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Kanji chart

Understanding the Origins of Kanji

Kanji” is Japanese for the Chinese hanzi characters that Japan has adopted as part of its modern writing system. Before kanji, the Japanese had no written language. Chinese characters were introduced to Japan through imported articles, and it is believed that Chinese immigrants wrote the first Japanese documents. Over 100,000 of these logograms, or visual word symbols, exist but only about 5,000-10,000 are in common use today. Cangjie

The legend of Chinese characters

Chinese characters are believed to have been invented by Cangjie, a legendary figure in ancient China. He was an official historian of the Yellow Emperor and is said to be the inventor of Chinese characters.



The legend of Chinese characters tells us that Cangjie is said to have invented symbols called zì (字), which were the first Chinese characters. On the day that the chracters were created, grain rained down from the sky and that same night, the people heard ghosts and demons crying out because human beings could no longer succumb to their malicious antics.Emperor Guangwu of Han

Chinese characters arriving to Japan

Chinese characters were introduced to Japan via official seals, swords, coins, and other decorative items imported from China. The earliest record of such an import was the King of Na gold seal gold seal in 57 AD from the Emperor Guangwu of Han to a Wa emissary.

Emperor Guangwu of Han

The Chinese coins and inkstones used in calligraphy and painting which are also of Chinese in origin have been found in Yayoi period (started at the beginning of the Neolithic in Japan, continued through the Bronze Age, and towards its end crossed into the Iron Age), archeological sites. The early Japanese most likely had little to no comprehension of the writings and would remain relatively illiterate until the fifth century AD.

The Kojiki and Nihon Shoki, the oldest books chronicling the history of Japan speaks of a scholar named Wani who was sent to Japan by the Kingdom of Baekje, a Korean kingdom, during the reign of Emperor Ōjin bringing with him teachings of Chinese characters and Confucianism.Kanji chart

The growth of literacy in Japan

The earliest Japanese documents were believed to have been written by bilingual Korean and Chinese officials employed at the Yamato court. The group of people called fuhito organized by Emperor Shun of Liu Song in 478 AD to read and write Classical Chinese in Japan. During the reign of Emperess Suiko (593-628), the Yamato court began sending all out diplomatic missions to China, resulting in an increase in Chinese literacy in the Japanese court.

Today, Kanji makes up part of the modern Japanese writing system, which also includes the kana syllabaries, hiragana and katakana with each of these systems having specific purposes.

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