Kata – Way Of Writing – Part 5

Jan 13, 2021Blog, Culture, Language Study

Kata – Way Of Writing – Part 5

The deep influence of a writing system and language on a society can not be overstated. 

Language is a concept, and the Japanese society is built upon the constructs rooted in complex ideograms imported from China around 700 CE. 

There’s an incredible effort put into learn these complex characters and is definitely something that undoubtably forges the Japanese spirit of perseverance, forbearance, and patience. 

The Japanese writing system is made up of 3 different syllabaries.

Primarily the Japanese use Chinese ideograms, along with 2 indigenous Japanese syllabaries; hiragana and katakana. 

Evolution Kanji

These pictographs, otherwise known as kanji are complex ideograms and each kanji is made up of one to a dozen or more joining strokes.

Here is an example for the uninitiated, of a more complex kanji to ponder as one continue the story. 

Complex ideogram

To write Japanese properly, the stroke order is crucial, and to be executed in a carefully prescribe, no deviation allowed manner. 

Sometimes a sympathetic Japanese will say “stroke order is not important”, but one always disagrees.

Learning how to draw these kanji also instills the Japanese with a highly developed sense of harmony, form, and style. 

As a matter of course, the Japanese are instilled with a deep appreciation of aesthetics via the ridged training it takes in order to write in such a complex fashion (famous American talk show host flustered by Japanese schoolgirl’s gift of the kanji name). 

One could even go so far as to say the Japanese are all highly skilled artists.

Since these ideographs depicted actual things and concepts they communicates much more than just the mere sounds of a familiar alphabet. 

The Japanese system of communication and recording information and concepts embodies a much more personal experience, accompanied by deep and strong psychological content, as well as evoking emotions. 

The mental concentration in the complex and mechanical effort required to memorize and write kanji correctly has a fundamental effect on the psychology and physical development of all educated Japanese. 

It has instilled them with patience and diligence, enhanced manual dexterity well beyond the norm, and this has prepare them for a life which form, order, and process are paramount.

器用

In times gone by, the Japanese must have had to learn kanji by the thousands, however, the Ministry of Education thankfully reduced the official number of mandatory kanji one must learn in school at 2136 kanji, known as joyo. 

Adding family names, places, and specialty language vocabulary, the Japanese are in all likelihood able to recognize closer to 3,000 kanji, as a matter of course. 

The long-term practice and usage of kanji shaped and defined the Japanese physically, emotionally and intellectually, while harmonizing them and binding them to their culture.

Again reaching into the past, during Japan’s long feudal ages the pupils did not only have to mastering pronunciation, meaning, an intricate stroke order, but they were also required to become adept at drawing the characters in a stylized matter known as shodo, “the way of the brush” or calligraphy in English. 

Engaging in calligraphy is still very popular to this day, and an important part of the New Year tradition, where the Japanese engage in kakizomei, or the first calligraphy of the New Year.

書初

For an excellent place to view high level calligraphy check out Shinei’s social media feed here.

Come again next week as we present the last part of kata, where one ponders the continuing role of kata in the evolving Japanese society, and the implications on the future of the Japanese and our shared humanity.

Learn Kanji

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