I am strictly interested in the question of homophones and kanji. Korean has homophones yet they removed the Chinese characters and are getting by just fine? Or are they?

Japanese kanji lovers say kanji is required in order to deal with homophones. Unlike English, Japanese has many homophones and you can't know from context which is being used. As such we need to use kanji in order to deal with homophones.

Why was korea able to remove it even though Korean has homophones but japan hasn't? I am strictly focusing on the question of is kanji necessitated by homophones and if yes how?

------------- EDIT ---------------------------

Apparently relying on context alone is not enough. In Japanese tv the frequently use subtitles/kanji to remove ambiguity. Have a look at this text also: http://www.cjk.org/cjk/reference/japhom.htm. A single Japanese word homophone may have 20 meanings and for these kanji they argue for kanji.

Given what I have mentioned do you think the kanji is still required or could it be removed?

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    English does have many homophones, but Japanese and Korean definitely have more. Korean has a larger phoneme repertoire than Japanese so perhaps it has fewer homophones statistically but having spent time in both countries trying to pick up the languages they didn't seem any less common. But in both languages you rarely run into any as a beginner - only when you try to use a dictionary. I'd say the real answer is that the Koreas made an effort to throw off hanja whereas Japan has not decided to attempt to remove kanji. Jun 9, 2013 at 3:38
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    Just to clarify, South Korea officially still uses Hanja characters, although generally just for disambiguation or stylistic reasons. North Korea has completely discontinued Hanja.
    – acattle
    Jun 9, 2013 at 15:05
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    @acattle: Indeed I have a Korean novel translated from German handy and there is a term in hanja every couple of pages or so. It looks like they're all parenthesized so just for disambiguation of less common terms I assume. They seem quite a bit less common than the amount of ruby text to help with uncommon kanji in Japanese novels. Jun 9, 2013 at 18:42
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    Genji Monogatari was written entirely in Kana. The use of Kanji is a (relatively) modern innovation - and Roy Andrew Miller suggests that this was partly because life at court was so boring that a needlessly complicated writing system was seen as desirable. Kanji are not and never have been necessary: it was a cultural choice to introduce them, and continues to be a cultural choice to retain them.
    – Colin Fine
    Jun 24, 2014 at 21:40
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    @Colin That seems a bit backwards to me. It wasn't really a cultural choice to introduce Kanji in particular—it was a cultural choice to introduce writing, and the Chinese system happened to be the one available to the borrowers at the time. Kana are a later invention, based on calligraphically simplified Kanji. Neither is really a necessity: Japanese can be, and has been, written exclusively in both Kana and Kanji at different times in history. The difference is that writing in Kana alone makes readable text; Kanji alone makes a horrible mess that's nigh impossible to decipher. Jun 25, 2014 at 8:17

12 Answers 12


the problem is a bit in the framing of your question: "Why was korea able to remove kanji but japan wasn't when both languages use homophones?". i see two problems with this.

firstly, all human language have homophones to a greater or lesser degree. it is true that Chinese and especially Japanese are somewhat internationally renowned for having big numbers of homophones (there's a humorous short story about two neighbors running into each other in the street and having an extended chat about nougaku, not realizing that while the one is talking about 農学 (agriculture), the other is talking about 能楽 (No theater)).

secondly, your question is biased in favor of abolition of kanji, making it look like it was the natural and desirable way for any language that has been using kanji to replace that writing system with a more sound-based one; that may or may not be true, but this partisan stance begs the question whether the Japanese and the Koreans have ever collectively wanted to stop using kanji.

i guess the somewhat baffling answer to this question is that for a long time in their histories, neither the Japanese nor the Koreans have wanted to abolish kanji / hanja. as for the Japanese, while the well-known kanji usage regulations stipulated after WWII did limit the number of kanji, they are still used in great numbers. one often sees obscure kanji and kanji with obscure readings. every japanese can at almost any given point in time opt to switch to using kana in place of kanji, and in fact this sometimes happens (like my former landlady who posted a sign containing '石っけん' rather than '石鹸', as she deemed the former to make for an easier read for her foreign student residents). the fact that many japanese continue to write many kanji clearly shows they're not willing to abolish this system.

