The kanji playground known as Taiwan

I’m travelling in Taiwan right now. The Republic of China uses traditional characters, which means that more of them have remained identical to kanji compared to the simplified characters used in the PRC, and it’s really cool to be able to read many words, even though I’m only level 11 on WK.

The most useful characters are the ones that appear in every menu, like 牛、羊、肉、茶. It’s funny that I have no idea how to pronounce 牛肉, but I can point to it in the menu and the waiter will understand. I wonder if this is how Japanese people feel in Chinese-speaking countries and vice versa (can’t believe those Koreans opted out of the club!).

Menus in local eateries in Taiwan usually don’t have pictures. You get a form and a pen and you write the amount next to each item you want to order, so being able to read even just some of the text really helps. I also learned another character combination that’s very important in restaurants - 自助, self-service.

City names and metro station names suddenly have meaning! I had known the names of major Taiwanese cities for years, but suddenly I realise…

Taipei - 台北

Taichung - 台中

Tainan - 台南
Plus, there are cities named 竹北, 竹南, 新竹 and other interesting combinations…

I sometimes take pictures of signs where I’m proud to have understood much of the meaning.

So what do you think this guy is selling?

And can you figure out how to change the wind speed and the direction and what the current wind speed setting is?

I found this one fun because at level 11 I already know most of the characters on the various signs:


Is it bad if I immediately thought about weed?


Illegal and enforced…

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He’s selling ease ease poison grass.
It’s hilarious that the mixed herb tea would literally be poison grass tea in Japanese :joy:


Isn’t it 青草 - green grass?


I thought the first kanji was 毒 (poison)because it’s on the level I’m currently on :sob:
You’re correct!

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Vietnamese as well.

But as you point out the different levels of simplification have destroyed a significant amount of mutual intelligibility between countries which is too bad IMO. Especially since I feel like the simplification made sense back when people handwrote a lot, not so much in the present day where the difference between 学 and 學 is not too significant if you type them on a computer.

A fun example is 機会 (opportunity):

  • Chinese (traditional) and Japanese 旧字体: 機會
  • Chinese (simplified): 机会
  • Japanese 新字体: 機会

Basically Japanese uses the traditional form for 機 but the simplified form of 會. What a mess…

It’s certainly true that overall traditional Chinese is easier to read for someone who has studied Japanese though.


Maybe, in this case 安 is cheap, not easy?
“Cheap cheap green grass shop, you won’t find it cheaper anywhere” trunky_rolling


I was about to call you a dumbdumb for reading “blue” as “green” and then I realized that I’m the dumbdumb.


Awesome post & photos!

That’s certainly one thing I really like about kanji, it enables you to in some way understand writing of a completely different language. Super fun and useful even outside of Japanese. I also do this all the time at the local Vietnamese grocery store, in the Chinese art exhibit at the museum, heck just walking around Chinatown here, etc. (Not sure for all Vietnamese communities in the US as a whole, but I think it is common for them to still use chữ nôm (kanji/hanzi))


There’s actually an example of Japanese simplification that threw me off here: 轉/停. I guessed that it would mean on/off or something like that because I recognized 停, but while 轉 did feel eerily familiar I couldn’t guess what it would be in Japanese. Turns out it’s the traditional form of 転.

So the text on the display that reads 運轉 is 運転 which is actually a word we learn on Wanikani! (with a slightly different meaning, admittedly).


I am often in China or Taiwan for work and knowledge of kanji sure can be useful. More so in Taiwan than China as you noted. I do run into kanji (hanja) when I am in Korea, but only in certain contexts/places. And less and less as the generations that understand disappear.


As far as I can tell, 安安 is a greeting in Chinese, so in this case it’s just the name of the shop. The shop sells medicinal herbs in front of a major temple. Every temple in Taiwan has a fragrant herb alley in front of it: you pray, you ask the gods for advice and sometimes for prescriptions, and then you go out of the temple and buy herbs as medicine.


