Kanji Stroke Order: Which Goes First?

kanji stroke orderKanji stroke order refers to the order in which strokes of a Kanji character are written. Strokes are a writing instrument’s movement on a surface for writing. Kanji is an example of characters which are used in various forms of writing in Vietnam, Korea, Japan, and China. Kanji characters are called Han tu in Vietnamese, Haja in Korean and Hanzi in Chinese. In describing a character’s stroke order, there are many ways of going about it.

Children use guided courses to learn stroke order as part of learning writing. It is possible to make various graphical representations, most notably successive character images with one stroke changing in color each time. You can also use fanning, color-coding and numbering strokes. Here is a course that could get you started called Learn to read Japanese- Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji which is a step-by step method that shows you how to read all these in context.

Basic Principles

Basically, Chinese characters are constructed logo-grams with strokes. Over the millennium, a set of rules that have been generally agreed have been developed by customs. Between each country, there are minor variations that exist but the basic principles stay the same. One is that writing characters such as Kanji should be economical, with the most possible strokes written with the fewest hand movement.

This promotes readability, accuracy and writing speed. This is a particularly important idea since as there is progress made by the learners, the characters become more complex. Memorization and learning are also aided by stroke orders so students are often taught this in schools from a very early age and are encouraged to keep at it. Here is an article you might be interested in entitled How to Write in Japanese: A Guide for Beginners.

To teach eight of the most basic of regular script’s strokes, “The Eight Principles of Yong” are used, which uses the single ‘eternity’ character. This is the way Japanese schools introduce stroke order to their students. It teaches you which stroke comes first and which should come last which we will discuss in the next few paragraphs.

Stroke Order

Modern Japan’s governments have officially standardized the strokes as prescribed with the government’s standard sets of characters. Among the governments of Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and China, none match the traditional stroke orders completely. The difference among the standards given out by each government come from lack of calligraphy understanding on the part of those who standardize the orders of the strokes.

The Japanese stroke order, called Kanji is mostly prescribed in modern japan. The standard set of characters is the Joyo Kanji, which contains many 1946-reformed characters. Editors prescribe the stroke order of a character with the MEXT, which should all follow commonsensical orders that are accepted widely in society.

This standard becomes diverged from the traditional order of strokes in that the 2 sides of the grass radical are conjoined and written using 3 strokes. Also, the semi-cursive script influences this standard, leading to some vertical strokes preceding horizontal intersecting strokes if the vertical one does not pass through the horizontal lowest stroke as in 生and隹. The traditional order of strokes writes the丿 first.

  • Write from Left to Right and from Top to Bottom

Generally, strokes are written from left to right and from top to bottom. For instance, among the first usually learned characters, the number one is usually learned, which is written with a horizontal single line: 一. This character consists of one left-to-right stroke.

There are 2 strokes for the number two. In this case, the top stroke is written first but both are written from left to right: 二.

For three, there are three strokes, with the uppermost stroke written first and each stroke written from left to write: 三

When it comes to the order of component, this rule also applies. This character can be divided into two: 校 the entire left side is then completed before you go on to the side on the right. To this rule, there are exceptions which occur mainly when the character on the right has a low enclosure. When a character has components on the upper and lower parts, the upper part is written first before the lower parts such as in the characters: 星 and 品.

  • Center First

For vertical, symmetrical characters, write the center strokes first before the outside on the left or right. On the left, components are written before those on the right, like in the characters: 承 and 兜.

  • Right to Left Diagonals before Left to Right Diagonals

For when they are symmetrical, before writing left-to-right diagonals, write right-to-left diagonals first: 文. For diagonals that are asymmetrical, the left-to-right precedes the right-to-left strokes like in: 戈

  • Last are the Character-Spanning Strokes

Write vertical strokes passing through all the other strokes last as in the characters: 弗 and 聿. Also, strokes that are horizontal passing through other written strokes come last as well, like in 舟 and 毋.

  • Horizontal Before Vertical

When strokes that are vertical and horizontal cross, write the horizontal strokes before the vertical ones such as for the character ‘ten,’ which has 2 strokes: 十. In Kanji, vertical strokes sometime precede many intersecting strokes that are horizontal if the vertical ones do not pass through the horizontal lowest stroke. Here is a course you might want to check out entitled Japanese Mastery Method; Accelerated Learning for Japanese using a speed learning technique.

  • In Enclosures, Vertical Lines Come First

When writing an enclosing stroke, the left vertical lines are written first. The first stroke would then be a line: l and the upper and rightmost lines come nest, written in one go. This applies in characters such as 口 and 日. By the way here is a course entitled Japanese KanaBeats- Katakana and Hiragana which shows you how to learn the phonetic writing systems of Japan.

  • Contents after Enclosures

Components enclosed outside are written before the ones within. In the enclosure, bottom strokes are written last if these exist, like in 口 and 日. There may also be no bottom stroke in enclosures like in 月 and 同.

For further studies, you might want to check out this course entitled Learn 80 JLPT N5 kanji and 530 Japanese Compounds which is a convenient way of studying Kanji.