The Kan Cabinet announced Tuesday a new list of joyo kanji (Chinese characters in common use). This represents the third great reform in Japan’s postwar kanji policy. The list serves as a guideline concerning kanji characters used in the public sphere — laws, public documents, newspapers, TV broadcast, etc. One will see the effect when reading newspapers.

In 1946, the government announced a list of 1,850 toyo kanji (Chinese characters for daily use). In 1981, the government adopted a list of joyo kanji by adding 95 kanji characters to the list of toyo kanji, with the total reaching 1,945.

In 2005, then education minister Nariaki Nakayama asked the Council for Cultural Affairs to revise the joyo kanji list as the situation surrounding kanji was rapidly changing. The spread of information technology devices has led to an increasing number of kanji characters that people cannot write with a pen or pencil but can type with a computer keyboard.

In the latest revision, the council added 196 characters to and eliminated five characters from the original joyo kanji list, with the total reaching 2,136. It examined some 7 million characters that appeared in newspapers, some 49 million characters in books and some 1.4 billion characters in websites.

The Council for Cultural Affairs succeeded in removing irrational restrictions imposed by the earlier list. The list now includes 11 characters used to express some prefectures. The number of characters for human body parts and diseases increased. Some examples are “zugaikotsu” (skull), “ago” (chin), “sekizui” (spinal cord), “kaiyo” (ulcer) and “shuyo” (tumor). Some characters widely used in newspapers were included in the list, such as “rachi”(abduction), “sogeki” (sniping) and “tobaku” (gambling).

Students may have a hard time since they may be required in entrance examinations to write difficult kanji with many strokes that have been added to the list. Another problem is the inclusion of same characters with variant forms in the list. The government must take measures to prevent confusion in education.

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