likewise, the Koreans have for the 500 years between Sejong's invention of hangeul and their widespread, nation-wide and almost exclusive adoption resisted the urge to 'rid' themselves of kanji. it is only in the 20th century that hangeul rose from being an auxiliary script that many literati looked down on to the primary means of written expression that we see today.

rephrasing your question, i think we should better ask: why did the Koreans stop using kanji, and the Japanese didn't?, plain and simple, and i think the answer lies to a big part in: a matter of preference and choice. homophones have relatively little to do with that; as has been pointed out, when you do have a 'phonetic' script at your hand, and you can state yourself unambiguously in speaking, then the same should hold when writing with that phonetic script, homophones or not.

i'm also afraid i can't quite follow @lzmtky's argumentation with those vowelcounts and whatnot. firstly, reading 'どうぶつゆらいかんせんしょう' i do have every difficulty with that string as you, but that is really caused by reading habits, not by the fact that that string is not in principle very readable.

further, there are rather more than 400 syllable blocks in Korean—Unicode defines 11,172 precomposed hangeul syllables (not all of which are in frequent use). your number for Japanese 'sounds' is also slightly misleading: there are 45 (not 46) kana with distinct sounds, but: there are an additional 25 kana with (han-) dakuten, of which 2 have to be subtracted because they're phonetic duplicates; further, there are the youon digraphs (a la しゅ), of which there are 27 with distinct sounds. that leaves us with 45 + 23 + 27 = 95. but what have we counted here? well, that's about the number of different morae in Japanese, not what is commonly assumed the basic building block in segmental phonetics—that would be the number of distinct vowels and consonants.

to compare an alleged number of 400 hangeul syllable blocks with an alleged number 46 distinct kana is pretty unjustified; it is comparing two writing systems at best anyhow, not two sound systems. for that to do, you must obviously (at least) count vowels, consonants, and their possible combinations. if your intention was to present syllable counts (and thought, reasonably, that the amount of distinct, common hangeul blocks will just about equal the number of distinct Korean syllables), well then you'd have to take into account that a Japanese syllable may have more than one mora: おおさか has four morae, but only three syllables; likewise, かわい has three morae, but only two syllables. i think we can safely say that Japanese has more in the vicinity of 200 distinct syllables.

commenting on your statement that "even in Korean, there are different ways of writing a word/name which sounds the same. For example, 민아 and 미나, 윤아 and 유나, 각오 and 가고. Therefore, this variety eliminates the need for kanji in Korean", let me ask: are you saying that because there's more than one way to spell a given Korean word, therefore it is not necessary ('eliminates the need') to use kanji? that's, like, because there's two ways to reach my bank from my house, therefore i don't have to ride the bicycle? i don't get that logic.

  • This is a good answer that covers the linguistic aspects. In particular, it makes it clear that linguistic factors are not the primary motivation behind the two countries' different policies. The "matter of preference and choice" that you mentioned can be traced to Korean nationalism, not linguistics.
    – HAL
    Jan 3, 2015 at 4:43
  • The question is quite valid and probably something that every non-native Japanese student considers. In summary, @flow seems to say that yes, it is possible that kanji could be removed, but the Japanese will not change their system.
    – MXMLLN
    Feb 11, 2018 at 3:47
  • The answer is good, but your answer seems a little biased in favor of preserving kanji. Jul 31, 2020 at 8:48

I am Korean not fluent in English, but I will try to answer. I am not a linguist or social scientist, but I think the main reason is not political or cultural. It's due to the capability, nature of Hangul and Korean language. Koreans were able to remove kanji because;

