Issue 5: Study Tips
No more chicken scratch handwriting, write hiragana how it’s really written!
ne of the things that’s typical to gaijins learning Japanese, even the ones living in Japan, is that they have atrocious handwriting. So you’ve past JLTP level 1, yet nobody can read the chicken scratch some call handwriting (maybe niwatori can understand it). Seriously, have you ever seen a non-native Japanese learner (excluding the Chinese and Korean) write beautifully? Unless you were born there, grew up there during your childhood or just one of those rare gifted people who write beautifully even if it were Egyptian hieroglyphs. It’s a fact that the girnormously large part of learners writes downright U–G–L–Y (you ain’t got no alibi♪) when not writing their own native alphabet.
Yes, we don’t have to write as much as we used to do (in fact, some people have claimed never even seen a pen) cus we all have our iPhones permanently strapped to the palm of our hands. Nevertheless, beautiful handwriting is something that is looked up upon and in countries such as Japan it earns you admiration and respect (especially if you’re a gaijin).
Print vs Handwritten
Handwriting Masterclass is a three-part series in handwriting covering hiragana, katakana and kanji. In todays issue we’ll handle part 1 and focus on the basics, hiragana. As you might know, hiragana was derived, just like katakana, from Chinese characters. Often used more by women when created in the beginning, it has more curvy features than kanji and a more flowing feel to it.
New learners of Japanese often copy hiragana directly as printed in their textbooks resulting in unnatural handwriting. Because printed text is often based on characters written using a『筆 (ふで、calligraphy brush)』, writing them with a normal ballpen isn’t the same. Just as you don’t write the printed letter『a』like that, handwritten hiragana also differs from printed text. We’re going to learn how to write written hiragana, comparing them with printed versions and practise natural writing step by step.
What’s a good pen to write?
You know, I’ve seen people asking this question on forums wanting to know what kind of pen is the best to write Japanese with. One will recommend a 0.5mm fineliner, another one would say one of those special pens with a fancy brush-like tip, but you know what?
It don’t matter with what you write with, it should all be the same. You could write with fingerpaint and it still should look nice, don’t you agree? Writing is writing no matter what you’re holding between your digits.
Now here’s a real recommendation on writing tools, ROTATE. While it is true that certain kind of pens are easier to write with, in order write good, rotate between writing tools such as ballpoints, pencils and fine markers switching from one to another every now and then to promote a steady hand at writing and creating balance.
Yes, practise makes perfect and practising writing is ofcourse no different. Japanese kids have the luxury of having countless material like books, practise sheets and writing courses at their disposal helping them to write beautifully, courtesy of their mums. We Japanese learners have to do it with the small hiragana chart printed at the back of our textbooks. After a lot of writing and getting corrected numerous times, not to mention a whole 森 worth of paper, my handwriting finally looks quite natural and not unnative-like (if I maybe so bold to say so myself).
To help you develop real handwriting, I’ve created a set of 5 practise sheets each covering 8 – 10 hiragana (and yes, I wrote them myself and traced every single one of ’em in Illustrator). On the left you’ll see the printed version of a character (including romaji pronunciation for those still learning hiragana) and on the right the actual written version. Arrows and pointers will guide you through and dotted examples as well as practise squares let’s you practise them on your own. Also included is a handy checklist for you to keep track.
Feel free to download (click to open or right-click to download) the sheets (in high quality PDF) below and print them out in glorious color or black and white (laser printers: don’t forget to turn on raster for even better prints) as many times as you want.
Your feedback is important
If you liked the sheets (or don’t) or if you think it needs improvement, give me a shout in the comment section helping me improving and providing you with the best quality possible. Well, that wraps up this issue of Chokochoko. Next time: Handwriting Masterclass part 2: Katakana, be sure not to miss it!