Approach to handwritten Japanese

You may disagree, but I would argue that learning handwriting is very important and that it’s never too early. For one thing, writing things down as you learn them is a proven way to more effectively cement information into your memory, for all kinds of studying. And if you’re going to write Japanese then you should learn to do it correctly from the beginning.

I will cosign the Kanji Study app. The one problem is that you have to upgrade to premium to unlock more than a small handful of kanji. A good free option is the Kanji Tree app.


Learning to write kanji by hand is very satisfying and I learned how to write ~150 kanji by hand, but I spent so much time to learn something that I’ll hardly ever use. Maybe I should start practicing writing kanji again while immersing though.

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I second the notion that it’s good policy to know how to write what it is you’re reading.

If you want to learn the kanji, you may also wish to take a look at the app KAIZEN on iphone. It not only has oral training but also, sorted by N5-N1, the kanji with stroke order, including Hiragana and Katakana. You can either write using your finger or an appropriate stylus for iPhone or iPad. Please note it’s a paid app.

Or, you can also just look up the kanji you’re learning on, which I find is good practice for increased knowledge of both usage and additional meanings to what WK is showing me. There you’ll also find the proper sequence and direction of the strokes making up the kanji.

hope this helps


I have heard that knowing how to write kanji correctly and with proper stroke order is vital in being able to read kanji that is written in a “cursive” calligraphic style that you may frequently see, such as the following:


That is correct, but depending on how cursive it is, knowing the right stroke order may not suffice because various written ‘abbreviations’ and forms of shorthand are applied and the stroke order may be changed in order to make it possible to write faster. However, it’s true that most of the stroke order for each kanji will stay roughly the same – at the very least, strokes from the same kanji components will tend to be executed as a group – and that does help with deciphering cursive scripts. In general, knowing standard stroke order is very helpful for decipher 行書(ぎょうしょ), the semi-cursive style, but slightly less useful for deciphering 草書(そうしょ), the fully cursive style. The reason for this is that the cursive style is based on 隷書(れいしょ), clerical script, and not on 楷書(かいしょ), which is the everyday stroke-by-stroke standard style that we’re used to seeing in printed books. 行書, on the other hand, is based on 楷書, which is why they’re visually much more similar.

Your example is a poem by 李白(りはく), an Ancient Chinese poet. I can’t read the whole thing, but I got lucky with handwriting recognition and made use of the kanji I can read (日本、明、月、不、白、雲、色) to find the source text in Traditional Chinese:


It’s true (based on the experience of people on these forums) that you don’t need to learn to write kanji in order to be able to read them. However, it does help you remember them, and it will most certainly help you differentiate very complex kanji with multiple components. That aside though, if you keep at it, you’ll eventually start to notice patterns that make learning (or guessing) stroke order much easier, and you’ll be able to memorise kanji with very little effort. (I’m a Chinese speaker, so I’m speaking from experience.) For example, kanji are almost always written from left to right and top to bottom, and radicals are almost always written with exactly the same stroke order in all kanji.

What I suggest is that, if you decide to learn how to write while studying kanji in general, you not aim to memorise stroke orders perfectly before moving on to the next kanji. That will certainly be time-consuming and frustrating. What you should do is to simply do your best, and perhaps revise stroke order each time you encounter a kanji you already know. You can also write a few example sentences from time to time with the kanji you know. In other words, I’m suggesting you approach learning kanji stroke order like a native speaker would, just minus the handwriting exercises that any native speaker is bound to be expected to do at some point.


Whether or not you attempt to learn calligraphy is really up to you, but I would say that it’s likely that native speakers across the kanji sphere (China, Japan and Korea) tend to find forms that are similar to calligraphy more aesthetically pleasing: we’re all taught to use brushstroke characters as our models, after all. As such, it might be worthwhile to at least attempt to make your handwriting a little more like calligraphy.

As it happens, someone else very recently asked a question like yours, so I’ll take the liberty of posting a link to my answer here:

The first sections cover what’s available for learning the absolute basics of writing kanji (i.e. stroke order and general shape). I think is the best-suited resource for WaniKani users, and best of all, it’s completely free.

However, if you want to go further and learn how to write beautiful kanji, then you should consider the resources I mention further down, which include a calligraphy course covering elementary school kanji. Getting hold of a calligraphy course is going to make your life much easier in this regard, because without some fundamental ideas about calligraphy in your head, the best you can do is blindly imitate what you see in models, which can be difficult and frustrating. The only way to make calligraphy skills easier to acquire is to have guiding principles that allow you to ask and answer the question ‘what makes this kanji beautiful, and how can I improve mine?’ (The calligraphy course should also be, besides, fun reading practice.) You can also take a look at free resources like

The main issues with such resources is that they’re often brush-calligraphy-oriented, so they may not cover what you need to know personally. (In the case of what I’ve just posted, that’s not true, thankfully, at least in the case of the Twitter account and the YouTube channel, but more generally speaking, it’s true, because most native speakers have already learnt the basics of writing with a pen in school.)

Side note: the final section of the post above lists two apps (one for iOS, and one for Android) that can be used for studying kanji stroke order. I’ve very little experience with them though, so I don’t know how good they are for your purposes.

Finally, if you choose to take up calligraphy, you might also want to look at this old post, in which I made a list of a few of the features to look out for when trying to write kanji nicely:

I hope this is helpful. All the best. :slight_smile:


Yep, can confirm, I know the stroke order of most of my kanji, but some of the fonts you get are complete gibberish. :sweat_smile:

It’s one ingredient to help with inference I would say. Yet, like with reading any sort of stylised text, I’d say it’s primarily practice. Stuff like learning/observing the common short-cuts people take and understanding how different radicals look different depending on the style.

I read an article (I don’t have the link unfortunately, but I think it was from the national archive if anyone wants to search for it :slightly_smiling_face:) wherein they explained a bunch of common traits in mediaeval writing of the Latin script. This would obviously help with kanji and the like as well, if there was an article or guide that offered the same information but with regards to the kanji style of certain periods. @Jonapedia, I figure if anyone’ll know, it’ll be you :wink:; got any good guides of the like I was just describing?


None in English, unfortunately, and if we’re talking about the cursive script (草書)… well, I did find this radical table:
However, 草書 is so difficult to grasp without practice (and so different from the standard script) that if you’re not used to standard strokes to begin with, I don’t think it’ll be possible to memorise these radicals: I barely know them myself, because the course I bought myself a few years ago was on 行書. Plus, in order to be able to write them without explanation, you need to have a feel for how brush or pen strokes might flow into one another, which you can only acquire with experience (and with some idea of standard stroke order, so you can see how people tend to link strokes as writing gets faster). Finally, just looking at the number of possibilities for each symbol on that page, you’ll realise that 草書 effectively takes a writing system for a context-heavy language and makes the writing itself context-based, because in order to read it, you need to have an idea of which kanji exist and which would make sense in a given context. That’s why I personally only learn the 草書 forms of individual characters on occasion: I’ll probably only be able to acquire the system in full with a course.

I think your best bet, honestly, is to simply search for the other forms of common kanji in Google Images like so:「[kanji] 草書」or「[kanji] 行書」. The results will show you what’s going on. (For 行書, at the very least, you’ll be able to visually deduce what’s happened if you have stroke order knowledge). That aside… you could also look at side-by-side comparisons like those you’ll find in these videos:

You can also take a look at stuff like this:

which is from this page: 『行書の書き方【へん】』


Can I ask which course? And for that matter, which courses on this topic you recommend in general?

Thanks for the other advice though; very useful!

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Everything I can recommend is in Chinese, so I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to suggest anything. :joy: I’m really sorry about that, but if you really want to know, it was a course by 田英章, a Chinese calligrapher, on 行书. (That’s how it’s written in Simplified Chinese). If you want to try searching the internet for resources on calligraphy, the word to use in Japanese is 書道(しょどう), and the word in Chinese is 書法・书法.

The one course I recommended on writing in Japanese is this one:

(I mentioned it in the post I linked to above on the ‘Japanese writing resources?’ thread.) It contains lots of helpful stuff about how to make the basic strokes, kanji shapes and proportions, and so on. However, it doesn’t cover the semi-cursive and cursive forms. To learn about those, you need something else, like, say, a course specifically about one of those forms. I think the easiest thing you can do to learn about them without being able to read such a course would be to take a look at YouTube videos and pictures for samples. You should probably start with the channel I mentioned above, which I’ll repost here:

At the very least, a few of his basic videos are subtitled in many languages, including English. In actuality, if you learn how to write kana from his videos, you’ll already get a basic idea of how calligraphy flows, because the hiragana are derived from 草書. In order to fully understand what I mean, you’ll need to know how the hiragana evolved from their source kanji. I posted a video about that on a thread I created myself, which is here:

I hope that’ll help you to work out the basics and give you some ideas until you’re able to read calligraphy courses in Japanese. :slight_smile:


This is my nightmare.


Definitely recommended as it will enforce your kanji knowledge :slight_smile: . I recently switched from regular pencils to automatic and they’re a LOT better for those tiny kanji details.


Hi Munetta. I’m throwing in my slightly asteroidal viewpoint… I’m kind of dashing through learning Japanese as if I have a comet trail burning behind me. LOL.

I mostly use Google translate in 12-key flick input. But when I’m reading, and I don’t know the reading (most of the time LOL) I use handwriting input. I still haven’t bothered to try radical lookup on jisho… Because I get what I need without it…

I practice writing kanji with my finger on that handwriting input mode A LOT. It’s great, because then you get your row of suggested kanji that Almighty Google thinks you wrote, and then you can see what you should have done. :nerd_face:

Buh! I have the radical wrong in the top right!

I write dictation on the handwriting input from my listening practice: Phooey!, I put り instead of れ and got the verb conjugation wrong!

I unintentionally got darned good at handwriting while I was “reading” a bunko light novel (Kiki’s Delivery Service). I was translating sentence-by-sentence and hand-writing notes. I essentially hand wrote out every single line of the first several chapters (two blank lines about for “literal” and “cleaned up” interpretations; one line below for reading). I learned SOooo much doing this! Each page was like a stack of Anki vocab and grammar cards for me to review (and scan while I listened to the audiobook, making “comprehensible input”). I got to where I could copy out a page of Kiki’s in like 10 minutes. BOOM!

I look up stroke order that isn’t obvious (eg jisho, but usually the kotoba bot in discord), and then you end up memorizing it as you go along.

So why not learn grammar and vocabulary while I learn Kanji and look up words?


I did a quick google around the place to see what I could find with regards to 草書 and found these two somewhat interesting/useful resources:


(I don’t know why this is a reply to you @Jonapedia, but perhaps you’ll be interested withal :sweat_smile:🤷)

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Very nice finds. Thanks very much. :slight_smile:

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I’ve bought two notebooks, one to practice English and other to practice Japanese. I like the idea of writing sentences and doing all grammar exercises by hand because I can remember and memorize things better. Sometimes I feel so good when I’m writing that I repeat the exercises and all the sentences XD


Thank you everyone for your thoughtful answers. A special thanks to @Jonapedia for going out of his way to point me towards a good starting path.
I think I’ll just start writing in Japanese in a notebook and take a look at the calligraphy resources to try and make my kanji prettier. What I really wish to do, though, is to learn how to quickly write them like the Japanese do. I suppose that’ll come naturaly with time , but I want to at least mimick their way of doing it.

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All the very best!

Some of it comes with familiarity, yes, but you can also try checking out some of the videos on the channel belonging to Takumi (the Japanese calligrapher I mentioned above) once you’re further along. He has some stuff about how to position characters nicely on lined paper (with suitable relative sizes for kana and kanji), and the characters there are in semi-cursive script. You might be able to pick up a few of the common writing shortcuts (e.g. stroke linking) by looking at those videos.

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Yes, I have already found his playlist on how to write beatiful Japanese.
Shortcuts! Yes please, writing shouldn’t be this laborious!

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Can I just add to this that recognizing a kanji and recollecting it from memory are two entirely different beasts. Kind of like being able to recognize your friend’s face but have absolutely no clue how to draw it from memory.

When typing Japanese on a digital keyboard you don’t need recollection, recognition is good enough.