As an amateur linguist and blossoming devil’s advocate, I wanted to write a response to a blog entry I saw on JSOC titled Six Reasons Why Kanji Is Necessary.
Kanji are one of a number of writing systems used in Japanese and were imported from China over a span of time, leading to their numerous different readings. You need to know around 1,945 kanji to be considered literate by the Japanese government.
In short, they’re the complicated-looking ones. Do you really need to know them? Of course not. Here’s why.
(1) Without knowing kanji (or the Chinese version, hanzi), tattoos are awesome again. Imagine looking at your acquaintance’s new tattoo and not knowing that it said ‘prostitute‘, ‘idiot‘ or ‘sesame chicken’. I bet you thought I was making the last one up. Nope. Now you can appreciate friends’ tattoos without wondering how you’re going to explain that they’ve tattooed the technical term for mouse genitalia on their lower back.
(2) Eating out is a new and exciting experience. Just point to somewhere on the menu. Pick the food with the prettiest kanji. Heck, you don’t even need to know all that stuff about stroke counts. Within minutes, anything from shiokara to basashi to whale could be coming your way. It’s like a potluck dinner with double the excitement and none of the friends.
(3) You can still enjoy Shiso Pepsi. ‘Shiso’ is written in the Roman alphabet on the bottle and there’s even a leaf worked into the design just in case you don’t make the connection between the word ‘shiso’ and the stuff in the local supermarket.
(4) Think of the children. It’s hard to explain to a six year-old how you know more kanji than them and why most of them are found only in 18-plus doujinshi. Never again.
(5) If you really want to read, great literature is still available to you. I must’ve read “Kaijuu-tachi no Iru Tokoro” (Where The Wild Things Are) over a hundred times by now. Unfortunately, if you’re looking to read 1Q84 by Murakami Haruki, you’re out of luck.
(6) You will never know when it’s your turn to clean the staff toilet at your place of work. What does 「火曜日」 mean? And is 「５月３１日」 some kind of serial number? If anyone calls you on it, nod your head as if considering the matter hard and try to enter that number into your mobile phone handset. Screw up your face and pretend you are cracking a code like in a Dan Brown novel. If it looks like that might really make you clean that loo, consult a nearby poster of the Vitruvian Man.
As you can see, these are six reasons why not knowing kanji will actually improve your quality of life. If you decide to ignore my sage advice and continue with your studies regardless, good luck to you.