L&L Kanji e-Learning
Kanji e-Learning
Writing Systems
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Kanji Forms / Structures

Among various features of Japanese kanji characters, the most distinctive one would be their visual forms. Different from an English alphabet which consists of a few lines, a kanji character commonly takes an complex form consisting of a number of strokes which can be even up to 33 at the maximum and 10-11 on the average. Each of these strokes may also take diverse forms such as straight, curved, edged, or it can even be a tiny dot. A combination of these strokes creates quite intricate figures as partly shown in Table 6 below.
kanji features

Table 6. Examples of Kanji Figures

In some cases, kanji characters look so much alike to each other that they are hard to be distinguished from each other. For example, (tsuchi, earth) and (shi, worrier) look almost identical except for the lengths of 2 horizontal bars: has a shorter horizontal line at the top than the one below. In contrast, has a longer horizontal line at the top than the one at the bottom. In the similar vein, (go, noon) and (ushi, cow) look very much alike to each other except for their differences in the lengths of vertical lines; has a longer vertical line in the middle of a character than does.
Another factor which contributes to the intricate look of kanji characters lies in their structural properties. Following traditional accounts, a radical plays a primary role in defining the structure of a character. An example of such radicals is given in Table 7 below. In specific, hen radical is commonly placed on the left-hand side of a character space and it provides a left-right alignment to a given character. Similarly, tsukuri radical is placed at the right side of a character space and it endows a vertical configuration to the included character. On the other hand, kanmuri and ashi radicals provide a top-down configuration to a given character although the former is placed at the top of a character space and the latter at the foot. Furthermore, the nyou and tare radicals occupy 2 sides of a character space in which nyou is placed at the lower left corner of a character space and tare is placed at the upper left-side corner of a character. Finally, the kamae radical occupies 3 or 4 sides of a character space although its specification (i.e., which sides to take) may vary from a radical to radical.

Table 7. Examples of Radicals

The information about these structures is nonetheless important in order to write each kanji appropriatly by placing several componetns into an order. Moreover, the structural information about a chracter is indispensable in some cases in order to distinguish one character from the others especially when they consist of the very same features. For instance, (uta, sing) and (in, a member) consist of the same components; and . Then the only key to distinguish these 2 characters in terms of their visual forms lies in their structural properties: indicates a horizontal alignment in which is placed on the left and on the right. On the other hand, involves a vertical configuration in which is placed on top of .
Thus, Japanese kanji take quite intricate forms consisting of many numbers of strokes and distinctive structures. These pieces of information about visual forms are important not only to identify each kanji and to write them in an appropriate fashion but they are also necessary in making a distinction between kanji characters which are otherwise look quite similar.

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