Reaffirm the importance of writing by hand

With the proliferation of digital devices, many people may feel that they can no longer properly write kanji characters. It is necessary to rethink how to secure opportunities to write characters in our daily lives and in educational settings.

The Cultural Affairs Agency has announced the results of its fiscal 2021 public opinion survey regarding the Japanese language, covering people aged 16 and older nationwide. An 82% majority of all respondents said they hold an interest in the Japanese language, with the most common points of engagement including “daily language use and speaking” and “the use of honorifics.”

Regarding the language itself and the use of language, 85% of respondents answered that “society in general is facing issues.” Many people view as problematic such phenomena as “an inability to use appropriate language on formal occasions” and “slanderous and emotional remarks seen in such contexts as flaming on the internet.”

Language illustrates the personality of the user and has the ability to hurt others, depending on how it is used. In this age of social networking, in which anyone can send out messages, many people are apparently concerned about how to communicate with others through words.

Ninety-one percent of respondents believe that the proliferation of personal computers and smartphones has had an impact on the language itself and how people use it. Overwhelmingly, respondents were concerned about “a decreased occasions for handwriting” and “decline in proficiency in writing kanji characters.”

On personal computers and smartphones, if one enters a word in hiragana, it is automatically converted into kanji. Although users can select the correct kanji from among the choices automatically generated for the entered hiragana, everyone has had the experience of not being able to remember the right kanji when it comes time to write them by hand.

In its 2010 report, the Council for Cultural Affairs pointed out the importance of handwriting, saying that repeatedly writing kanji characters activates the brain and leads to learning them better. The report also considered handwriting important to Japanese culture because handwriting illustrates the personality of the writer.

In the fiscal 2014 version of the survey, 92% of respondents said the custom of handwriting “should continue to be valued in the future.”

Recently, however, the custom of writing New Year’s cards and greeting cards has been fading. Teachers at schools are also concerned that the introduction of digital textbooks and other measures could reduce teaching that requires students to make use of notebooks and pencils.

At universities, some students use their smartphones to take pictures of the writing of teaching staff on the board and do not use notebooks. Taking notes on paper requires deciding what to write down and how to do so. Writing is thinking itself.

Theses and essays can be handwritten on traditional Japanese manuscript paper. Handwritten schedules can be kept in a paper schedule notebook. Diaries or household account books can also be handwritten. By consciously creating such opportunities at school and at home, the culture of handwriting can be preserved.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 1, 2022)