The Hardest Writing System! – an animated rant about learning Japanese

The Hardest Writing System! – an animated rant about learning Japanese

Writing Japanese is hard. I know you’re thinking.
Duh, Josh, it’s Japan! When they go in, they go ALL IN! But it’s worse than you think.
It’s ridiculously, ridiculously hard! Growing up, I was a language nut. Look at
me, making this video, guess I still am. Through the years, I spent time learning this script
and these scripts and these ones… some time learning this… and even more with… alright,
you get it. And then I went for Japanese. See, in the
US there’s this flu that goes around. It’s called Japanophilia. Catch it and you’re off
reading manga, watching anime and eating the kind of sushi with the fish that’s on the
top like *slurp*. I was committed though. I headed for the library and straight to the
Japanese books. This was back when the new library was being built, so they were holding
books hostage in this dingy place with no a/c. The books are all shuffled around down
on these low shelves. You know the ones that are below your knee level all on the ground?
So I do my ninja bend and I scan the resources. Fluffy book about Japanese Is For Everybody?
Pass. Easy Japanese In 5 Seconds a Day? Pass. Cartoon-cat-yay-by-the-way-you’ll-learn-some-Japanese-I-promise?
Double pass! But then, there it was: the biggest, the heaviest, the densest textbook in the
entire section. Modern Japanese Book I: Grammar Lessons. It called my name. It said, “Ikimashou!” So I rush home, I bust open the book and it
hits me with… syllables. My first thoughts are, well, the optimist in me comes out and
says, “Oh, these look so fun and Japanesey!” But guess what the pessimist in me said? “That’s
like 76 more symbols than I want to memorize!” Yeah, the pessimist inside me is an oni who’s
a fast counter. The optimist won out. And for good reason.
It was actually less of a hassle than it looked like at first. Just 46 characters in total,
on account of some of the syllables turned out to be duplicates with two little voicing
slashies added to their heads. Even better, I was told this is technically all I needed
to know to write every Japanese sound. That’s all the syllables the language has, thanks
to Japanese being all neat and orderly in the way it lays out syllables. And that’s great! Until I found out that
the friendly syllables are lies. Like when the t+i syllable is actually chi and then
the t+u syllable is tsu. Or when this, this and this actually sound like that and that
and that. The more I read, the more Japanese was saying, “But wait! there’s more!”
More compound syllables, more double consonants, more historical syllables they were hiding
from me and just forgot to mention. Asterisk mark all over the place. But hey, historical spelling and complicated
workarounds. I come from English, baby, and that’s how we write! Plus I just did a whole
rant about Tibetan, so I can handle some clunky syllables. Besides, compared to how Japanese
syllables used to be written, it’s all super regular. So that’s a relief. Without giving me time to breathe, they tell
me that for each one of these syllables, I’m actually going to have to learn two characters.
Yes, Japanese has two syllabaries! The one I spent hours sweating over was HIRAGANA.
These are the same syllables written in KATAKANA. So… are hiragana and katakana for writing
different sounds? Nope. The syllabaries don’t do anything different. Then when do I use
this one or that one? Oh, just keep in mind that they’re used for different syllables
in different contexts. Japanese is very context sensitive after all. Smile! But none of that’s what made Japanese
tough. It’s when they introduce yet another mixed-in script that things start getting
serious. I mean, seriously serious. Roll the clocks back to the day Japan learned
to write. They learned it from China. And learning to write from China meant memorizing
thousands of characters just to read the basics. Yeah, well, unlike other places that learned
their penmanship skills from that formidable cultural powerhouse that was the Middle Kingdom,
Japan held onto its long master list of Chinese characters. Oh, they held onto it real tight!
They’re called KANJI, and they’re the backbone of Japanese. Even those syllabaries
I was learning came from simplified versions of some of these characters. At first they passed this kanji stuff off
as a third native system. You know, you got your hiragana, your katakana, your kanji!
And instead of different characters for different syllables, these are just different characters
for different words. You know, like you learn to say new vocabulary when you’re learning
other languages, with kanji you get to learn to draw your new vocabulary, too! So exciting. That’s when I learned about a dictionary with
more than 50,000 characters to play with! That’s a lot of characters… I think it was
maybe more of a mind game to make me okay with what came next. “Don’t worry!”, I was
told. You could do alright with basic Japanese if you just learned a couple thousand characters.
*Cough* Oh, oh, just a couple thousand?!? I guess I was supposed to say, “Oh, 50,000’s
a lot! In that case, 2000 should be a walk in the zen garden!” Are you not supposed to
walk in those? A comb through the zen garden maybe?? They even downgraded me again, telling
me I could pat myself on the back for just mastering the “basics” if I made it through
the first 1006 characters. A thousand and six. Yeah, this was slow. It
was time consuming. Uh, they started me with the simple real-world examples like trees,
suns and moons. And they looked off but if you squint your eyes you could see it. But
it was more trickery. After a couple hundred, it started to be really clear that most kanji
aren’t drawings of the words I was learning at all. No way! It took me a while, but I
figured out what was going on. They’re like playing charades with somebody
who has a very specific word in mind but refuses to give you any good hints, and the clues
you do get are like way out of date. Like, “One word. Something to do with trees. Ok.
Sounds like… oar!” Got it? Nobody? Nobody? Oh, I’m sorry, the answer was “table”.
See, the thing you missed was that “oar” sounds like “board”, which is an old word
for table. Obviously… Most kanji are this kind of strange combination
of a sounds-like piece with a something-to-do-with piece. Except that the sounds-like might not
sound like the thing it’s supposed to sound like, and the something-to-do-with can have
absolutely nothing logically to do with what the character means. It’s no good waving these complexities aside
by saying that, well, it’s a lot to learn, but at least you’re fundamentally just learning
a character for each basic word. For one, a single character might mean a bunch of different
things when it combos with other characters. It can even mean a bunch of different things
on its own. Even worse for beginners though, there’s more than one way to pronounce almost
every single one of these characters. Japanese is very context sensitive, after all. Wink,
smile. And that’s the problem with kanji: they aren’t
just kanji. They’re a bunch of problems all mixed together. It’s the most bizarrely
complicated writing system within a system ever devised by humankind! And next time I’ll
show you exactly what it was about kanji that really pushed me over the edge. I like having you here spending some time
with me thinking about the world’s toughest writing system. Stick around and subscribe
for language.

