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Writing the Japanese Kanji Made Easy

written by: Makoto • edited by: Tricia Goss • updated: 1/5/2012

Writing the Japanese Kanji may seem like a difficult task. There are a few simple rules to follow however that will make your life a whole lot easier. This article introduces, in clear and simple terms, how to write the Japanese Kanji like a native.

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    More Than Meets The Eye

    There are a certain amount of rules to follow when it comes to writing the Japanese Kanji, much like there are guidelines about writing the letters of the alphabet. One just can’t write the Chinese character as one sees fit. Every character is composed of specific strokes which must be traced in a certain fashion and order. This article will specifically examine and discuss the proper way to write the Japanese Kanji.

    Let's explore six basic rules to follow when writing the Japanese Kanji.

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    Rule #1: From Top to Bottom

    A Kanji should be written from top to bottom. Let’s observe how to write the Kanji for river (川).

    River As you can see, this character is composed of three strokes, all of which must be traced from top to bottom.

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    Rule #2: From Left to Right

    When writing a Kanji, make sure to write from left to right.

    Once again, an example with the Kanji for the number three (三).


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    Rule #3: Crossing Strokes

    Whenever horizontal and vertical strokes meet, the horizontal stroke should be drawn first. Keep in mind that the two previous rules should also be followed.

    Here’s an example reviewing the first three rules. First of all, the Kanji for the number 10, 十。


    It is composed of two crossing strokes; a horizontal and a vertical one. As stated in rule #3, the horizontal stroke is drawn first while the vertical stroke is drawn second. Notice how both the first and second rule are respected; the vertical stroke is drawn from top to bottom while the horizontal one is drawn from left to right.

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    Rule #4: Some Special Squares

    Square shaped boxes in Japanese should be written with three strokes. This is especially important as it will influence the amount of strokes used in drawing a Kanji (Kanji characters are sometimes classified by the amount of strokes in dictionaries).

    Pay close attention to the following example of the Kanji for “mouth" (口).


    Notice how this character is actually written in three strokes, not four.

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    Rule #5: The Last Stroke of a Prisoner

    Now that you know how properly write the square shaped character above, let’s move on to something a bit more complicated.

    Some Japanese Kanji are composed of character inside a square like 困、国、団 and so on.

    There’s a certain way to proceed with those kinds of characters. Let’s look at the following example to better understand this.


    Notice how the “upper frame" of the “box" is drawn first, followed by the character inside and finally a final stroke is drawn to close the rectangle.

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    Rule #6: A Bit of Symmetry

    Some characters are organized around a central element, such as 小。When this is the case, draw the central element first.


    These 6 rules do not cover all the various ways of tracing the Kanji but should provide a good starting point.