Kanji Logograms Created in Japan

Although Kanji originated in China, their use spread to Japan, the Korean Peninsula and other regions where they underwent local changes and development. As such, there are now Kanji that were created in Korea, Kanji created in Japan, and so on. In this issue, we’ll take a look at the Kanji that were created in Japan.

Japanese Kanji

Here are some typical examples of Kokuji*1 or Kanji characters that were created in Japan.

榊 (Sakaki, or the cleyera ochnacea tree), 峠 (Tōge, or mountain pass), 畑 (Hatake, or cultivated field and 栃 (Tochi, or horse chestnut).

These Kanji are not used in China, so how then are Japanese words containing these Kanji translated into Chinese?

Such characters would not show up if you tried to enter them on a computer as Chinese words.*2 In some cases, these made-in-Japan characters are substituted with similar Chinese characters, as follows.

榊=神 (shen), 峠=卡 (ka), 畑=田 (tian) and 栃=枥 (li)

Such substitution of characters is not considered a typographical error, so that the family names Sakakibara (榊原) and Kamihara (神原) would both be written using the same Kanji in Chinese as 神原; likewise in the case of Hatakeyama (畑山) and Tayama (田山), which would both be written as 田山 in China. It is rather interesting for a Japanese individual to see if their name would be correctly written in Chinese, and at the same time a bit worrying, too. If you are Japanese and want to have a handwritten receipt, it would be best if you showed them how it is written and ask them to write it in the same way. Because all foreigners in China have their names written using Kanji, showing a Chinese person how your name is written is nothing out of the ordinary.

Incidentally, there are some Chinese dictionaries that include such Kokuji under the heading of Japanese Kanji.

Compound Words Created in Japan

Aside from Kokuji, there are also new combinations of Chinese Kanji that were created in Japan to form compound words that later spread to China and are now in wide use. These were born during Japan’s period of modernization during the Meiji period when Japan began adopting Western culture ahead of other Asian countries. Because Japanese intellectuals of the Edo period (before Japan opened its doors) were learned in classical Chinese, they concentrated on expressing foreign words from the West in Kanji rather than phonetically in Katakana as is the practice today. The new concepts expressed using existing Kanji were later reimported to China and the Korean Peninsula.

Examples of compound words created in Japan that were reimported to China

哲学 (philosophy), 民主 (democratic), 銀行 (bank), 共和国 (republic), 元素 (chemical element), 社会 (society), 保険 (insurance), 共産 (communist), 科学 (science), 電気 (electricity), 人民 (the people), 概念 (concept), etc.

Translation Can Be Difficult with Only A Superficial Understanding

In ancient times, Japan learned from China and the Korean Peninsula. When a new age arrived, this time it was Japan’s turn to exert great influence on China and the Korean Peninsula. Today, Japan is once again being influenced by China and the Korean Peninsula. When one looks at words and languages using translation as a trigger, you will always find yourself led back to the culture and history that is in the background of the relevant word. One can clearly see that it is important when carrying out a translation to be constantly aware of the larger picture – culture, history, customs, national character, etc. – that is behind the words being translated. When you are writing a particular document, and you know it is going to be translated, then things will go much more smoothly when rolling out versions in other languages if you begin by composing in a way that makes the later translation easier.

*1 Kanji that originated in Japan
*2 It is possible to display the Kanji entered as Japanese on a computer using Unicode.

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