  1. Hangul can make so many different looking blocks of consonant(s) and vowel(s) combinations in its hangul only sentences that it makes good visibility and discrimination at a glance, far easier to grasp meaning of each syllables or combinations of syllables than the case of kana only Japanese, no matter they are representing native or Chinese borrowed words.
  2. Korean language has much more sounds, consonants and vowels stock than Japanese . Like English, phonetic hangul only Korean can manage to avoid excessive homonyms or monotonous looking or sounding words like kana only Japanese.
  3. Both Korean and Japanese borrowed many Chinese words from ancient times. Old Chinese has more sounds and final consonants like some southern dialects of Chinese spoken these days. The sounds of Sino-Korean words represent these old Chinese sounds fairly well, though tones are gone and sounds were adjusted to Korean phonetics. That's why hangul only sentences with Sino-Korean words in it still makes fairly good discrimination in most of the cases. On the contrast, Japanese language tend to reduce its already relatively smaller phonetic stock historically. So many Chinese borrowed words with originally different sounds became homonyms in Japan and as time went on, such tendency progressed further resulting in tons of homonyms in its dictionary.
  4. Some people say about 70% of Korean vocabulary is Chines origin, but its not true or half true. Many Chinese origin words in Korean dictionary are very rarely used or never used, dead words. In daily conversation it's well below 50% or much more less. Native words are essential and core words like the case of English. So in most cases, Koreans do communicate well without kanji in their written forms without serious misunderstanding. Homonyms can be rendered per the context almost like in the case of English.
  5. And not like Japanese, Koreans read Chinese borrowed words only by its sound(read Chinese characters phonetically), not by its meaning(rendering Chinese characters into Korean native words). And 99% of the cases, one Chinese letter has only one syllable of Korean sound and it is represented by only one hangul block. It's very efficient and space economic transcription than the case of kana rendering. It's same space as Chinese and simpler looking. So it's easier to pronounce to read hangul only sentences than Chinese mixed hangul sentences. Meanwhile, kana only sentence usually becomes longer, not easy to identify core words and grasp meaning quickly. If it allows space between words like hangul, readability will be improved a little, but it will need more page space.
  6. As mentioned above, like English, hangul writing has space between words promoting readability. And its block making method of writing per syllable reduces more writing space compared to linear, European writing system, though we accept its complexity in handwriting and some demerit in spelling regulations. One of the merit of this block writing is that, like Chinese, we can write it either horizontally or vertically, easy to install for example shop signs.

I don't think Korean culture retreated because they do not use kanji any more. Instead, I think hangul only writing helped a lot in making Korean miracle economically and culturally. It made actually 100% literacy among Koreans in short time and promoted Korean culture in every aspects. And it is quite apt to encounter new computer era. Hangul is quite suitable in digital generations. Hangul only writing in public use is irreversible in both Koreas. It's not because of political or cultural reasons. They are incidental, minor ones. Even its uniqueness is a minor reason. Hangul itself is the major reason. It's due to its efficiency and practicality.
Kanji is, like Latin in Europe, necessary among scholars or among persons in Korea interested in deeper studies of history, literature, linguistics or whatsoever.


It's probably just a government policy thing - Japanese kids start learning kanji basically as soon as they're done with kana, while Korean kids don't start learning hanja until they're in middle school.

As for the homophony, Japanese likely could be written phonetically just fine. I've actually read a few texts written by nonconformists that use kana and spaces instead of kana and kanji. Meanings are contextually obvious frequently enough that it's not really a problem most of the time (and I can imagine that if the switch was made, those problem words would be replaced with more distinct ones fairly quickly). It's also true that Korean has more potential readings for hanja than Japanese has for kanji (it allows syllable-final consonants, for one thing), but I'm not sure how much this affects anything.

