Links between Kana and Kanji

I know WK is a kanji learning resource, but if you’ve ever wondered why certain kanji look like certain kana, or where kana came from in the first place, here’s a little video showing how hiragana evolved from kanji:

(Disclaimer: I’m not the calligrapher behind this. My style isn’t quite like that, and I’m not skilled enough to do such a great job, especially going through 4 different styles one after the other like that.)

I don’t know if there are similar videos out there for katakana, but I kinda doubt it because katakana are literally rather「片」(one-sided, incomplete, few etc) – they’re just kanji fragments. Not much of an ‘evolution’ in terms of writing style.

Either way though, I hope some people find this enjoyable to watch. As far as practical utility goes, well, most of the ‘source kanji’ are pronounced like the kana that they produced, so knowing this stuff means you know 40+ readings (mostly related to on’yomi) just based on the kana you know. :grin:


Japanese teachers always told me that Hiragana are “simple” because they are a simplified version of Kanjis, therefor being suitable for children and Women.
But watching your video it seems that is not really true.
It is not a simplified Kanji but the complete Kanji becoming more cursive (and therefor more artistic) step by step.
In the end I found it very discouraging to call curves as complex as Hiragana “simple”. Discouraging to a degree that I didn’t want to know where this hell of curves came from.

To explain what I mean:

In a mathematical sense it takes way more control points of a Nurbs curve to describe the Hiragana compared to the Kanji, and in a practical sense that means it is much more difficult to write them than Kanjis.
Listening to a teacher explaining the correct balance of them needs so many elements like:
This part looks like a shrimp, an Onigiri, the back of a turtle, a slide etc. The list goes on forever.

That’s why I gave up on writing them correctly, but it is interesting to see where they came from, now at least I understand why they are so difficult.


He was talking about katakana in that paragraph, not hiragana. Katakana characters do appear to just be fragments of kanji.


Oh, well that’s true, I overread that because I watched the video and was so surprised that the origin of Hiragana is very different from what has been explained to me before. I will try to somehow correct my response because the point still is that I think Hiragana are not “simple”. And the more I think about it it is strange that children start from the most elaborate stage of Calligraphy aged 4…
Because in many other areas in Japan learning something means to start at the very basics of things. Like eg. swimming classes, where the kids are doing バタバタ (sorry I don’t know the word for it in English) for one year at least before the real thing starts.

Btw. I think Katakana are really much more simple than Hiragana. You can make most of them (and Kanjis) abstract to a degree of just using straight lines, which is impossible with Hiragana.

I’m reasonably sure that the 5th-century Japanese people weren’t really considering mathematical topography when they were codifying man’yogana into hiragana. It’s more “川 takes three strokes and つ takes one, so let’s do the latter because it’s easier to scribble.”


But it is much easier to write 川 than つ. I mean of course I can write tsu easily from scratch and everyone can read it but once you try to get the balance right you start to realize that it is very difficult to explain in words where it starts and stops, where the curve is more flat or more roundish, how the negative space should look like, how the whole thing is positioned in a square etc.

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But when you’re writing at speed it’s just a “swoop”. No one is thinking about those things.


One typically doesn’t define complexity of characters by how easy it is to describe them in words.

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I guess there’s an argument that it takes less time to write it nicely for the first time.

But the difficulty of writing it for beginners is not something calligraphy experts would think about.

If you want to write, let’s say not too clumsy (because writing beautifully is something I know I can not achieve in my lifetime) you need to at least once think about it, or not?

But if you realize that your own version of the Hiragana looks off compared to the real one you need to analyze where you went wrong?

Typically it’s more like “here’s a picture of a つ. Make yours look kinda the same.” Maybe “Practice tracing it until you can do it by reflex.”

And even if we were going to do that, there’s three times as many things going on in 川. The relative spacing of the strokes. Their relative lengths, and their starting and stopping positions. How much of a curve the strokes have.


Yeah, I would say… never underestimate the difficulty of making any character look good in calligraphy. They are all difficult at first. Even 一.


I don’t know a lot about Calligraphy but I think I heard one Calligrapher saying once that 心 is a difficult one.
At that point I was a bit surprised because I thought “difficult” means more strokes.

Once you’ve practiced drawing 一 for a year, perhaps the great calligraphy master will allow you to try writing 二. :slightly_smiling_face:


I assume these are the “official” guidelines on how to write these

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Thank you I know these very well. I posted above something similar but even more detailed for kids aged 4 (you might want to have a look to understand my point here :sweat_smile:).

I see. Anything simple can have difficult/clear instructions based on the intended audience. I think if you’re not fond of descriptions like “this part looks like a shrimp” then probably something more visual or geared towards second language learners would benefit you.

Describing parts as looking like shrimp and the like is pretty similar to WK’s mnemonics system imo.

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I think there’s a bit of a difference between teaching young children how to write and teaching calligraphy. Calligraphy is an art, the pursuit of elegance in handwriting. Not everybody strives for that and children certainly don’t need it.

The kids at 4 or 5 years old are being taught to draw symbols that represent sounds because they need to be able to communicate through writing somehow. It doesn’t have to look pretty, it just has to be good enough that somebody else can read it. This happens in any language. A person learns to write the alphabet very young.Their writing looks terrible at first but gradually improves as they grow older.

For a foreigner learning to write hiragana, there isn’t much more to it than to keep practicing. Japanese people had years of a head start, so you don’t need to feel discouraged if you’re not as good as them starting off. You can get there eventually with a lot of practice.


I thought I’d look into those kanji that are not included in Wanikani: 於曽祢牟與乎无尓

  • Of these, only 曽 is a Joyo kanji and looks useful for words like 曽祖父,曽孫
  • Five(於、祢、牟、與、乎)are Jinmeiyo kanji. I’m curious if anyone has seen them in natural use.
  • The remaining two(无、尓)seem not useful in Japanese, but 尓 is useful to say hello in Chinese.
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