Shorthand Kanji Forms
Shorthand kanji forms (called 略字:ryakuji in Japanese) are something you’re unlikely to come across in your Japanese studies (since they’re technically incorrect), and thanks to the everything-becoming-digital age are less useful than they once were.
But longtime readers of Nihonshock by now have probably figured out that I love learning and exploring all of these you-don’t-really-need-to-know-this-but… areas of Japanese. After all, if you’re in Japan long enough, sooner or later you will come across them.
Where are shorthand kanji used?
By their nature, they can only be used in hand-written Japanese (you can’t even get most of the shorthand forms to appear on a computer). And since they’re considered incorrect forms, you’ll find them mostly in extremely casual correspondence or in note-to-self types of writing.
The primary reason to use them is for speed. As a learner, I’m sure you know that writing kanji can be a time consuming process. The Japanese are well-practiced and can write it significantly faster than most of us gaijin, but still have the same problem. Many (most?) kanji are just plain inefficient.
So who might benefit from the ability to write things quickly? That’s right, a student! Taking lecture notes is a situation just begging for writing shortcuts. And as you will see, many of the less mainstream shorthand kanji are ones that would be useful in exactly that situation.
But first, let’s start with some of the most major/useful shorthand forms:
Obviously, all of these kanji save the writer quite a bit of time, effort and ink. 第→㐧 is one of the most accepted shorthand forms and according to the wikipedia article on shorthand kanji is used on some traffic signs. I personally have never come across it.
The reduced form of 門, however, I have come across quite a few times. It’s extremely useful because it can also be used in any kanji that is based on the 門 radical (like 問 or 間). You may also see it with two vertical strokes across the top bar instead of one.
The reduced form of 曜 is a personal favorite of mine, although surprisingly not as frequently used by Japanese as some of the other shorthand forms. Beginners to Japanese know (and fear) this kanji well, as it’s the most difficult one that you have to learn at their level. The problem is how commonly the kanji is needed; it’s used in all the words representing a day of the week (for example: Monday = 月曜日). I really hope the Japanese come to their senses and make shorthand a Joyo kanji someday, but I’m not holding my breath.
The shorthand for 前 is interesting because it’s part hiragana, a kind of Frankenstein-kanji.
The shorthand for 個 is a nice one to have and I’ve actually encountered it before in my boss’ telephone memos.
The image of the shorthand for 雪 illustrates the reduced form of the rain radical, which is another favorite of mine. You can use that reduction in any rain radical kanji (雷, 霧, 霜 etc.). Sometimes the rain radical is reduced to 両, but that doesn’t strike me as being a whole lot easier.
㐂 is actually is actually not a reduction of the original kanji 喜, but instead comes from grass-script (basically a kind of calligraphy or cursive writing). Seven is an auspicious number in Japanese too, as you can see.
The shorthand for 選 isn’t commonly used, but is close enough to the original that a Japanese reading quickly might not even notice it’s a reduced form. I’d also be in favor of making this Joyo, but hopes are about as slim as they were for 曜.
These are a couple of my favorites. The kanji 風 has two different shorthand forms (pictured above), use whichever you like. I’ve seen this one only once, though, on a restaurant menu in the word 和風. I presume it was employed for a stylistic effect.
The word for library (図書館) also has two possible abbreviated forms. I don’t know who came up with these, but I want to track them down and give them a very big hug. This is the kind of progressive vision our world needs! (okay, I’m probably exaggerating a bit, but I do think it’s really clever)
Combining kana with kanji
These are some examples of using katakana for certain elements of a kanji. They’re not exactly standardized, but the basic concept is still a great way for anyone to invent a shorthand on the fly. Usually, the katakana is based on the reading of the kanji.
As to why the shorthand for 藤 has a completely different radical, I’m sorry but I have no idea.
Shorthand kanji in specialized fields
It makes sense that if there’s a particular difficult kanji that you have to write a lot, you’re more likely to create or use a shorthand for it. The above kanji show instances where this has happened. None of these a really for general consumption but…
If you’re a chemist, you might like to use the shorthand form of 濾, which is used in words such as 濾過 (filtrate). If you study medicine, you might be interested in a quicker way to write 薬 and if you are going to law school, 権’s shorthand form might come in handy.
The last one is a convenient shorthand used by some residents of Niigata ( 新潟) prefecture.
Shorthand kanji are an interesting and potentially useful tool for anyone who has to actually hand-write Japanese. I just hope you won’t try to use them on your Japanese tests, job applications in any other context where you really should be writing “correctly.”
If you liked this post and want to know more about shorthand kanji, check out the wikipedia article, and here’s a nice shorthand compilation on a Japanese-language site. Also, I’ve compiled all of these and more shorthand forms on the Kanji Cheat Sheet which is a part of Nihonshock.com’s Japanese Cheat Sheet Pack. Click the link for more info.
On a side note, I even used some kanji as shorthand in my English note-taking when I was in college. Writing 人 is much easier than “people”, for example. Others I recall using were 才 (years old), 年 (year), 中 (inside), 上 (up/top), 下 (down/under). So kanji aren’t always our enemies