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    I was going to mention the word-break factor too (spaces between words). Korean of course has them and Japanese and Chinese do not. I wonder if Korean formerly eschewed spaces when it was more hanja-heavy and only took them up when it moved to hangul-only orthography. Jun 9, 2013 at 3:41
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    I'm sure that's the case - the fact that Japanese is exclusively suffixing (except for the honorific お-) allows kana>kanji transitions to function as word boundary markers most of the time. Reading kana-only text with spaces is definitely harder, but it's because of this, not homophones - your brain gets used to using kanji to mark word breaks and if you aren't used to spaces it all runs together without kanji.
    – Sjiveru
    Jun 9, 2013 at 4:10
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    Then again I'm pretty sure Thai is full of homophones and it doesn't use spaces. Vietnamese is definitely full of homophones and though it uses spaces, it uses them between syllables rather than between words which leaves word breaking to the reader. Jun 9, 2013 at 4:35
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    Your example brings up a salient point that it's harder to transition from one system to another when you are accustomed to the former system. This is different to one system being better or worse. Take Hindi and Urdu as an example. Two very different writing systems, most people know only one or the other, yet both flourish and have reasonably high degrees of literacy. Therefore we can assume that though transitioning from the script you are familiar with to the other may not be easy, both seem to be good at their job. Jun 9, 2013 at 4:38
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    As for the edit (about news subtitles), I'm still completely sure kanji could be removed. Any ambiguous homophones would just naturally be replaced with less-ambiguous words (either synonyms or new coinages). Probably it would result in a reducing of the formality level of broadcast speech - clearly people get by just fine without subtitles when they're normally speaking :P It's just that news broadcasts are written in a higher register which uses more Chinese loanwords, which are the source of the homophony problems.
    – Sjiveru
    Jun 9, 2013 at 18:14

First off, it appears that all the people discussing this issue, like me, are non-native Japanese speakers. It would be nice to hear from a native Japanese speaker.

My wife is Japanese, and I've asked her a similar question as to why Japanese, being a Polysyllabic language, as opposed to monosyllabic Chinese, doesn't entirely use an alphabet or phonetic syllabary. Her answer was that 1) it would wipe out many centuries of written text and 2) she can read and grasp content much faster (i.e. speed read). Think of reading numbers as an analogy. Which is faster to read and comprehend: 234 or two hundred thirty-four? Granted, it takes longer to learn Kanji and the two or more pronunciations of both Kun and On readings. But to her, to abolish Kanji would be akin to cultural apostasy. And her name and its meaning looks so beautiful and elegant written in Kanji than in soulless Kana.

I am not fluent in Japanese nor do I know hundreds of kanji, but I have noticed that the majority of verbs (I'm not talking suru verbs) are of native Japanese origin and use the Kun pronunciation that don't exhibit homophones. Ditto most surnames. The homophones come into play with many borrowed Chinese words (typically nouns, abstract ideas, and compound words) using the On pronunciations, much like English borrowing Latin words. It is the borrowed Chinese words that introduce the homophones and possible miscommunication. However, I believe most Japanese understand spoken Japanese through context. And of course there should be no confusion with homophones in written Japanese as the Kanji has an explicit meaning when read even though many homophones exist.


As a native Korean speaker, the issue of homophones in our vocabulary does exist. However, as several people mentioned here, there are far more letter blocks and syllables that are pronounceable and can be created in Korean using Hangul, as opposed to Japanese whose pronunciation itself is somewhat more limited, so to speak, than Korean due to that there are only 5 vowels and each kana representing one syllable.

Moreover, for example, しょう and しょ are two different on-readings of a word and a part of some words containing that sound and, therefore, have different kanji representing them. But they can sound almost identical to someone who's not proficient in Japanese and is not used to the context from which a Japanese person would naturally understand the meaning of the word being mentioned. Another reason why we are successful with our exclusive usage of our phonetic alphabet while only using Hanja in school curriculum and in media solely for the purpose of clarifying any potential ambiguity or identifying a term being emphasized, is the use of spacing in sentences.

Kanji is important in Japanese in terms of identifying 'blocks of meanings' in a sentence because it doesn't use spacing. Sure, Japanese can entirely be written in its phonetic script. However, it will be cumbersome to look at such Kana-only sentences and identify different parts of the sentence from a long series of meaningless(individually) scripts in order to understand it. That is not the case in Korean where every major part of a sentence is grouped with spaces between each of them. Even so, Koreans still need to have a working knowledge of at least a few hundred Hanja's as well as their readings-we only have 音 reading just like the Chinese do- and their meanings, because 70% of our vocabulary is built based on Hanja and consist of adopted words from China and a lot of words from Japan which convey modern concepts and ideas.

