Chinese vs Japanese writing

I’ve read many times that Japanese kanji are based on the Chinese writing system. I’ve never read how similar the two are though. Are they identical, like romaji is identical to our writing (minus a few letters)? Have they evolved away from either other, perhaps to the point that a person from one country can’t read writing from the other? I find it fascinating that two groups of people could understand each other’s writing but not their oral language, if it’s true.

They are identical to one another, although some reservations must be made to this statement:

  1. In mainland China, the use of “simplifed” characters is now the norm (correct me if I’m wrong here). These simplified characters have evolved from the original characters.

  2. In Taiwan, and Japan, the traditional ones are still used.

  3. The actual number of characters used in Japan is a lot smaller than in China. A lot of the Chinese characters are not used frequently, but simply replaced by Japanese phonetic characters

I’m in Singapore this week, and it’s interesting to see the differences. Some of the characters are still exactly the same. Others have been simplied, but can be recongnized and others you wouldn’t know.

There are a few kanji which are native to Japan. Some kanji have taken on different meanings than what is used by the Chinese, and then Japanese uses hiragana and katakana for words which the Chinese but use their characters.

Japan uses many simplified characters where they still use the complex ones in China. I suspect that some characters are more prevalent in Japanese than Chinese and vice-versa, and those ones will be more likely to be simplified. So for some Japanese will be the easier version, while for others the Chinese will be.
Please note that I am speaking only from personal experience and am not a linguist.

And in Japan at least, there are a third set of super complex versions of the characters that they use for signets. Probably these are the original characters from China (a few thousand years ago) and aren’t used by either country…except as signets of course.

No idea on Taiwan.

My understanding (dimly remembered from the explanation of our Chinese manager) is that the “original” complex chinese characters were simplified by the revolutionary government in mainland China as an aid to increase literacy.

The bit that I remember most clearly is that it is illegal in mainland China to use the complex forms of the character for public writing except for the trademarks / names / signs of businesses. So restaurants may well have old-style characters in their signs.

Anyhow, the complex characters continue to be used for Japanese Kanji. Maybe their meanings have evolved. However, they are close enough to the original for our Chinese guy to decode signs and stuff in our Japanese office.

Both Japan and China have simplified their letters. And in any case, the original ones entered the Japanese language over a 100 years ago, and have changed a bit on their own.

Wikipedia is your friend. Kanji.

Anyone who reads either Chinese or Japanese can understand most day-to-day stuff that’s written in the other language, although it would probably be hard to read poetry or even a novel, since those forms depend on nuances of language that would be different. Given that the Japanese adopted Chinese charaters well over 1000 years ago, that shouldn’t be too surprising. A lot can happen in 1000 years.

My inexpert understanding is that the introduction began around 1500 years ago (via Korea), although I am sure there has been a continuing and organic interaction with Chinese since then.

I don’t believe that there has been a systematic simplification of the characters used in Kanji, at least not in the way that the Chinese have done it. My understanding is that, after the war, a standard set of about 2000 Kanji was defined for government and educational use, but that the forms of these characters were not systematically changed in any way.

Again, my only “cite” is my personal source, XueJun - he claims that he can read the Japanese stuff because the characters are like the “old” Chinese characters, and often carry the same or similar meanings.

You might also want to read about Han unification in Unicode, in the Wikipedia, for a discussion on the differences between Han characters in different languages, and how they are dealt with in Unicode. It gives some nice examples, and points out that there is considerable controversy among experts in this area.

Just a quick example.

Beijing is made up of two characters: North + Capital. Same for Tokyo, except the characters are East + Capital. Everyone in China and Japan would recogize thost characters even if they couldn’t pronounce the words in the other language.

Many Japanese surnames incorporate nature-nouns: Mountain, River, Bamboo, Field, etc. These would certainly be comprehensible to Chinese, although they probably wouldn’t know the word in Japanese. Except, per the wiki article, Japanese generally have at least two pronunciations for each character-- one is the “Japanese” pronunciation (Kun’yomi) and the other is “Chinese” pronunciation (On’yomi). This would help in the cross-language pronunciation of many words, although only in certain contexts.

Also, keep in mind that the Chinese language is sort of the “Latin” of Asia. Since it was the dominant culture for so long, most of the countries near China borrowed words from Chinese in much the same way that Latin words entered into most European langauges.

The kanji, in some cases, were simplified over time or subtly altered from the traditional characters used in China until recently and still used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and many overseas communities. They haven’t mostly changed all that greatly, but there are definitely kanji that I don’t recognize when I know the Chinese equivalent. The simplified characters were not invented out of whole cloth by the PRC, either. They are mostly a systematization of forms that had existed in casual use for hundreds of years. There’s some cases, though I can’t think of any examples, where the kanji is identical to the simplified Chinese character.

Of course, at least some meaning is also carried in the kana (though I don’t speak Japanese, so I couldn’t guess at how much can be puzzled out from just the kanji.) It’s not as though a Japanese person and a Chinese person could write letters to each other with no difficulty.

Huh? AFAIK, the only meaning carried by the kana is the sound said kana represents.

I believe he means that some of the keywords (the meaning) of the sentence will be written in kana, so if you just know the kanji, you will still be missing a lot of information.

Some of the meaning of the writing, is what I meant. Kana themselves of course represent sounds, but they’re used for things like verb forms and grammatical words. I can’t imagine it’s easy to read a Japanese text if all the kana have been removed (though of course you’d probably have the general idea.)

There are kanji for most of the bits that are generally kana (verb forms, etc.), and I suspect that people used to learn those–but no more.
Traditionally, Japanese learned some sort of system whereby they would (as I recall it) write a sentence in Japanese, but using the kanji versions of the verb forms and so on–then they would use “the system” to reorganize the bits around into Chinese word order.
I suspect that it resulted in awful, awful translations–but at least it allowed them to somewhat write or read Chinese without having to fully learn Chinese.

^ Kindly note that this is all based on very crusty memories from something a teacher said in college–that I might have imagined.

I don’t know much about the history of Japanese writing, but this is pretty interesting to me. My understanding is that when writing first arrived in Korea, Japan, and Vietnam, essentially people wrote in Chinese and had to translate it back to read it.

I know, I just left off a zero there :smack:

At times. Although contact was never entirely lost, there were long periods where actualy cultural transmission was virtually nil.

Looked it up, the system is referred to as kunten. Essentially, someone who knows Chinese goes through it and adds marks that say how to rearrange the characters into something closer to Japanese. Unfortunately, google isn’t coming up with anything that says more than that one sentence (in English.)

The characters are 訓点 (kunten)–just in case there is info on it in Chinese.

Yes, Japan refused to allow their emperor to be in a lower position than the emperor of China. After time China stopped talking to Japan altogether, so Japan conquered Okinawa (the Ryukyu Islands) and continued to trade with China through Ryukyu–making it illegal for the Ryukyuers to take on Japanese names, wear Japanese clothes, or tell the Chinese that they were not still an independent country.
I don’t recall when things got patched up–if ever.

Most of your answers are roughly what I would have guessed and you’ve kind of answered my other question about word order. Arigato gozaimasu.