Original kanji contest is a chance to leave your mark on the Japanese language

By Ben K, grape Japan

Although most Japanese people only use a few thousand kanji in their daily lives—six thousand if they're very knowledgeable—that's only a fraction of the entire number of kanji in existence. For example, the famous 大漢和辞典 Dai Kan-Wa Jiten, a tome of unparalleled breadth compiled by Tetsuji Morohashi, contains over 50,000 kanji, and by some estimates, if all kanji ever made throughout history were compiled, there could even be upwards of 100,000 in total.

The joy of creating new kanji

And yet, people still enjoy creating new ones. Japanese, just like any living language, continually evolves in small increments. And although it's usually vocabulary that gets added to dictionaries, new kanji can also have an impact in their own way, sometimes gaining recognition within popular culture and leaving an impact as a reflection of the times.

There are many ways to go about creating sosaku kanji. You can create a kanji that looks like something it is trying to convey. For example, we saw calligrapher Monyaizumi make kanji for Gundam and bubble tea. You can also use katakana to make a new kanji, as we saw with writer Go Ohinata and his kanji for "system". Perhaps the most orthodox method is to combine existing kanji in new configurations. For example, this kanji for ocean pollution, combining the kanji 海 (meaning "ocean") and 汚 (meaning "dirty" or "pollution"):


In case you were wondering, that kanji was submitted by a (then) 13-year-old middle school student from Hiroshima, and it won the top prize in the 10th Original Kanji Contest.

11th Original Kanji Contest now accepting entries

So, are you ready to give it a shot? The 創作漢字コンテスト sosaku kanji kontesuto (Original Kanji Contest) sponsored by Sankei Shimbun newspaper and The Shirakawa Shizuka Institute of East Asian Characters and Culture at Ritsumeikan University is now accepting entries for their 11th iteration.

If you visit their website, you can see the winning entries of previous contests. We checked with the sponsors and foreign nationals, as well as people who live outside of Japan, are also welcome to submit entries, and if you win, you can collect up to 50,000 yen in gift coupons for the top prize.

Entries are being accepted until Sept 11. So what are you waiting for? According to their press release, this could be a chance for you to leave your mark on the Japanese language with a powerful new kanji that truly reflects the times and may even be remembered 100 years from now.

For more details on the contest, how to apply and the full list of awards and prizes, visit the sosaku kanji kontesuto website here.

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© grape Japan

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