Should you learn to write by hand in Japanese?


We live in an increasingly digital world. As a consequence, the importance of handwriting has diminished – why write a letter when you can send an email? A lot of Japanese learners may think that learning to write Japanese by hand is a waste of time.

Especially with all the apps and other digital materials out there for Japanese study, it is even easier to skip learning handwritten Japanese and to stick to typing kana and kanji instead.

The major argument for avoiding writing Japanese is often that Japanese people don’t remember how to write kanji any more. There is certainly evidence to suggest this is a growing trend.

So, in the light of all this, is learning to handwrite Japanese worth it for Japanese learners?

When it comes to studying Japanese, I believe that learning to write by hand is a good skill to have, although in a lot of situations handwriting is no longer necessary in Japan.

How important it is for you as a Japanese learner to practice handwriting will depend on two questions.

The first question to ask yourself is: ‘What is your language goal?’

If this includes living in Japan at some point, being able to handwrite the basics is a minimum requirement. Particularly in rural areas, you will be required to write certain things such as your address by hand when completing essential tasks such as setting up a bank account.

Similarly, if you want to become a student in Japan you could get asked to write rather than type your assignments. Needless to say, attending a language school in Japan will involve writing your homework by hand.

The second question to ask yourself is: ‘How do you study best?’

I am always writing things down as a way of remembering things. For me, this also applies to language learning: I personally find it much easier to memorise new vocabulary/ kanji when I write them out by hand.

There is some evidence to suggest that in general, writing is a more effective way to study compared to typing.

Ultimately you are the person who has the deepest understanding of how you learn best. If you don’t have to write things down in order to remember them, then using handwriting as a study method is likely to be a futile exercise.

A couple of caveats…

Technology is a great thing, but you shouldn’t be entirely reliant on it. Making sure you recognise how things should look in written Japanese will avoid any potential for embarrassment.

I would recommend learning the stroke order of radicals – having a basic knowledge of the building blocks of kanji means you’ll be able to write neatly should you find yourself in a situation where you absolutely must handwrite Japanese.

In addition, whether you decide to learn to write by hand in Japanese or not, there are differences between handwritten and typed fonts for both kana and kanji, so make sure that you as a Japanese learner are aware of these.

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Note: TheJapanGirl’s post on this topic has some great infographics and is definitely worth checking out!

I am interested to hear other people’s opinions on this. Do you think that handwriting is a necessity in today’s age, whether that be in Japanese or any other language?


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0 thoughts on “Should you learn to write by hand in Japanese?”

  1. Personally i believe it is. While you may not be required to write everything, and a lot may be digital now, at some point you will most likely have to write in Japanese unless your goal is simply to go for a vacation. In addition to this it also helps you learn and retain the language, even if you don’t normally learn that way, it is important to do when learning a language. I have found that if i forget to write some new word down at least once, that i quickly forget it, but that if i write it, i remember it.

  2. I personally think handwriting is a necessary part of life no matter what language it is in. For me, writing in a new language is also quite fun! I keep a journal and I think it will be fun to flip through old journals and see myself writing entries in Korean (what I’m currently learning).
    I think it’s just important in general to become familiar with different fonts of a language because if you learn in one set type of font, then can’t read any signs once you finally visit the country because the font is different, well then, you’ll be in a bit trouble lol. I think handwriting is skill that should remain as important as reading or speaking even with the changes in technology.

    1. Thanks for your comment – I agree with everything you’ve said. Handwriting in Japanese feels different to typing in the language, I think it’s quite fun. I would love to be able to write in Korean, I think handwritten Korean looks beautiful!

  3. I’m going to be an exchange student in Japan so I’ll definitely need it 😀 Actually I find it very helpful to take notes from books, videos and websites handwriting.
    I think that being able to write clearly even not knowing the exact stroke order should be a basic skill for language learners. Useful skill but for me it isn’t a useful learning tool actually… Handwriting in kana became natural but kanji… well writing them down doesn’t help me remembering them at all XD

    Bye from Kama! <3

    1. Hi Kama, thanks for your comment 🙂 Where will you be doing your study abroad?
      I have to handwrite my notes when I’m studying so I guess I am a little biased towards handwriting in Japanese. At least if you know the stroke order you will be fine if you need to write kanji!

      1. I still don’t know the exact place because I haven’t been placed in a host family yet, maybe they’ll tell me something in April… I hope XD

          1. Ohh that’s so cool! It’s the first time I know someone who has been an exchange student in Japan 😀 Where did you go?

          2. I was in Hokkaido, in a place called Otaru. Getting used to the cold was a bit of a shock at first but it is very nice in summer!

  4. Interesting question this. It does depend a lot on your goals but for me it is a complete waste of time. The inordinate amount of time devoted to writing kanji put me off continuing university studies in Japanese. If you are set on living in Japan then I can see advantages. If you are interested in learning more languages though it can eat up a lot of time that you could be using for those. I think that knowing how to write on a keyboard is more than enough and digitally kanji can be far more efficient than roman letters. Kanji can have that semantic function that makes them like emoji beyond their pure grammatical function (like the way Japanese people use 笑 in texts).

    1. Thanks for commenting Rinn. My university course did initially put a lot of emphasis on writing kanji (we also had one optional class a week dedicated to it) but only a few people would attend these classes as clearly they were not helpful to everyone.
      Learning kanji is time consuming, whatever works for your long term goals is always best 🙂

  5. I have a similar debate with Chinese characters. I’m used to typing on the phone or computer, so I can recognize characters fairly well. But I can’t hand-write them from scratch. I thought it wouldn’t be an issue until I found myself in China having to write an address on a piece of paper.

    1. Thank you for comnenting. I found myself in a similar situation. I used to practice handwriting characters, but I wasn’t sure what the point of all the practice was – until I got to Japan and had to fill in all these forms. I was fortunate in that my address etc was quite easy to remember but it is definitely something to memorise if possible.

      I feel like with the sheer number of characters to learn, I would probably take the same approach as you if I started studying Chinese though.

  6. Writing helps me remember, so I’m on the handwriting is important side of the fence. Of course, I’m also living here which probably has an influence on that. Filling out forms while looking up kanji is no fun!

  7. In my opinion, writing by hand in Japanese is necessary. Although more and more Japanese texts are being typewritten, there are still a lot of scenarios where you would need to write Japanese down, like writing an essay in a test or writing letters for your boss or loved one.

    1. Hi Tyson, thanks for commenting 🙂 That is very true in my experience too. Stationery is so nice in Japan that it is a shame not to make use of it whenever possible!

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