Hey there, so I’ve been thinking of potentially starting to learn to write in Japanese, like keeping a journal and such. I’ve never done any kind of physical writing in Japanese before and I was wondering if anyone has any resources on where to start? Like any kind of guides for writing in terms of exactly how to write each character and things like that, then afterwards if there’s any kind of pen and type of journal/paper that would be better for me than any standard one.
I’m still looking for the thread where I talked about them, but there are books for children to practice their kana and kanji in. Given your level, they should be easy to understand and they also explain some of the guidelines, such as which lines should align with others and sizing.
here are some other threads that might also help.
ah here we are
Frankly, Skritter is unbeatable but far too expensive.
Because my post is quite long, I’ve added section titles so you can skip to what interests you if you want to.
Your best paid/professionally written options in English are probably books from Tuttle like this one:
Here are some other ideas:
Something that’s about as good though, honestly, is this free site created by someone in the WK community that uses stroke diagrams that look very much like Jisho’s, and everything is sorted by WK level. All you need to do is print out the worksheets:
(I seriously think it looks great, even if the writing style isn’t the prettiest – more on that in a moment – and it’s probably the best suited option for WK users. It’s basically as good as the first Tuttle book I linked to, except that it doesn’t have any preface, and it’s free.)
In my opinion, any of these will cover the most basic aspects of writing kanji by hand: stroke order, general proportions, and the general appearance of each kanji.
Now then, some caveats:
- While Jisho-style stroke diagrams are good for learning the basics, they’re not very pretty, at least by Sino-Japanese calligraphic aesthetic standards. They are neat and will probably win the approval of any Japanese teacher because they are highly legible and nicely balanced, but they’re not how kanji are ‘supposed’ to look like: kanji were historically not written with uniform line thickness, and generally still aren’t. Brushstroke characters are the model for all day-to-day kanji writing, with 楷書 being the basic standard for non-cursive writing, with certain simplifications and cursive styles being common within each country of the kanji sphere (aka mainly China, Japan, Korea, and also Vietnam at one point).
- That being said, I’ve also seen complaints about the ‘brushstroke font’ being ‘unrealistic’ or difficult to translate to writing with a pen or pencil. I personally don’t feel that way, and I was brought up on brush stroke fonts as a Chinese speaker, but it’s true that some techniques and ideas are difficult to learn just from staring at and attempting to imitate brush stroke fonts because, well, it’s true that before you know how, it’s not always obvious how exactly to create certain effects with ink/graphite alone, and kanji written with a pen do tend to have a slightly different look from brushstroke kanji. Therefore, you might want to use a book with ‘pen kanji’ examples if you find brushstroke kanji unhelpful.
If you want to learn ‘exactly how to write each character’, right down to how to get a sense of the most aesthetically pleasing proportions, then what you need is a calligraphy course, and not just a kanji practice book. In that case, I recommend this one:
which I discussed in detail on another thread:
Details About the Contents of the Calligraphy Course (includes pictures)
It covers how to write the 1000+ kanji taught in elementary school. I don’t think you’ll have too much trouble with the kanji in the instructions given your WK level, and there’s furigana everywhere anyway. It discusses fundamental aspects of calligraphy that should have you well on your way to writing beautiful kanji, such as
the importance of balancing white space,
common kanji shapes and component arrangements,
and of course, the movements required to produce the basic strokes correctly.
I can guarantee that basic ‘kanji writing practice’ books don’t provide this stuff, because that’s what I was given in primary school, and I didn’t learn all this until I bought a pen calligraphy course for the 行書 style from China three years ago. Having these ideas in mind is what makes the difference between blindly imitating kanji while struggling to get everything to fall into place, and being able to frame a kanji mentally and know almost immediately how to make it look good, possibly while referring to models written by experts.
That aside, I guess this book might be fun reading practice?
Traditionally, this is the sort of paper that’s used for kanji practice in schools:
(I’m not 100% sure this is true in Japan, but I think it’s fairly likely given what I see in those kanji practice books.) Kanji are written in squares that look like 田:
The idea is to write the kanji while centring them properly, using the cross-shaped guides as an aid. Such paper isn’t strictly necessary, but the general idea is that a kanji should be able to fit into a square quite nicely. It can be helpful for practice though, and I think the ‘Kana/kanji writing practice’ thread that @DIO-Strawberry posted above contains some links to kanji writing grid generators.
Aside on the Lines Kanji Actually Line Up with
The truth is though – and this is an idea developed by a well-known modern Chinese calligrapher – most kanji actually roughly sit within a trapezium:
I don’t suggest actually using such paper for practice though. I think it’s just useful to keep in mind that the horizontal strokes in kanji often follow a gradient of slopes: those at the top are most steeply inclined, and as we approach the bottom of the character, the horizontal strokes gets flatter and flatter (like the trapezia above).
As for what sort of writing instrument to use… you can use a soft pencil (2B lead should be good enough) or a fairly wet pen (gel pens or fountain pens are pretty good, generally). A ballpoint pen with a thick nib (0.7mm and above) should be suitable as well. The idea is to use something that will allow you to vary line thickness more easily, and whose line thickness will change in response to the amount of pressure you use, along with – to a certain extent – the angle at which you hold your pen when pressing it against the page.
Uh… yeah, I think that’s all I have to say. I hope that my post wasn’t too long, at that you found at least some of it helpful.
It looks like a great integrated solution for sure, but if you’re talking about writing only, there are far cheaper options out there that are just as good, aside from the fact that they might not have as many kanji. Kanji.sh, which I mentioned above, is one, but if you want mobile solutions, here are two:
For iOS: Learn Japanese! - Kanji on the App Store
For Android: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.mindtwisted.kanjistudy&hl=en (I understand that this one, Kanji Study, is pretty famous)
I’m on iOS, so I can’t test Kanji Study (there’s apparently an iOS version, but it’s not available in my App Store region), but the iOS app I posted has 2000+ kanji for JLPT levels N1-N5, and I think it looks pretty good. There’s meaning, reading and stroke order practice. Plus, it only costs €10.99 to buy all the levels. I think that’s much more affordable than Skritter, which seems to work on a subscription basis.
If you just want to write documents, I would just recommend using Word/ Google Documents or Notepad++ haha that what I use to write my text.
Wow this is all really good and detailed, thank you so much!
For some stroke order intuition, check out this article:
I like this Anki deck! I bought a kanji notebook and just write the characters in it when they come up.
As far as stroke order are concerned, I’ve found the mobile app Kanji Tree to be invaluable. It has a Kanji dictionary and it also demonstrates stroke order and allows you to practice writing characters and scores you on your performance.
Just wanted to share this calligraphy channel on YouTube. The calligrapher is Japanese, but quite a few of the videos also come with English subtitles:
General real-time calligraphy videos aside (including some calligraphy with Latin letters), he’s also posted several videos containing tips on how to write better. I personally think that the style he uses when demonstrating how to write well with a pen is a little plain, but I think that might just be because he wants to provide an example of something everyone can do; his brush calligraphy contains a bit more flourishing and character, which proves he can write in other styles too. Some of the more basic videos include English subtitles as well, which could be helpful, and many of the video titles are in English. (I suspect he actually has a set of titles for each of those videos, one per language, and that YouTube has a feature that displays the relevant title depending on the viewer’s interface language, but I can’t be certain.)
This website has tons and tons of writing practice for Japanese schoolchildren. And all for free https://happylilac.net
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