The world of Kanji

February 15, 2021

Is there a way you can leave a mark in the world of Kanji? Yes! Here’s how.



Here’s a question for kanji enthusiasts. What is the kanji that comes to your mind when you see this character? That’s right! It is 座 (ザ、すわ・る) which means, to sit.

We see among many enthusiastic ‘Kanji’ learners, some of them trust that placing Kanji is a quick way to understand the sentence, while the other half wonder “Why?” - why does Japanese have Kanji when there is ‘Kana’, the phonetic alphabets of the Japanese language?!

Which side are you on?

The term “Kanji” is derived from the word Hanzi from Chinese which means “Chinese Han characters”. It represents whole words conveying a meaning behind such symbols. Currently, 2136 characters are declared as “kanji for everyday use” (常用(じょうよう)漢字(かんじ)) by the Japanese Ministry of Education.

But here’s the deal. What if you have a chance to create your own kanji? 2020 was indeed a tough time. But it did not stop the contestants to use their creativity and form new characters. Consider it as a Spinoff of original series! The 11th Creative Kanji Contest (sponsored by Sankei Shimbun and Shirakawa Shizuka Institute of East Asian Characters and Culture of Ritsumeikan university) took place with the question - Can you create a kanji that will remain until 100 years from now? This year, over 26,108 works were submitted to the committee, quite a big turnout! This contest was categorised into general, high school and elementary-middle school divisions and the kanji that secured the first spot delivered an accurate vibe of 2020.

The winning kanji which you have noticed at the beginning still follows the same on-yomi reading ザ “za” but the kunyomi reading takes an interesting turn. It is read as はなれてすわる (ソーシャルディスタンス) “hanarete suwaru (soosharu disutansu) “, meaning “to sit at a distance (social distance)”.


The original kanji depicts two people facing each other in a seated position in a building. But the kanji that bagged the trophy voiced the concept of sitting apart, perfectly summing up 2020 public regulations of maintaining distance.

There are other submissions that showcase creativity and sense of humour. Can you guess what these eye-catching runners-up characters are saying?


Weight gain due to isolation at home. (Note that katakana characters コロ mean Corona virus and 太 means fat)


Deforestation. (Note that 森-forest has additional strokes, referring to cutting down of trees)


Maintain distance while talking. (Note that ― in 話 has a longer stroke.)


Meetings happen only on Zoom. (Note that lower half of 会 is substituted with Z referring to Zoom calls.)

Kanji doesn’t seem that difficult now, right? Although these characters will not be used officially, it definitely throws light on how people perceive kanji characters. If you are interested to know more details on the contest, how to apply and the full list of awards and prizes, visit the sousaku kanji kontesuto website, here.