I was reading into hanja usage and apparently it’s making a comeback (in the South of course). Basically from what I’ve read hanja usage was actively discouraged in South Korea from the 70’s until the 90’s but since then they’ve backtracked:

Mixed script could be commonly found in non-fiction writing, news papers, etc. until the enacting of Park Chung Hee’s 5 Year Plan for Hangŭl Exclusivity[18] hangŭl jŏnyong ogaenyŏn gyehuik an (Korean: 한글전용 5개년 계획안; Hanja: 韓㐎專用 5個年 計劃案) in 1968 banned the use and teaching of Hanja in public schools, as well as forbade its use in the military, with the goal of eliminating Hanja in writing by 1972 through legislative and executive means. However, due to public backlash, in 1972 Park’s government allowed for the teaching of Hanja in special classes but maintained a ban on Hanja use in textbooks and other learning materials outside of the classes. This reverse step however, was optional so the availability of Hanja education was dependent on the school one went to. Park’s Hanja ban was not formally lifted until 1992 under the government of Kim Young-sam. In 1999, the government of Kim Dae-jung actively promoted Hanja by placing it on signs on the road, at bus stops, and in subways. In 1999, Han Mun was reintroduced as a school elective and in 2001 the Hanja Proficiency Test hanja nŭngryŏk gŏmjŏng sihŏm (Korean: 한자능력검정시험; Hanja: 漢字能力檢定試驗) was introduced. In 2005, an older law, the Law Concerning Hangul Exclusivity hangŭl jŏnyonge gwahak pŏmnyul (Korean: 한글전용에 관한 법률; Hanja: 韓㐎專用에 關한 法律) was repealed as well. In 2013 all elementary schools in Seoul started teaching Hanja. However, the result is that Koreans who were educated in this period having never been formally educated in Hanja are unable to use them and thus the use of Hanja has plummeted in orthography until the modern day.


South Korean primary schools ceased the teaching of Hanja in elementary schools in the 1970s, although they are still taught as part of the mandatory curriculum in grade 6. They are taught in separate courses in South Korean high schools, separately from the normal Korean-language curriculum. Formal Hanja education begins in grade 7 (junior high school) and continues until graduation from senior high school in grade 12.

A total of 1,800 Hanja are taught: 900 for junior high, and 900 for senior high (starting in grade 10).

From: Hanja - Wikipedia

Honestly I’m not even sure I understand this text correctly, it seems to imply that Hanja usage is rare in modern Korean, but also they all learn 1800 hanja in school? But then never use them? I don’t get it. It’s like doing WaniKani and then learning Polish.


That one also threw me off! How interesting that in 転, that part is simplified to 云, and in other cases it is simplified more subtly to 専. I am not versed on this but perhaps those simplifications happened at different times by different people?

I don’t know but that stuff is a mess.

One of my favourite examples is that 龍 is simplified into 竜 (WaniKani teaches both, incidentally). Ok, fair enough.

Now how about 襲, which contains 龍 and is more complicated and more common, do we simplify that? No? Oh, ok.


It is useful for understanding the etymology of many Korean words and increase vocabulary. Somewhat akin to what studying Latin is to English. Latin classes were still still taught when I was in high school (at least at my school and others in my area). It was not a required class and not a lot of people selected it. I took it for a couple of years. Remember none of it.

The move to bring back compulsory hanja teaching as been controversial. Not unlike the debate in many US schools systems regarding whether cursive writing needs to be taught and if so, mandatory or not. In the province of Ontario (Canada) mandatory cursive teaching was recently re-introduced (last fall) after having been out for almost 20 years.


That typo bugs me.


Cheap bluegrass. Maybe some jazz?

In ways you can’t put into words?


Here’s another thing I discovered in Taiwan. I didn’t know such a script existed!

Photos from a zoo:

Photos from a library:

It’s called bopomofo and you can only find it in children’s books and on signs written for small children. Taiwanese children use it as a stepping stone to Chinese characters, and adults still use it as the input method on mobile phones! In Mainland China bopomofo has been replaced by pinyin for both these uses.

Bopomofo is similar to kana in that the shapes originate from simplification of Chinese characters. The shapes even remind me of katakana. On the other hand, it’s similar to hangul in that each bopomofo character generally represents one phoneme, rather than an entire mora or syllable. And similarly to hangul, each syllable is written as a top-to-bottom block. Uniquely, it has tone marks.

Bopomofo has about the same number of symbols as a Japanese kana (37 + 5 tone marks), but that’s because Chinese is much richer in phonemes than Japanese. If Japanese used an alphabet like bopomofo or hangul, about 15 characters would suffice. On the other hand, a syllabary for Chinese would require over 1200 symbols.