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Scripts And Shapes: The Interplay Of Chinese Characters And Japanese Syllabaries In Early Modern Japan

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Chapter Summary

The Japanese writing system is based on Chinese characters. The semantic and phonetic qualities of Chinese characters resulted in two methods of adopting the Chinese system of writing. Modern Japanese writing uses a combination of kanji and kana, resulting in a style called kanjikana-majiribun (mixed kana/kanji). Chinese characters are now used almost exclusively for their meaning - and may have alternative ways of pronunciation. Before the official standardization of katakana and hiragana at the beginning of the twentieth century, a specific syllable in Japanese could be represented by various Chinese ideographs or their cursivekana forms. Calendar prints, egoyomi, were privately issued and distributed as New Year gifts, for example, by poetry clubs, or by shops. Merchants and artisans, placed in the lower levels of the feudal classification system, appropriated earlier forms of writing and script in the development of a new urban life-style in which they played a dominant role.

Keywords: kana; calendar prints; Chinese characters; hiragana ; Japanese writing; kanji ; katakana



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