David Anderson

Related Posts

100 thoughts on “The Hardest Writing System! – an animated rant about learning Japanese

  1. Gilles Dupouy says:

    And guess what ? Most of the chinese speaking people don't have that much of an advantage because kanji are TRADITIONNAL chinese caracters, while the PRC uses the simplified ones. The traditionnals are only used in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and for calligraphy

  2. Alma Veuger says:

    Hirigana isn’t that hard for me

  3. Julieta Giménez says:

    "It called my name, it said IKIMASHOU"

    Had me dead

  4. Knight Armor says:

    You read devanagari script .so
    यो मेरो पहिलो चोटि कमेनट गरेको हो ।
    I guess you could read it
    But i doubt you will understand it😂
    My Nepali brother and sister dont help them. Lets see if they will figureit out with out google translate

  5. ExplosiveArtist says:

    No it’s Thai

  6. bokchoy boy says:

    obviously haven't heard of tamil
    sometimes left to right
    sometimes right to left

  7. kokokyoushi says:

    Too bad. This video could discourage people who want to learn Japanese. Keep in mind that Japan has one of the highest literacy rates of all countries in the world – consistently 99%. That means Japanese kids are learning kanji. Learn them by grades as they do; start with kanji learned in first grade and progress from there.

    Learning kanji is a big help In learning vocabulary. For instance, when I was studying it, for some reason I had a hard time remembering the word for "letter" – which is" tegami". When I learned the kanji for it I saw that it is made up of two kanji; one for "hand" (te) the other for "paper" (kami), words I already knew. How could I not learn the word for "letter" now?

  8. nisha rizvi says:

    But I think that Arabic is hard compared to Japanese somehow……..

  9. William Garrood says:


  10. KaperCloud says:

    This Nihongo shit sounds like more than just a language…

    It's sounds like pack your entire life up in boxes: put the boxes in deep storage; and fill the now empty space that was once your life with Kanji.

    (insert deity/philosophy here) help me!

  11. Ping Pong isara says:

    speaking Japanese is one thing, writing is another, but to understand Japanese language i guess it is contextual and very specific. just a thought.

  12. Schrodinger's Cat says:

    I will pass level 1 of the Kanji Kentei.. one day

  13. Garrison Parrish says:

    Sad JoJo noises

  14. Alexis XYZ says:

    ¿Y si les prestamos el alfabeto latino?

  15. Dyslexic Deeder says:

    Arabic is difficult because one letter with another will make it look like one letter; except the 2 letters won’t look like the way they used to.

  16. Charcol's Trash Vlogs says:

    But wait there's even moreeeee

  17. Josh Yam says:


  18. Great Rao says:

    大漢和辞典 DaiKanWaJiten Great Chinese-Japanese Character Dictionary YES!! I got it right first go.

