How to Write Japanese Characters

Stroke Types 筆画(ひっかく)

Strokes are traditionally classified into eight basic forms, each appearing in the character "eternal" and listed below along with their Japanese names. Though somewhat arbitrary, this system has remained popular for nearly two millenia.

1. "Ten" - A simple dot.

2. "Yoko" - Horizontal stroke, left to right.

3. "Tate" - Vertical stroke, top to bottom.

4. "Kagi" - Hook appended to other strokes.

5. "Hane" - Diagonal stroke, rising from left to right.

6. "Hidari Harai" - Diagonal stroke, falling from right to left.

7. "(Mijikai) Hidari Harai" - Short diagonal stroke, falling from right to left.

8. "Migi Harai" - Horizontal stroke, falling from left to right.

These basic strokes are sometimes combined without the pen leaving the paper. In the above example of "eternal", strokes 2-3-4 are written as one continuous stroke, as are strokes 5-6. Hence in dictionaries this character is indexed as having five separate strokes.

Stroke Order 書き順 (書き順)

Writing characters in the correct order is essential for the character to look balanced, and consistent stroke order allows one to learn and write faster.

Two basic rules are followed:

1. Top before bottom

2. Left before right

These rules conflict whenever one stroke is to the bottom and left of another. Several additional rules resolve many of these conflicts.

3. Left vertical stroke (usually) before top horizontal stroke

4. Bottom stroke last.

5a. Vertical stroke last when it spans the entire character and protrudes both top and bottom.

  also applicable to  and

5b. Vertical strokes before intersecting horizontal strokes when it does not protrude both top and bottom.

7. Enclosures before contents

8. Center stroke before wings

9. Left-falling strokes before right-falling srokes

A final rule can contradict the others:

10. Minor strokes (often) last

Despite these conflicts between rules most students quickly acquire a natural feel for the proper stroke order.

Component Order

Most kanji are combinations of simpler, component characters. Usually the two parts are written at top and bottom

or left and right

so that the main two stroke order rules readily apply. Occasionally these rules also conflict with respect to components. When one component is at the bottom-left, and the other at the top-right, the top-right component is written first.

also applicable to

When there are several components, top components are written first.

These rules usually imply each component is written in its entirety before another component is written. Exceptions may arise when one component divides another,

encompasses another,

or the individual components are no longer discernible in modern writing.