Difference Between Chinese and Japanese Writing

Chinese vs Japanese Writing

A system of writing was first developed in China during the Shang Dynasty approximately 1600 BCE while it was around AD 600, that a writing system was developed in Japan. Initially borrowing the Chinese writing system, the Japanese eventually made alterations to these Chinese characters, thus adopting a style of their own. It is due to this reason that Chinese and Japanese writing appear very much similar and therefore is easily confused between one another.

What is the Chinese writing system?

The special feature about the Chinese language is the fact that while Chinese characters do not constitute an alphabet or a compact syllabary, it is logo-syllabic. That is to say that a character may represent a syllable of spoken Chinese and could at times be a word on its own or a part of a polysyllabic word. Chinese characters are known as glyphs of which the components may depict objects or represent abstract notions and one character may occasionally consist of only one component where two or more components are combined to create more complex Chinese characters. Character components can be further subdivided into strokes belonging to eight main categories: right-falling (丶), rising, dot (、), horizontal (一), vertical (丨), left-falling (丿), hook (亅), and turning (乛, 乚, 乙, etc.)

Believed to be first developed during the Shang Dynasty around 1600 BCE, it was during the Qin Dynasty (221–206 BC) that most of these Chinese characters had been standardized. Over the millennia, Chinese characters have grown and evolved, influenced by writing systems of other East Asian languages such as Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese

What is the Japanese writing system?

The modern Japanese writing system is consisted of three scripts.

  1. Kanji – adopted Chinese characters that forms the stems of most verbs and adjectives
  2. Hiragana – used alongside kanji for grammatical elements and to write native Japanese words
  3. Katakana – sometimes replaces kanji or hiragana for emphasis while being commonly used to write foreign words and names and to represent onomatopoeia and commonly used plant and animal names

Because of the large number of Kanji characters and the mixture of these scripts, the Japanese language is regarded as one of the most complex writing systems in the world.

What is the difference between Japanese and Chinese Writing?

• While the Japanese refer to the characters originally borrowed from the Chinese language as Kanji, the Chinese refer to these as Hanzi. In both the languages, each character gives multiple pronunciations.

• While most Kanji characters still bear a resemblance to their Hanzi counterparts, Japanese Kanji mostly vary from the original Hanzi characters, omitting some while simplifying others.

• Kana is the Japanese alphabet that has been created around the eighth century to appease the grammatical elements of the Japanese language. Bearing a phonetic nature, these appear softer than the Kanji characters. Kana does not exist in the Chinese writing system.

• Karayou is a style of calligraphy that originated in China that Japanese writers used to compose their work. In china, this style which had been developed during the Tang dynasty in A.D. 618-907, is referred to as “bokuseki,” signifying “traces of ink,”

• The other more popular form of Japanese calligraphy is referred to as “Wayou”. Having its roots in Japanese aesthetics, Wayou features simple lines, small enclosed spaces and little ornamentation.

In the query with regards to Chinese vs Japanese writing, one can say that Chinese writing bears an uncanny similarity to the Japanese writing due to the fact that the Japanese language was formed based upon Chinese characters. However, the changes made to the borrowed Chinese characters of the Japanese writing system over the years have paved the way for both the languages to evolve as unique cultural elements representing two different nations.


Further Readings:

1. Difference Between Kanji and Chinese

2. Difference Between Kanji and Hiragana

3. Difference Between Kanji and Kana