JAPAN. Too many young people are leaving school unable to write the kanji ideographs of written Japanese, say a growing number of parents and employers who are concerned about poor standards of writing among school and university leavers.
A recent survey of the reading and writing skills of 18-year-old high-school-leavers revealed that around 40 per cent had difficulty remembering how to write some everyday kanji characters.
Basic literacy in Japan involves mastering around 2,000 or so ideographs and that some of the kanji characters involve more than 20 precisely-drawn lines. A line in the wrong place can change the meaning of the ideograph.
The increased use of word processors in schools, homes and offices is being blamed for falling handwriting standards.
Instead of learning to write kanji, word processor users can produce characters with a few strokes of the keyboard.
Also, the increased use of computers in schools has encouraged many pupils to devote more time to learning the Western alphabet so that they can surf the Internet, where the English language is dominant.
Some of the blame for the decline in reading and writing standards is also attributed to the popular manga comic magazines which account for over a quarter of the 5 million books and magazines published in Japan every year. "Manga only requires half-literacy," said Takashi Doi.
The recent cut in the school year, which has made every second Saturday a school-free day, has also been cited as a cause of poorer literacy standards. The reinstatement of Saturday schooling is now being demanded by educators concerned by the decline in literacy skills.
Others are pressing for a more drastic solution. "It is time for Japan to get rid of the over-complicated kanji script," said Kenji Ichimura, a college lecturer. "Learning kanji takes up an enormous amount of time and energy. "
But most teachers believe that kanji writing is an important part of Japanese culture and should be retained.
Mastering kanji, they also argue, helps to instil patience and discipline.