Although Korea seems to be doing fine going on without mixture of Hanja and Hangul in printed materials, a problem is manifesting itself in which significant number of young Koreans often make mistakes properly spelling some homophones and are negatively affected by a wave of English loan words taking place of existing Korean vocabulary. This seems to me a good enough reason to revive the extensive Hanja education and usage in printed materials and to require Hanja proficiency in all levels of society. I strongly believe Korea needs to readopt Hanja at a comprehensive level in order to resolve the crisis of Korean language in the 21st century.

Back in the 70s and 80s when Korean newspapers heavily used Hanja except for native Korean words and other grammatical elements like particles, it was possible to 'speed-read' an article and comprehend the content under time constraint, for example, when they had to get to work in the morning just by skimming through the keywords printed in Hanja. For the same reason, Korean and Japanese people could, to a certain extent, understand news articles from each other's country.

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    People do not point out the obvious difference that, with the 2D layout of hangul it becomes possible to visually identify sound and word shapes. In that sense hangul is easier to read than linear kana, so even though it is purely phonetic just like kana, it renders a more natural replacement for characters.
    – Nimrod
    Jan 13, 2017 at 2:52
  • This answer strikes me as a good reason to learn english, we will all replace the native language with english or some kind of global "uglish" in the future
    – nodws
    May 29, 2018 at 17:34

Just a few notes:

Japanese can be spoken and understood, but Japanese people quite often draw kanji in the air to remove ambiguities.

I used to play Pokemon, which has text in all kana, and I found it very difficult. Japanese people I know say that they find all‐kana text very difficult to read in long stretches. I am not (and was then even less) very good at kanji but I found text including kanji and furigana far easier and clearer than kana alone.

I also find kanji valuable in that a word’s etymological structure is far more apparent in the word itself than is the case in purely phonetic languages. For example, without consulting a dictionary an English speaker might not know if the "homo" in "homosexual" was Latin homo (man) or Greek homo (same). In Japanese the elements of words are largely clear from their written form.

Another point worth considering is that the Japanese are very much more concerned with the way a thing is done and not just its final result. Western people tend to assume certain things about the "purpose" of language that are not necessarily the same assumptions that many Japanese people would make. Efficiency (streamlining the process to get more quickly to the result) is not necessarily the cultural aim of all language.

(Oh dear, I do have a proper account here but I can't seem to find it)


Japanese kanji lovers say kanji is required in order to deal with homophones. Unlike English, Japanese has many homophones and you can't know from context which is being used. As such we need to use kanji in order to deal with homophones.

I'm sorry but this can't be a good reason. Japanese can be spoken and understood, therefore it could be written phonetically without problems. It is mostly tradition that keeps them writing Kanji, also the fact that once you learn it, it is somewhat faster to write than any phonemic alphabet.

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    I believe there's also a prestige element. Kana alone is seen as something akin to childish or at least uneducated. Kanji is so hard to learn that well that there's also a feeling like "if we had to learn it to get to our position then you will have to learn it." Some of my Japanese friends are quite bad spellers in Japanese - they're unsure which homophonous kanji to write for a word they know how to say. Jun 9, 2013 at 13:21
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    MGN is right. Consider the following English sentence with a homophone. (1) I have to /ri:d/ that book.
    – Koldito
    Jun 24, 2014 at 15:58
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    (1) I have to /ri:d/ that book. Technically, /ri:d/ could be either "read" or "reed", but any speaker will tell you "don't be silly, in this context it can only be "read"". Same thing with Japanese/Korean.
    – Koldito
    Jun 24, 2014 at 16:03
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    Of course it can be a reason. It is not an edict that the written and spoken languages have to be exactly the same. As someone pointed out earlier, written languages in some societies tend to be in a formal register. Clearly, having kanji enables (and has enabled) a greater spoken/written divergence in languages like Japanese, and to express the same thing it would continue to require the tools that enabled that written language in the first place. People with purely phonetic languages don't even grasp this concept so of course argue uselessly about why something like kanji isn't necessary.
    – Nimrod
    Jan 13, 2017 at 2:47

My explanation is Japanese became tied up with kanji when it decided to introduce widespread usage of kun'yomi 訓読み, as opposed to Korean and Vietnamese which almost only have on'yomi, or loaned Chinese readings.

Thus, it was made possible that native coined Japanese words would also have simple ideographic representations, making kanji conducive to comprehension, instead of an impedance. Instead of having to read the phonetic symbols みず mizu and まぼろし maboroshi, one can simply read and write the ideograms 水 and 幻, which are much more comprehensible. I am a native Chinese speaker, and I'm still almost unable to comprehend large amounts of Chinese transcribed into Pinyin. The same goes for reading Japanese without kanji.

However, in Korea, few hanjas have native readings. Numerically, there are more Chinese loanwords than native words in both Korean and Japanese; however, the most frequently used words in both languages are almost all native. Thus, in Korean mixed-script texts, one sees much fewer hanjas than one do in Japanese texts. Moreover, since Korean is usually one syllable (hangul character) per hanja and has spacing between words, mixed script texts are very easily replaced by hangul-only texts, making hanja actually an impedance to reading comprehension.

There were movements in Japan to abolish kanji, but there were also those movements in China - and it was much bigger than China (even backed by the PRC regime initially). However, due to the Chinese characters being extremely conducive in expressing meaning concisely and in disambiguating homophones, neither of the movements succeeded - leaving Chinese and Japanese to be the only languages to use Chinese characters in their standard written forms.


I'm currently in the process of learning the kanji with Heisigs "Remembering the kanji". Im at 1530 kanjis now. Im learning the kanji parallel to learning japanese with the Minna no nihongo books. Im not learning the kanji with the minna books, im solely relying on heisig here. I also have the second book here that teaches the readings, and I will proceed to it once Ive successfully finished book 1.

I'm not qualified to say anything about the necessity of kanji. But I feel qualified enough to say something about their disadvantages. It takes ridiculous amounts of time and effort to learn this writing system. For Foreigners trying to learn the language during adulthood, its very difficult because without the kanji, you cant practice japanese outside your exercise books except for oral communication (with a native speaker at best). Concerning japanese folks living in japan, well they have it just as hard as anyone else. 10-12 years of kanji education speak for themselves.

Its not like I "hate" Kanji. I find them funny. But its a very costly hobby to learn them. Its paid in gigantic amounts of time. Sticking to them of course is a question of "personal" choice (if you can speak of a personal choice in such a context). Because there is no objective pro-argument big enough to justify sticking to such a horribly complicated writing system. The only major point I see is the cultural disconnect once you abolish the system. Although it would be possible to invest into transcribing the texts deemed most valuable into kana, so they remain readable after the shift as well.

The Kanji are stylish, they are funny and they are impressive (for having lasted so long). But they are utterly useless from a pragmatic perspective. And I must contradict those claiming that the kanji make the intake of information easier. I can speedread texts in my own language at least as fast as someone speedreading with kanji. Skimming through an average article in a newspaper takes me between 5-30 seconds, depending on how much details I want to extract. I'm not used enough to kanji yet, so I might err, but in my opinion the kanji might even slow you down, because sometimes the details making for a semantical difference are very small and therefore hard to decipher. But in any case, I would take any bet that I can read and comprehend just as fast as any user of kanji. The only difference between me and him would be that it took me about 12 months to learn reading any native word in my language, while it took him 12 years to achieve that.

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    Although your answer is interesting as a kind of mini-essay, it contains an admission that you can't answer the OP's question, to wit: "I'm not qualified to say anything about the necessity of kanji." I will, alas, vote to close it on that basis. Mar 26, 2016 at 23:52
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    The writer is only qualifying their expertise. There is an answer in there and it has not been expressed by any of the other posts. I suggest keeping it. The "cost" of learning the kanji, hanja, or hanzi is of utmost relevance to whether or should a historic system be changed. @JamesGrossmann
    – MXMLLN
    Feb 11, 2018 at 3:28

I have discussed this countless times with my wife (I am western, she is Japanese).

Besides some of the reason aforementioned, she also told me that kanji allows to easily comprehend what you are reading. That is, a long and complex sentence that uses only hiragana would be quite difficult to understand since there is no blank spaces between "words". You would not know where words start and finish, so the overall phrase will turn into a confusing mess.

Lets say this sentence:


A native Japanese person could understand it quite well (given that it is grammatically correct, since I am still learning Japanese), but that person should have to pay more attention to every single word, and still, it is possible that in a more complex sentence things become confusing.

But that same sentence using kanji among with kana:


The basic thing is, the purpose of kana, specially hiragana, is not only to give meaning, but also work as word delimiter, allow you to understand categories of words, word functions in a sentence (you could think as "derivation" in German or Latin) and understand better what is what, but using only kana will make things confusing, since you will not know if a given hiragana is part of a word inflection/derivation, or just part of the root/stem.

Think about English without blank spaces:


You can clearly understand it if you read it, but it makes things easier if you can separate elements, either with a blank space or any other symbol of your choice, and if you can know easily what category of word is each word:



I studied in tokyo at the university with kind students.

But a japanese person would think: "why westerns do not replace these random symbols (letters) with a representation of the meaning?"

University Student = 大学生.

Tokyo = 東京.

University = 大学.

Kind = 親切な.

Studied = 勉強しました.

I 勉強しました in 東京 at the 大学 with the 親切な 大学生。


Theoretically you can always express any 漢字("kanji" in Japanese) character with just Roman characters, it's just that there would be a lot of duplications. There was a proposal in China during the modernization process (about 100 years ago) to just get rid of all Chinese characters and use Roman spelling to represent them instead, which of course was rejected. But you get the idea. So of course representing all hanzi with homophones caused tons of troubles for the Koreans, because there are so many characters which can be represented by the same homophone, but they did it anyway as an effort to cut the Chinese elements out of their culture and signify their "national independence" or something like that. It's in the same vein as their changing the name of their capital from "漢城" (which literally means "city of Han", and "Han" of course was a dynasty of China and the current major ethnicity in China), to "Seoul".


Sorry to bump an old thread, but I came across this question, and it really resonated with me because I have thought about this subject a lot (mainly because I hated learning Kanji so much). As a person who knows more Korean (5yrs of study) than Japanese (4yrs of study), I think that the reason Koreans are able to function fine without kanji is because Korean has more vowels than Japanese does. Korean has 10 different vowels, whereas Japanese has 5 vowels. Since in Korean, every jamo has to have a vowel, I believe that there about ~400 different letter blocks that you can have in Korean (I could be wrong). Furthermore, even in Korean, there are different ways of writing a word/name which sounds the same. For example, 민아 and 미나, 윤아 and 유나, 각오 and 가고. Therefore, this variety eliminates the need for kanji in Korean. However, this is not the case in Japanese because Japanese only has 46 sounds compared to the 400 some Korean letter blocks. This results in a lot more homophones.. I am by no means a Kanji lover, but imagine trying to write Japanese medical terms without Kanji! Like どうぶつゆらいかんせんしょう. Talk about a headache.

  • see my answer for the reason i downvoted
    – flow
    Jun 24, 2014 at 21:46
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    Why would どうぶつゆらいかんせんしょう be harder to read than 動物由来感染症? Admittedly, I didn't understand it when I read it—but I didn't understand the Kanji version either, nor the English translation. I'd simply never heard of anthropozoonosis before. Taking more normal words as examples, I don't see うんてんしゅ as somehow inherently harder to read than 運転手; rather the opposite, in fact, since you'll immediately know how to read it. Jun 25, 2014 at 8:11
  • It's pointless to explain this to someone who only knows phonetic scripts. It's like explaining what's the point of writing to somebody who is illiterate but has access to sound recording.
    – Nimrod
    Jan 13, 2017 at 3:08

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