Do you need to be able to write Japanese?

Practicing hiragana and katakana, even in writing, is pretty useful, especially katakana; I barely encounter the latter–in video games, manga and anime–and I’m a little afraid I will forget it at some point. I’m already staring for too long at the screen in my attempt to read katakana, which I don’t think is very good. So if you’ve got the time, maybe writing a little every day isn’t a bad idea.
As for kanji, like many have said, writing is a dying practice in Japan, so I don’t believe you should concern yourself with it, at least not for now. Maybe after you’ve mastered a substantial number of kanji. Besides, stroke order is a real pain, so unless you are into making yourself suffer, I wouldn’t advise you to attempt writing anytime soon.

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It’s not that important (I don’t even physically write in English anymore), but I think learning at least the basics is helpful for reading. When reading handwritten Japanese characters are often so distorted that they look completely different from how they would in a dictionary or a computer / print typeface. I learned how to write both sets of kana and the 216 traditional radicals and I’m glad that I did. It made me much better at recognizing handwritten Japanese since I intuitively understand stroke orders now, and maybe just the act of writing poorly formed characters made it easier for my brain to recognize other poorly written characters.

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This is great advice - thank you!

That’s interesting - normally in any other language (especially those with Roman alphabets) writing is a huge part of learning for me, too. Japanese is a different animal. I think in the future I will learn writing hiragana and katakana and basic kanji, or maybe when I start to make grammar notes I’ll write out simple example sentences. I guess for me, writing isn’t a focus for me in Japanese right now, but we all learn differently! You’ll catch up on those kanji in no time :slight_smile:

Damn, that’s a great point. I’d never considered that before. Thanks for sharing! :blush:

I wish I had the time :joy: I don’t think I’ll ever learn to write kanji - at the moment that’s definitely not a priority - but in the future I’ll learn how to write hiragana and katakana.

Nice handle too, by the way!

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So, after six months of living in Japan and facing a summer N3 test, I finally started working kanji writing into my normal study routine.

There were basically two catalysts: One, I was simply embarrassed being caught during teaching (if I needed to write a bit of Japanese on the board or in essay comments), filling out applications, etc., not knowing how to write kanji I could easily read, in addition to just feeling like that knowledge gap was an inconvenience. Two, I was worried about N3 (and beyond) test questions deliberately designed to trick the test-taker with kanji that varied by a single radical or stroke. Wanikani is an excellent tool for learning how to read, but since it pushes you toward basic shape and context recognition (both fine for daily reading), it won’t get you out of those test questions.

The method I found that worked for me was using my N3 kanji book to prompt writing exercise. Some of what it provides overlaps with Wanikani–some I encounter there first. Regardless, I take the opportunity to write each one in the book at least ten times in a notebook, plus the vocab it provides. I check stroke order with a dictionary application if I’m unsure. If I feel I need more practice later, or regardless nearing a test date, I’ll come back and do more writing.

This is a simple way to actually make the test book a distinct tool from Wanikani, and to divide study time between a computer activity and a print one. Wanikani I just let do its own thing, picking up reading, while I let the book set the pace for writing practice.

I’d strongly recommend trying something like this–use a print kanji study tool for writing practice and keep along with Wanikani for reading.

But if you’re just starting out, stick with Wanikani for now. Once you start prepping for a test, etc., or have a goal that benefits from some additional, dedicated print material, use the opportunity to set some writing practice up for yourself.

If you don’t have hiragana and katakana down yet, yeah–learn those. It won’t take long, and if you’re ever in a position to actually use your Japanese for real-world communication, being able to do at least the two of those will make a big difference. Really, you need kanji too, but there’s no reason to not have the syllabaries down.

(If I can figure out the time management in the future, I’d actually like to set up a system that mirrors how Japanese students learn–which involves writing each around one-hundred times with spaced repetition. Obviously it works for natives, who have a huge amount of kanji in both their reading and writing repertoires.)


I hope you find that you enjoy it as much as I do :slight_smile: and thank you! I sure hope so!

Yes. It’s well known that in larger cities, the Yakuza will regularly threaten people with Japanese writing exercises. If you want to keep your possessions, I recommend practicing. You aren’t usually required to do the correct stroke order, but some members are pretty picky about this and will still take your wallet if you get the order of 生 mixed up.



Actually, stroke order is quite intuitive once you get the hang of it. It’s not random, after all. If you learn to write kanji parts, it’s going to be a huge help already.


I’m not that worried about being able to write Kanji but I enjoy doing it. It can be quite therapeutic! My wife bought me a brush pen from Japan for Christmas which is much nicer than doing them with a biro!

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I think this depends on you and your goals.

I have been studying Japanese for five years and I am currently working for Japanese engineering company. So, yes reading and writing is essential for me.

I got tired of being embarrassed at work by having to use my phone to look up kanji when I am up at the white board in team meetings. Especially since I am my team’s leader.

Opening a bank account? You gotta fill out a form. File a police report? You gotta fill out a form. I have been in these situations and let me tell you, you feel like idiot when you whip out your phone and the person at the bank says, “Its ok, I know kanji is impossible for foreigners.”


Just to add (statistically) to the responses above, I’ve been in Japan almost three years and in a Japanese working environment: barely have to write kanji.
Kanji in electronic communications? – Yes, absolutely necessary.
Written hiragana/katakana? – Yes, absolutely necessary.

One thing I’ve found is that the kanji I need to know how to write, I kind of organically learn how to write – if that makes sense? So like my address I can write in kanji, because I’ve had to write it so often in forms and such (a good point made above). Or my work department address etc. And if (unusually) you will have to write a kanji you don’t know, then there is always the tried and true phone app copy method.

Obviously if writing the kanji aids in general language learning, then great! Go for it! But otherwise, time may be better spent on other facets of the language. Particularly in speaking.
Though personally I wish I’d had some sort of formal training in being able to read Japanese handwriting. With all the fuss on stroke order and having ‘perfectly written characters’, it was a little surprising seeing the state of some people’s handwriting…


I have a trick for keeping one eye on writing skills: when I don’t know a kanji in WK, I write it on my phone in the Google Translate app. That forces me to see the radicals more clearly, and builds surprisingly a lot of muscle memory for the common radicals. (Just try to learn stroke order for the common radicals, at least, so you’re not reinforcing bad habits.)

As for the practicality of writing, I’ve had to do it at banks, mobile phone shops, driver’s license testing, and the occasional visit to the ward office. I usually copied things like my (insanely difficult) address from my phone very carefully. In Japan, if you screw up one line in one kanji, they’re probably going to make you start the entire form over again. To tell you the truth, I think I screwed up my romaji name once or twice because the pressure is so high, and I never write anything by hand—even in English!


Though personally I wish I’d had some sort of formal training in being able to read Japanese handwriting. With all the fuss on stroke order and having ‘perfectly written characters’, it was a little surprising seeing the state of some people’s handwriting…

This is another great point, and one I wish I’d remembered to add above. I was also getting tired of struggling to recognize handwritten kanji (on notes, on blackboards, etc.) that I absolutely knew. Practicing writing to find out what your own shorthand version looks like is a huge help in more immediately recognizing other people’s written kanji, with all the shortcuts they take.

When writing now, I start out very carefully doing a clean version, and try to speed the last few up to a “normal” writing speed to see how they come out.


Thanks for that I hadn’t tried the google translate app. The drawing on jisho doesn’t work on my phone so this is a really good alternative. Although you seem to have to be quick at finishing your kanji or it tries to interpret it half finished!

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There is a setting to turn off “automatic insertion”. For me, it appears in the lower left corner when in drawing input mode.

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