  19. Alex Fülle says:

    That thumbnail picture is so painfully ugly.

  20. pkbattosai says:

    No wonder why the suicide rate is so high there you gotta learn 50k symbols to read a god dam news paper jesus lol

  21. Megumi Aki says:

    Chinese and old Japanese think overuse of katakana in modern Japanese sucks, while westerns think kanji sucks.

  22. Generic Emo says:

    I may be insane, but I enjoy learning kanji.

    Yeah, I am insane

  23. Killkor says:

    Kanji is kept to scare away any weaboos trying to move to Japan.

  24. Daxter69 says:

    Old japanese:いへる
    Modern japanese:いえる
    Kanji has two ways of reading chinese and japanese reading on and kun reading
    氵this symbol can change meaning of kanji drastically
    Also these as well
    人 火 日 リ

    あ ア 亜
    Hiragana in used for natives words
    Katakana is for words that originate from outside of china and japan
    Kanji is for regular native and chinese words

    The oldest famous literature written in Hiragana is “Makura no soushi “

  25. darkmage35 says:

    The compound words made of multiple kanji are usually fairly straightforward. Really. A million times simpler than the kanji themselves, at least. Oh, technically all kanji are composed of only 200ish radicals put together in various ways, but that doesn't really help.

  26. Daichi Hirata says:

    There are two manners how kanjis are pronounced. On-yomi and Kun-yomi. On-yomi mimics how kanjis are pronounced by Chinese. Kun-yomi comes from the ancient language of Japan a.k.a yamato-kotoba(yamato is old word referring to japan, kotoba means language).

    When kanjis were introduced from China, Japanese people pronounced them like Chinese people did, but they also used yamato-kotoba words that shares the same concept with the corresponding kanji to pronounce it.
    For example, the kanji 山 has mainly two pronunciations, san and yama. san is on-yomi and yama is kun-yomi. san is an imitation of Chinese pronunciation of 山, whereas yama is borrowed from yamato-kotoba and yama in yamato-kotoba means “mountain”.

    Hiragana is used when writing kun-yomi of kanjis. On the other hand, katakana is used when writing on-yomi of kanji.
    This is an example of how hiragana and katakana differs.

  27. Merula Alba says:

    Is romanian lang the easiest to spell?

  28. FichDichInDemArsch says:

    Exaggerating brainlet.

  29. SonicBricks says:

    This explains so many of my questions about when people in English dubbed anime’s have their names explained and they are this really complicated, multi sentence thing but appear and are written as two characters. I’ve always looked for an explanation to this but my searches fruitless. Then, today, long after I’ve given up YouTube’s algorithm rolls up like “Hey kid, want that question from a few months ago answered?”

  30. Miles Swindle says:

    I was fine in JA 101 and 102 because we only learned 5 kanji in the whole year. But once I got to 201, the workload was terrible… I could have managed, probably, if not for having to learn like 20 kanji AND five grammar points AND like 50 vocab words EACH CHAPTER. And each chapter was done in a week and a half BTW. But see, I do fine with vocab and grammar. It was the kanji that got me. 201 mad me physically ill from stress, so I had to drop it.

  31. Max Schwartz says:

    This whole channel infuriates me by how fear mongering it is. It's not nearly as complex as you are making it out to be

  32. Alex bMac says:

    は is only pronounced as “wa” when it’s used as a particle. For example, in the sentence “子猫は綺麗です” (The kitten is beautiful) は is pronounced as “wa” but in the word “はい” (yes) it is pronounced as “ha”.

  33. EroticOverride says:

    No wonder they got nuked twice.

  34. Jakub Bończak says:

    If you like difficult languages try Polish. It's indoeuropean. And uses only Latin script. But it has so difficult grammar that you will not be able to master it. Also we have extremly lose sentence structure. And crazy compound sentences. Because of CASES

  35. Klei Amion says:

    Try learning filipino's traditional/old way of writing its like this ᜋᜄᜈ᜔ᜇ that is read as maganda it means beautiful/pretty that writing system is called baybayin. But we just simple do the american way of writing but somethings or places still uses baybayin.

    I'll gladly show y'all all the letters if y'all want.

  36. Proxytale 101 says:

    It’s like I’m listening to my Japanese teacher. lol.

  37. Mr. FluffyPants says:

    Try Chinese, have fun

  38. Hassan Shaikh says:

    Some clarification, the character ha is only pronounced sometimes as wa (particularly when it's a particle) same with he when it's a particle. Another thing, katakana is used for foreign words so they do have different ways of writing them to pronounce sounds not found in Japan such as the F series

  39. Zei33 says:

    It’s gonna take years. I’m only about 200 kanji in. I’m in for the long haul though.

