any dialect/sinic language can read it in their own native pronunciation.

    Even today pretty much no one in Taiwan understands Pinyin aside from Chinese language teachers, and I bet Hong Kong is the same, although there can’t be many places left where it hasn’t taken over.

  19. “So that explains all those awfully lame names like さいたま市 or つくば市”

    I don’t think so, as 埼玉 and 筑波 are not new names. The trend for hiragana is partially a dumbing-down I think, but that’s just me, and partially a desire to maintain a familiar name but without the baggage that kanji carries – including, and this is perhaps just me as well, a certain stiffness that modern trendy future-looking cities want to avoid.

  20. Pretty sure I read that writing the name of the merged Saitama city in hiragana instead of the traditional kanji was actually a compromise insisted upon by the minor partners in the merger, so people would be able to tell clearly whether the old or new Saitama city was being referred to.

  21. What old Saitama City?

    Actually Wikipedia mentions it as being the results, partially, of public choices, but notes that Omiya was pretty insistent on the name being “Omiya City.”

    Someone on 知恵袋 uses a now defunct link to the city’s site to say that the reason is:

  22. Here’s the official answer:


    1.平仮名の 「さいたま市」は、誰からも埼玉県の県庁所在地であることが分かり、かつ新市名が浸透しやすいこと。

  23. Why did I think there was an old Saitama City? I like how they pulled out the 続日本紀 and 万葉集.

  24. I still remember when they were collecting votes for Saitama City, thinking that the organizers probably wanted 彩 chosen, since Saitama is supposed to be 彩の国. They also wanted to avoid サイ玉市 for obvious reasons. Ostensibly, to make the name look softer and give the city a fresh look, they went with the Hiragana. What I remember in particular, though, was how anal some people were getting with even the hiragana. I watched a junior high school teacher go through a stack of recommendations she had written for students to go to high schools in Urawa, Yono, and Omiya, and change the さ in さいたま市 to one where the final curve is broken. Things had to be “official”…

    “I think it’s a safe bet that pretty much any native-speaker high school student knows almost all of them, plus a LOT more.”
    Roy, I will take you up on this bet, as long as you let me pick the high school.

    Personally, I have given up in trying to figure out why newspapers almost never provide furigana for Chinese names and places, and why seemingly easy kanji (or halves of kanji) are written in kana. Somewhere, a committee may be having long meetings to decide this stuff.

  25. “Roy, I will take you up on this bet, as long as you let me pick the high school.”
    Should I revise to high school graduate? Seriously though, even Japanese people who can barely remember how to write their own name can mostly read a LOT more kanji than you would ever know from official lists like this one.

    “why newspapers almost never provide furigana for Chinese names and places”
    That is so annoying. Same for Korean too-which bothers me more because at least I can read SOME of the Chinese names properly.

  26. I guess since Kanji come from China you’re supposed to be able to just absorb the pure kanjirificness directly without having to worry about that pesky pronunciation problem.

  27. Jade, well played with the Rhino Balls. That was my bad, in that I should have written サい玉, short of course for ダサい玉.

    I’m sophomoric enough to be amused by the fact that 尻 and 拭 are side by side in that list.

    Roy, I’ll bow out on your high school graduate bet, in that most people *could* probably read these kanji. I still don’t think they could write them (hell, if they could, then why would we have all these formulaic quiz shows that reveal which of our favorite “talents” are really luddites and which ones are actually closet kanji nerds?)

  28. “Furigana seems to be pretty common for Korean names, but not for Chinese names”

    I suspect that is because the Koreans are more vocal about the readings. If what you are referring to is what I often see, which is something like 金日正 with キムイルスング as furigana, rather than キンジッセイ (my total guess as how that might be read as a sort of ‘mainland’ name).

  29. @Roy: “Even today pretty much no one in Taiwan understands Pinyin”

    Wouldn’t that be because Pinyin only just became officially unbanned from the Republic of China? Pinyin is a creation of the PRC and therefore was long an anathema to Taiwanese officialdom, which insisted on using the nearly hopeless Wade-Giles system, which is why for example we see Taipei, Taichung, Kinmen and Taitung instead of Taibei, Taizhong, Jinmen and Taidong. I suppose in the near future we will see Taibei spelled properly, but it will take quite a while for everyone to catch on I would think. I mean, how long did it take for people to realize the capital of the PRC was not “Peking”, and never had been?

  30. @Jade: I believe 金日正 was (formerly) キンニッショウ. That was largely to distinguish him from his father 金日成 who was (formerly) キンニッセイ.

    I think possibly another reason why we see more kana representations of Korean names is that the Koreans themselves also have an “alphabet”, and use it for names instead of only using Chinese characters. That and the pronunciation is close enough to Japanese that using kana doesn’t tax things too much. Trying to put Zhou Enlai or Deng Xiaoping into a reasonable kana approximation would be interesting….

    ダング・シアオピング, anyone?

  31. Murphy: It’s actually got nothing at all to do with that. Taiwanese education simply doesn’t use any form of romanization whatsoever. Instead they have a set of phonetic symbols developed specifically for Chinese, which they use instead of pinyin. Taiwanese don’t actually learn Wade-Giles OR Pinyin, and the romanized signs in whatever system exist purely for the benefit of foreigners.

    It is true that the ROC government has historically avoided pinyin due to its association with the PRC, but Wade Giles hasn’t even been the official romanization system for years. It was officially changed to Tongyong Pinyin, a locally developed system that only partially overlaps with Hanyu Pinyin (international style). Unfortunately this entire pinyin issue has been hijacked by the various camps in Taiwan’s political identity wars, even though romanization in Taiwan exists ONLY for the benefit of foreigners! Considering the role pinyin plays it’s really a pretty stupid thing to argue about, and I’m looking forward to its implementation as a standard in Taiwan, even though there is something charming about the mish-mash of inconsistently and incorrectly romanized street signs throughout the country.

    But I must stress again, even standardization of Hanyu Pinyin in Taiwan does NOT mean that the Taiwanese will learn to read it. Their system for phonetic representation of Mandarin used in domestic textbooks, children’s books, and dictionaries is non-roman symbols and although some people want to replace THAT system with Pinyin, I don’t believe that movement has anywhere near the level of support that exists for changing the romanization system, which I will repeat once again, is used only for the benefit of foreigners.

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