Do you need to be able to write Japanese?

Sorry if this has been asked before, I’m still kinda new here. Also it’s probably a pretty stupid question, since writing is one of four skills re: language learning… anyway: do you think it’s worth practicing writing Japanese?

I’d describe myself as a casual but dedicated learner (do my lessons/reviews when they appear, learning grammar on the side, but overall going at a pretty slow pace. Japanese is a fun hobby for me and I hope to get to a decent level eventually, but mastering my German is my priority at the moment).

I was thinking of at least practicing writing out hiragana/katakana, but do you think it’s worth it? I’m learning Japanese for a future-but-as-yet-years-off return trip to Japan so I can communicate beyond the basics. I guess I’m pretty paranoid that if I forgo writing all together, it’ll be harder to pick up later (that happened with my French speaking. MISTAKE).

What do you think? Is it worth it? Do you write Japanese regularly, or type it more often? Was it hard to learn how to write? etc., etc.

Thanks in advance! :slight_smile:


If you’re the sort of person who learns through writing things down, or even if you just find writing enjoyable, then by all means go for it.

In modern times, though, Japanese people are increasingly writing primarily on phones or computers. It’s one reason for the most recent update to the Joyo kanji in 2010. The government decided to add a bunch of kanji for which the words are in pretty common usage, but are really annoying to write by hand (but of course all kanji are equally easy to write on a computer) - like, for example, 熊 (くま).


Any time that you absolutely need to write things by hand in real life (such as filling out a form at a Japanese bank) you can just copy from your phone at your leisure.

Some people (me included) feel that writing helps to reinforce the kanji when learning them.

I also enjoy test taking, so I’ve taken level 5 of the Kanji Kentei (the kanji exam meant for natives that goes from level 10, easy, to 1, mega-ultra-hard-every-time-only-a-few-hundred-people-pass hard). Obviously I need to practice writing plenty for that.


To answer your question literally (Do you need to be able to write Japanese?) then no, I don’t. The only time I ever really write anything by hand is quick notes to myself and these can obviously be in English or romaji.

That doesn’t mean I’m not going to learn, I’m just going to prioritise reading, listening and speaking for now because that’s how I’m most likely going to use the language 99.9% of the time. I learned and practiced the stroke order for Hiragana one day as a kind of break from my regular study routine and I plan to do the same with Katakana and ultimately some Kanji at some point in the future when I feel bored or frustrated with my normal studies.

You should learn to write Japanese if you need to, or if writing really helps you remember. Learning the stroke order for kana isn’t difficult at all, and you can probably get by with this guide to figure out the general rules of thumb for writing Kanji - although I haven’t tried it yet.


That’s really interesting about the kanji!

Just to be clear, they didn’t create new kanji. They just updated the list of kanji that are required to be taught in school, and most people already were learning those kanji through everyday life anyway.


My very personal way of looking at it:

  1. I am learning Japanese because I want to learn it. And, I want to learn to write it, so I should learn that too.
  2. One of the little pieces of the appeal of Japanese to me is reading decades ago that the art of the calligrapher and the art of the poet are one and the same in Japan. This thought has stayed with me. It is one of the foundational reasons for me to learn the language.
  3. Learning things, to me, is partly about practice. Writing is a mechanical thing which is practiced through repetition and gradual improvement. I like having things to practice. It is a distinctly different activity from studying. So, I practice writing.

I would not enjoy my Japanese lessons half so much without the writing part.


For me romaji became gibberish after I started to read more and more from NHK Easy News. Now when I talk to a friend about some Japanese word and they send it in romaji it takes me a few seconds to realize what is the word he/she meant.

For me the biggest reason to start learning writing kanji is that it’s easier for me to distinguish similar kanji from each other. And also, it feels great when writing something down and realizing I can write it down in Japanese.


No worries, I understood! (:blush:

I have been living in Japan for two years now, just learned I passed N3 with high marks (I probably should have taken N2 but I lacked confidence…) and I almost never ever write Japanese. The few times I have written Japanese were in the city office for insurance or other things and I just used my app to look up kanji stroke orders, wasn’t that big of a deal. I wouldn’t invest time into writing all the kanji personally.

At a job interview here in Japan, the interviewer actually asked me to write some words in kanji to measure my japanese knowledge. Don’t need to say that I didn’t get the job.

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That is interesting! Could you write a little bit about the company (size, field, region)?

in kanji, please


What type of job was it? Would handwriting be part of it somehow or not at all?

Small IT company, HQ in Chiba with a branch in Tokyo.

I was trying a position as a programmer, since the job opening said that people who speak english were welcome, but what they really meant was “japanese people who can also speak english are welcome”.

I don’t think I would ever need to write kanji at the job, but he was checking my overall level to see if and where I could fit. But I couldn’t fit anywhere. He said my japanese skills were around the level of an elementary school student, but for a programming job I need to communicate at least in the same level of a high school student.

He was nice and recommended me two other job openings, in other companies, a couple of days later. But one required experience in front-end development, and the other one in a support center had irregular hours including night shifts, which I had to refuse because my migraines really hate when I change my sleeping habits.

Sorry, no kanji this time…


At the time I took N5, I could read material written with hiragana at a natural pace. Even now at L60, I can’t even write the simplest things with hiragana or katakana even if someone held a gun to my head. They are very distinct skills with only slight overlap. We don’t realize this while learning English since the skills are acquired together.

Do, be careful, though because a similar divide exists between speaking and listening. I can understand quite a bit, but by the time I realized that not practicing speaking was holding me back, I had become a fairly intermediate level at reading and listening comprehension. Though you don’t need to ever learn to write, the same is not true for speaking.


When you say writing, I assume you meant all forms of writing, not just handwriting. I’d agree that for someone who is trying to learn Japanese casually mainly to facilitate travel, writing is probably much less important than listening, speaking, and reading. Probably in today’s world, you would mostly need writing skills when exchanging emails.

I will say for myself though, that I’m glad I’ve been made to learn to write. I’ve learned Japanese off and on for over 25 years now, but beyond learning kana and a few simple kanji, I never got very far beyond the absolute basics. But I started taking more serious classes in the fall of 2016, and part of those classes was writing diary entries or simple essays.

I find it helps me understand grammar and word usage better when I get corrected on what I write, and also it helps me learn to organize my thoughts better in Japanese (which certainly has a much different way of organizing thoughts than does English). And thus it helps me do the same for speaking. Also because I’m usually writing by hand, I find my Japanese penmanship and speed has improved quite a bit, though I still have to try a few times often to make kanji look “balanced”.

Overall, I’d say being able to write makes me feel just that little bit more like a (semi-) literate person within Japanese society, or at least not completely helpless in that regard. Whether it’s worth it to you completely depends on what you want out of Japanese and how much time you have to devote to it. If you only need to communicate orally, that’s fine too!


I enjoy the writing so much, and for me that’s a huge motivator to study. I also think that I retain the language much better by writing it down. If I couldn’t write Japanese alongside studying it, it would feel like an incredible handicap which would just get more and more daunting the more knowledge I acquired. I feel like there would come a time where I would regret not knowing how to write. I already feel at a loss because I don’t know how to write much of the kanji I have learned by progressing to level 4 on here.


I agree. It’s a big advantage to doing a structured traditional class in that you will develop reading, writing, listening and speaking skills together. The problem is it’s not particulary “fun” building up skills you don’t like.

That resulted in me not caring about learning kanji in my classes because I actually prefer conversation and listening. In turn this made my intermediate level classes much harder than they should have been. That made me turn to WaniKani. At this point thanks to WaniKani my kanji level is actually ahead of my class. Although I still hate kanji… and for my class I actually have to write them too! Nothing more disheartening than wrting a word that’s made up of 3 kanji with around 40 to 60 strokes, missing a stroke and getting it marked incorrect.

The answer I always give to people is what do you want to do with the language? Live and work in Japan? Read manga? Watch TV/Movies/Anime? Talk to people? The answer is different to each case. But realistically all the parts are synergistic - learning in one area helps the others.


Hand writing is not too terribly useful in my experience, like others have commented, every time I’ve needed to hand write something I’ve had my cell phone handy. Things like my address that I write often I learn anyway.

I’ve gone through Heisig’s remembering the kanji several years back and finished it but completely stopped reviewing and forgot everything. Once I’m done with Wanikani I plan on running through RTK one more time to remember how how write everything. But I’ll have a much stronger foundation of the kanji meanings by that point so it should go much quicker.

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