  40. Cow Holy says:

    "Japanese is the hardest writing system ?"
    Chinese : hold my tea.

  41. SpectatorAlius says:

    You left off the hook on the л in Кириллица! You forgot the 2nd one, too. No wonder you find writing hard😂

  42. creapyalbinofish says:

    As someone who has started learning japanese, I admit, this is going to be painful.
    Kanji is especially intimidating.

  43. Alex ander says:

    how to learn japanese,,,,,, learn chinese first then you will find japanese is not that hard….

  44. Positron Decay says:

    2:35 Woah. I thought I'd seen all the hiragana characters and I have never seen that bottom row.

  45. Turquoise Thought says:

    Gotta love how casually that Kuroshitsuji reference was snuck in.

  46. EnzoGamer UK says:


  47. NEKO Kuro says:


    Japanese kanji has many how to read.The reason why “ancients of japanese people went to china for many times to learn kanji.but how to read kanji was changing in china. So they learned all of them.”I have heard it as reason.

    I’m sorry if my english is wrong.

  48. XiLON says:

    Me, a chinese major: Oh sweet little lamb…

  49. nomine * says:

    I so wish I was naturally inclined with languages. Unfortunately, like math, my brain hates it. I've always been so envious of polyglots!

  50. João Pedro Auriemo says:

    Japanaphilia, you mean weeabooism?

  51. kodoyama says:

    Honestly I found learning Japanese pretty easy. I can see why some people might find it overwhelming though.

  52. Davesoft says:

    You choose books like a wise man chooses grails <3

  53. Denis says:

    Lets petition to the UN to make them keep just hiragana or 30 or so kanji 😀

  54. K J N says:

    You only need 2,000 to get by. An educated person only knows about 3,000, if I'm correct.

  55. K J N says:

    You're overcomplicating things. If you break it down, it is very, very simple. It's hard work, but it's simple.

  56. hristina videva says:

    You know Кирилица? Like in Bulgarian ABC?

  57. Webis Tebis says:

    Phoenicians: Invent first phonetic alphabet so nobody needs heiroglyphs
    Everyone else: Cool
    East Asia: Lets just keep using these 1000s of Symbols instead.

  58. Ania Niedźwiecka says:

    Japanese is not that hard! OK, kanji is hard, but hiragana and katakana… I am learning Japanese and…

  59. 名無しの悟空_大好き says:

    Kanji is better than Korean!

  60. Hector Mendoza says:

    This is pretty much what happened to me when I tried to learn Japanese. 😂

  61. Agustin Escalante says:

    After years of studying japanese, this reminded me to my own experience to the point it was a bit nostalgic lol. (Currently N2)

  62. Life with Lynch Pin says:

    Me: sees Fóclóir

    Me: 😍😍😍😍

  63. First I am retarded and second says:

  64. luyx wyt says:

    I think it's just easy for chinese, korean and vietnamese people to learn it.
    For example, a chinese person that never learned english would probably think that Japanese is easier than spanish. It's like a French that learns spanish.

  65. Aaron Bacon says:

    how the fuck do Japanese Kids learn this shit I had to memorize only around 2 dozen letters

  66. Jeremy-James Peter says:

    Cooles Video – haben wir übrigens gerade auch in unseren Beitrag mit den 10 schwersten Sprachen (für deutsche Muttersprachler) eingebettet.

  67. Mokinoo Aesthetic says:

    Learning kanji can actually doubles as learning Chinese because kanji was borrowed from china

  68. DestroyingU says:

    At 6:19 im pretty sure my brain just exploded…

  69. aidan harrison says:

    Recently , in a sushi bar I asked the gentleman if he could change a £50 note . When he handed it back it was a swan .

  70. Baddest Burrito says:

    Japanese is NOT harder to learn. Just stop, please. I say this as an Anglophone who started learning Japanese at age 23 from a position of no knowledge at all, and am now fluent/literate. If you are smart enough to learn how to spell English words, you are smart enough to learn written Japanese. Those who can, do. Those who can't, whine.

  71. JRQ says:

    Lol, Japanese wanted to do extra work inventing such a confusing silabaries, I admire Koreans because they just invented one simple and useful alphabet.

  72. Fluffy Cat says:

    Me and my friend are learning it 😂

  73. Aeturnalis says:

    Japan is practically begging their citizens to adapt the Roman alphabet to the Japanese language, then in a few decades the geezers in Japan will have the same nostalgia as 50 year old trailer dwellers in America do for cursive.

