As confirmed recently on a Japanese-language Q&A site, the attachment of native speakers of Japanese to kanji rests more in the heart than in the mind.
A full description of the Q&A material is contained in the article linked at the end of this piece. Here, the focus is on two arguments presented in favor of the continued use of kanji.
Argument 1: Eliminating Chinese characters in Korea has been demonstrated an error, on account of the confusion caused by homonyms. Japan should not make the same mistake. This is an opinion commonly expressed around the Japanese web. The basis, such as it is, lies in the following incident.
In 2009, cracks were discovered in railways ties of the KTX bullet trains operated by the Korea Rail Network Authority. Investigation revealed that the manufacturer had used an absorbent material instead of a waterproofing material. Collected rainwater froze and expanded in winter, resulting in cracking. The immediate cause was determined to lie in the subcontractor's confusion of one Korean term indicating "absorption" for another one pronounced the same and meaning "waterproof."
Here the fuzzy logic runs: Had the term been written in Chinese characters, the costly mistake would never have occurred. In consequence, eliminating Chinese characters in favor of Hangul was an error.
However, if elimination of Chinese characters was the root problem, we would expect an endless series of confused orders in Korea over the past half-century or so. This is not the case.
Rather, and significantly, the investigation found that the manufacturer had been awarded the contract owing to the strength of its connections, and labeled the company "unqualified." This is the real foundation of the mistake, but proponents of kanji insist the abandonment of Chinese characters is to blame.
Argument 2: Japan's future hinges on cooperation with economic powerhouse China, so that rather than abolishing kanji, Japan should be emphasizing kanji skills more than ever.
Here the fuzzy logic takes the form: Communication and mutual understanding between China and Japan will be facilitated by continuing use of Chinese characters/kanji.
It is a commonplace for Japanese people to describe visiting China and making themselves understood by writing kanji. Sure, this happens, but the level of communication barely surpasses what can be achieved by gestures, if even that. Write the characters for "stomach" and "pain" and a Chinese person will probably conclude you have a stomachache. Wonderful, but the same thing can be accomplished even more quickly by grimacing and clutching one's belly.
Deeper communication is a different matter. Chinese and Japanese are genetically distinct languages, and there are also differences in how the Chinese characters/kanji are used at present.
The set of simplified Chinese characters in use in China and the set of regular-use characters in Japan feature numerous distinctions. Examples:
A) In Japan 乾, 幹 and 干 are distinct characters. In simplified Chinese characters, all three are written as 干.
B) In simplified Chinese characters, the left-hand element of the contemporary Japanese characters 歓, 観 and 難 are all written with 又.
C) The simplified Chinese character forms sometimes delete elements found in their corresponding characters in contemporary Japanese usage: 広 → 广; 誇 → 夸; 気 → 气 and so on.
What is more, even if China and Japan agreed upon a common script, readers of Chinese would remain far from adequately grasping Japanese, and vice versa.
Consider the following sentence that might appear in a Japanese newspaper.
To one able to read Chinese characters, the following parts will leap to the eyes.
島根県内 女性 3年前 行方不明 事件 女性 殺害 遺体遺棄 認 男3人 「女性 睡眠薬入 飲 乱暴 刺 殺」 供述 21日、警察 取材 分。
The literal English equivalent of what the reader of Chinese will be able to puzzle out is: Within Shimane Prefecture woman 5 years ago go missing incident woman kill abandon corpse acknowledge 3 men 「woman sleeping medicine place/go in drink violence? stab kill」 declare 21st police collect material? divide?
For the reader of Chinese, at least a half-dozen key points are obscure.
-- Is the "woman" that appears three times the same individual?
-- How many people were killed, and how many corpses abandoned?
-- Did a woman place the sleeping medicine in a drink? Was it perhaps the woman's drink that was spiked? Or were multiple women somehow involved?
-- Who did the declaring?
-- The police collected material? Then they divided it? (In Japanese, the primary meaning of 取材 is "collect information from news sources." In Chinese it means "collect material." Meanwhile, 分 in Japanese does have the meaning "divide," but here it means "understand." In other words, the reporter learned the information, having received it from the police.)
-- Who did what on the 21st?
This is the outer limit of what a reader of Chinese lacking knowledge of kana and of Japanese grammar can surmise about written Japanese. Nor is a Japanese reader lacking a knowledge of Chinese grammar any better placed to comprehend a Chinese sentence containing this information.
Even supposing that China and Japan managed to agree upon a common script, they would be no closer to mutual linguistic understanding than joint users of the Roman alphabet such as Hungarians and Australians.
These two examples are indicative of how Japanese arguing in favor of retaining kanji tend to allow emotions to trump ratiocination. Of course, as "yurukyara," manga and anime suggest, language is only one aspect of Japanese culture evincing pliant reasoning and/or a partiality for fuzziness. Considering all the sharp edges with which our world is strewn, perhaps this very same pliancy and comfort with vagueness help account for the universal scope and vigor of Japanese soft power.© Japan Today