Stroke Order

A Beginner’s Guide to Japanese Stroke Order

Stroke Order

Having trouble figuring out the stroke order for Japanese characters? Whether you’re using hiragana, katakana, or kanji, these tips from Japanese teacher Karou N. will help you learn the correct stroke order for Japanese characters…

There are three types of characters in the Japanese language: hiragana, katakana, and kanji. Hiragana is used for basic writing. Katakana looks similar to hiragana, but is slightly different in function.

Kanji was originally invented in ancient China from hieroglyphs, and it’s still used in several Asian countries. Kanji has been uniquely organized for educational purposes in Japan. The two rules, writing order and stroke order, are very important in Japanese writing, and these rules also apply to hiragana and katakana.

1. Tomeru (to stop), haneru (to jump), and harau (to sweep)

When you write any Japanese character, you should always pay attention to these three things. They explain how to finish drawing each line in a letter. These rules are very strict, especially in kanji.

First, look at these hiragana characters below:

stroke order

When you look at the hirgana for “i,” you must recognize the two bars that are lined up vertically. Both bars should be drawn from top to bottom; the bottom of the line is the end of each stroke.

The longer line on the left side has a little clank at the end. That’s the haneru, or the jump. On the other side, the short bar has a thicker ridge on the end. This is the tomeru, or the stop.

Now look at the letter for “u.” This letter should be drawn like this: top, short horizontal (slanting) line, then the big curvy line. The big curvy line starts from the left corner, and makes a big curve in the right corner, and then adds a downward stroke.

The final stroke looks like it’s fading away at the bottom. That is the harau, or the sweep.

Now, look at the katakana characters below:

stroke order

The “u” has two vertical lines, a horizontal line, and a curvy slanted line. Both of the vertical lines must start from the top and finish at the bottom.

The shorter line crosses with the horizontal line, so you can’t see the end. The longer vertical line on the left has a “stop” ending, though.

The horizontal line starts from the left and comes out from the top end of the longer vertical line. Without separating at the corner, it turns and flows through to the bottom. In other words, the horizontal line and slanted line are connected and should be drawn in one stroke. The end of the stroke is obviously the “sweep.”

The “e” character is composed of three lines: top horizontal, middle vertical, and bottom horizontal. The horizontal line starts from the left, and the vertical line starts from the top.

In this letter, you can see two ridges of lines–one in the top and another in the bottom. Both of these lines end in a “stop” motion. This imitates calligraphy.

The weird angles at the corner, beginning of a stroke, or at crossing lines are naturally (or sometimes purposely) made in brush writing. You don’t have to worry too much about these when you write with a pen or pencil, though. What you have to pay attention to is how you should end the character and whether you should draw a tomeru, haneru, or harau.

2. Writing Order and Number of Strokes

You may have noticed that the hiragana “u” and katakana “u” are very similar. Some hiragana and katakana look almost the same. Even though the characters look similar, there are differences in the writing order and total number of strokes.

The number of strokes for a character is described with a kaku (counter). For example,  hiragana” is written in two strokes, so it’s two kaku. Write the short one on top first, then the second half on the bottom. In this font, the end of the top one has a “sweep,” and the beginning of the big curve has a weird angle. This happens in calligraphy because you’re supposed to draw two individual lines, like one stream of a stroke with a brush. Don’t be confused, the end of the top line has to be “stopped.”

While the hiragana” is two kaku, the katakana” has one additional line, so it’s three kaku. The strokes go in this order: top vertical, and then the longer left vertical line with a “stop” in the end. From the top ridge of the line, there is a horizontal line that flows through the curved line in the stroke. The end the of last stroke is the “sweep.”

Stroke order and writing order are very important concepts in Japanese writing because simple letters are used to form more complicated kanji. For instance, the kanji character for “hole” is a combination of the katakana “u” and the kanji  for “eight.”

stroke order

Even though the two characters are combined, this doesn’t change the writing order or stroke order. The kanji for “eight” has two curved lines that should be drawn from top to bottom and end in a “sweep.” The left line should be drawn first, followed by the right line.

There are two kaku, so the total kaku for the kanji for “hole” is three for “u” plus two for “eight,” which makes five. Asking the number of kaku for a letter is very common in Japanese schools.

When you know the writing and stroke order for simple characters, you will be able to learn more complicated ones.

Here are some examples:

Fire

stroke order

Fire

1) short line on the left (tomeru)
2) slanted line on the right (harau)
3) long middle line that sweeps to the left
4) long line that sweeps to right
Total kaku = 4

Counter for Blocks, etc.

Counter for Blocks, etc.

1) Horizontal line from left to right (tomeru)
2) Start in the middle of the horizontal line, move down vertically, then jump in the end.
Total kaku =2

Light/Lamp

stroke order

Light/Lamp

The writing order is exactly the same:

1) Write in the left half first
2) then in the right half
Total kaku4 + 2 = 6

Easy, right?

Even though this is a great way to simplify complicated kanji, you have to be careful. When a letter is combined, the stroke order may have some minor changes.

Here is an example:

Sky/Air

Sky Japanese

Sky/Air

Although, the “sky” character is a combination of two letters, the stroke order is not entirely the same. While you have to sweep in the end of the long curved line on the right side for , you have to stop in the end when you draw it for . Aside from this, nothing else changes.

Stroke and writing order can be confusing, but they are important components in the Japanese writing systems. They may seem intimidating at first, but there are patterns which can make learning them much easier.

Learning the Japanese writing systems can be challenging, but it’s not impossible, especially if you have a great teacher who can help.

Want to learn to write kanji characters? Find a Japanese tutor today! 

Kaoru NPost Author: Kaoru N.
Kaoru N. teaches Japanese, guitar, and classical guitar lessons in Brighton, MA. Originally from Tokyo, he graduated from Berklee College of Music with a dual major, and is available for in-home, in-studio, and online lessons. Learn more about Kaoru here!

Photo by Kanko*

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