  74. 湊巴 says:

    I Japanese think that only speaking Japanese is not so difficult.
    However, if you want to write perfect sentences in Japanese, it will be so hard.

  75. モミジイチゴ says:

    People: ohh Japanese is difficult
    Some Japanese: umm, indeed!

  76. Light Quarters says:

    0:35 basically weebs?

  77. Pentium says:

    I’m Japanese.
    I'm not good at English, so I'm sorry if you find it hard to read.
    I think Japanese is very difficult.
    Most people in Japan can’t use japanese well.
    But,we can communicate with many Japanese, because we have to make a perfect sentence!
    For example, 「ヤバい-yabai」and「まじ卍-majimannji」don’t have means but, they are used young people.

  78. jgmc2 says:

    Ok…. lets write in romanji unstead….

  79. Comrade Cat says:

    Japanese was the first script from another language that I tried to learn. I never mastered it but I got pretty good. Thanks to picking Japanese first, every other script I've learned so far has been a walk in the park. Korean literally took overnight compared to years of Japanese.

  80. さん編ま照 says:

    Кириллица is written with doubl л
    don't forget иностранец!!

  81. Random AnimationsnStuffs says:

    laughs in spanish

  82. D says:

    Hiragana is like our alfabet (stay with me). Katakana is like is using italics for writing words in Latin. Kanji a club with “by-invitation-only” access.

  83. grimfang999 says:

    Japanese is the reverse english. English is easy to read and write, hard to speak. Japanese is easy to speak but a nightmare to write…

  84. ricemango says:

    ha love the foclóir at 0:18 nice to see as an irishman myself

  85. PASCHDigiMedia says:

    I'm learning Japanese
    I think I'm learning Japanese
    I really think so-cough-cough
    Vaping Vapours

  86. ちびまる子 says:

    長い一文 2:32 2:51 6:01

  87. riri potato says:


  88. Michael Martin says:

    Japan only uses about 2,000 characters out of the 80,000 possible in Chinese (though I doubt they use them all). Kanji is also kind of simplified, though not "deliberately" simplified like Simplified Chinese, more like harried Japanese merchants used to quickly scribble down stuff in their order books and over time those scribbled versions became the actual versions… but only after WW2. I have a magazine from 1944 and the kanji for "learning / science" in it is insane. What are now 3 strokes on top are about 10.

  89. Beethoviet Union TH says:

    People who are learning Japanese: Oh man, this is hard
    People who learned Russian Cursive: Amateurs!!!

  90. Kaitou Robin says:

    People make a big deal of kanji, but honestly i found it easier than memorizing root words in English. Since kanji is literally picture symbols of things. For example this is the kanji 木 for tree. It looks like a tree, easy to memories. The only hard part is that kanji has multiple pronounces.which is a hard for non natives who trying to learn the pronunciation of words along side the writing systems. Well for a native who learns how to speak all their words for almost 6 years before starting in grade 1 and had been immerse in the language their whole life and than spacing learning it out for 6 years in school. It is not as daunting for them as for a foreign who trying to crammed learning a language within a year or two and don't live around anyone who speaks the language.

  91. Monocat says:

    Hiragana and katakana are easy to make but kanji? Oh jesus christ who designed this thing!?-> 魔

  92. Empire of Helvectica says:

    nah, learn romanji. that’s japanese for dummies.

  93. Patrick Wu says:

    Japanese is easy to pronounce however. I find Mongolian a hard language to speak

  94. Karis says:

    The Japanese have the hardest writing system

    Maya: Hold my Chocolate!

  95. youcantata says:

    Korean had similar problem with Kaji wrtinging. But They decided to abandon Kanji and use Hangul only (Korean phonetic writing system). It was one of the best decision in modern Korean history. Hangul writing system is much easier to learn and use than Kanji and Japanese. Only 24 letters to learn but very flexible and have capacity to represent wide variety of pronunciation by combining them. Quite friendly to modern computer and keyboard/smartphone input. I think that Japanese also should abolish Kanji from their writing and use Katakana/Hiragana only writing system instead.

  96. Teddy the Acro says:

    Hiragana and katakana aren't hard at all

  97. Harper Lakeline says:

    Yo I started learning Japanese a year ago and I can read allhiragana, most katakana, and like 100 kanji as well as knowing the grammer structure. It's not that hard.

  98. sou otter says:

    1:56 ok I'm native Japanese and I was so confused by the ツ゜thing then I realized you wrote ゛/゜ (dakuten/handakuten)

  99. Ass Chest says:

    Don't be a pussy and learn

  100. World According to TiJ says:

    I spent six years learning japanese in school. Guess how much japanese I know today.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *