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Why didn't the Japanese adopt a fully phonetic alphabet system?

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Like the Koreans or Vietnamese for example, who also used Chinese characters in the past.
They already had Hiragana and Katakana, so all they had to do was use Hiragana for all words not just for grammar.
If I am not mistaken from reading about Japanese history there was a Japanese guy who called for that, why was it shot down?.
It would have made Japanese the easiest Asian language to learn as it is much easier to pronounce than Korean or Vietnamese and of course much easier than Chinese.
It would have made life much easier not only for the Japanese themselves but would have made it much more accesible to foreigners who are interested in the Language but are dismayed by learning thousands of Kanji characters.
 
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Then again, since you already decided you won't be learning the language, it doesn't matter to you, does it?
It's true I am not going to learn the language, but as Kanji was one of the reasons that dismayed me from learning it, I am curious as to why it is still in use.
When the Japanese could have only used Kana to write their language and thus making the acquisition of their language much easier.
 
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How do you think a massive spelling reform to make English 100% phonetic would go? Bad? Yes, that's right. Even if you convince everyone to spell everything wrongly, all sorts of historical documents have to be rewritten overnight, and it would just be a massive pain for everyone.

eenglesh kood bee ritten liek this, but it is vaeree unnatural and cawziz reeding and righting too bee inordinetly dificult.

The same goes for Japanese.
 
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Of course, you can't change a language's writing system overnight - but that doesn't mean it has to stay the same forever. All languages change over time, and Japanese is no exception. Words have been changed to be written with simpler kanji (防禦 → 防御), a mixture of kanji and kana (捏造 → ねつ造), or kana alone (麒麟 → キリン). The latest reforms are even relatively recent: Japanese script reform - Wikipedia

This indeed means that historical texts become less and less accessible over time; just like in any other language. (The typical modern native English speaker might be able to pick out a few words from a Middle English text and would be completely lost on Old English, for example.)

Simplifying or removing some rarely-used kanji here and there is still something different than getting rid of them altogether though. There are various reasons why it's not that simple, all of which have already been discussed many times over in the linked thread. Alternatively, you can listen to this guy:

 
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Of course, you can't change a language's writing system overnight - but that doesn't mean it has to stay the same forever. All languages change over time, and Japanese is no exception. Words have been changed to be written with simpler kanji (防禦 → 防御), a mixture of kanji and kana (捏造 → ねつ造), or kana alone (麒麟 → キリン). The latest reforms are even relatively recent: Japanese script reform - Wikipedia

This indeed means that historical texts become less and less accessible over time; just like in any other language. (The typical modern native English speaker might be able to pick out a few words from a Middle English text and would be completely lost on Old English, for example.)

Simplifying or removing some rarely-used kanji here and there is still something different than getting rid of them altogether though. There are various reasons why it's not that simple, all of which have already been discussed many times over in the linked thread. Alternatively, you can listen to this guy:

Thanks for sharing it was an interesting video.
So basically if to summarise that video, the Japanese can use only Kana provided they use spaces but they still use Kanji because of of the long history they have with it and also because they are simply "attached" or used to it already.
 
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That's the gist of the video, yes. There are some other problems with ditching kanji that he didn't address; again, these are probably not impossible to overcome, but they'd still require big changes in how people think about the language.

The way I see it, from the view of most Japanese, there's little to gain and a lot to lose from completely throwing their writing system around like that. They're used to the way it is now - and probably couldn't care less that foreigners are having difficulty with it.

Of course, there are exceptions. The video mentions a few historical people who were in favor of abolishing kanji, and there are in fact even now organizations in Japan that are still rooting for it. Their arguments are much the same as yours: "kanji take too much time to learn", "they hinder international communication" etc. However, they also acknowledge that there's more needed than switching to kana and adding spaces. And as you can see, they haven't gotten anywhere so far.
 
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Like the Koreans or Vietnamese for example, who also used Chinese characters in the past.
They already had Hiragana and Katakana, ...
And in Chinese, there's pinyin (and some other systems), so by analogy, Chinese should give up characters, too.
 
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In short, it is difficult to rely solely on kana due to the very large number of homophones in the Japanese language. There are other reasons, but this is the overwhelming reason.
 
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They should adopt only Kana though.
The Kanji is an outdated system suitable only for idiots.
It's cumbersome and too complex.
 

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So, you can't deny the merit of kanji after all. Do you want to repeat the same discussion in the previous threads? Or, should I say you are going to start another trolling? This thread would be closed in either cases. Anyway, it's not your business since you decided not to learn the language anymore. Japanese people will continue using kanji whether you hate it or not. Period.
 
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The Kanji is an outdated system suitable only for idiots. It's cumbersome and too complex.
Says you. Why should the Japanese or anyone else for that matter consider your opinion on the matter with any more merit than those that know the language and use it daily? Do you have some expertise that I'm unaware of?
 
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In short, it is difficult to rely solely on kana due to the very large number of homophones in the Japanese language. There are other reasons, but this is the overwhelming reason.
This is the main thing for me. Japanese written phonetics don't carry tone, which I cannot say for certain differentiates what would be similar in kana in speech, but it has been addressed before. I would be open to receiving new info.

It's such a pain to try and sift through all the possible translations of a word written in kana in a kana-exclusive environment (specifically hiragana). Of course it relies on context much of the time, but this was one of the extremely irritating things that I struggled with a year or more back (weirdly enough it's easier to differentiate meaning in speech?). It was a beginner's mistake and bad parsing. And also concerning beginner's mistakes would be assuming a particle to be part of the word it modifies. With the way kana is written, the spacing can be confusing to someone who is new to reading in that environment. It's actually easier in roumaji. People are more likely to write "anata no inu" than "anatanoinu" even though in hiragana, the second is what seems to be more normal. You might also see the equivalent of "anatano inu", but I'm not sure. Basing this off memory.

While kanji can be a rough experience, we're much better off with them.

EDIT: Even though you don't seem enthusiastic in general to learn Japanese, you might like to try reading things with furigana to see how you can use kanji in the way it's used phonetically. Reading kanji can be tricky too!
 
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Japanese, like Chinese, is a pictographic language. The characters are the words. That means you cannot separate the word from the kanji (setting aside the exclusive use of kana for certain words in practice). The pronunciation is simply meant for speaking the words, which again, are symbols to represent things.
The difference is, in Chinese the pronunciations are varied widely by use of tonal accents; in Japanese the pronunciations are non-tonal and thus numerous homophones arise.
So, if someone says しょう / しょう / しょう / しょう / しょう do they mean "award (賞)", "smallness (小)", "illness (症)", "commander (将)", or "chapter (章)"? It's easier to understand by context, of course, but only because anyone who has studied kanji knows (by the context) which symbol is being pronounced as しょう.
I like to think of mathematics, which relies heavily on symbolic representation of various quantities and relationships. Although some people use different conventions (varying by field), it's immediately understood what
means (Gauss' law for electricity) without having to clumsily write an equation using syllabic abbreviations for each quantity.

Conversely, English (and many other European languages) is a spoken/phonetic language. The writing follows the speaking, not the other way around. The word "family" was first spoken long ago to mean "unit of biologically related individuals", then the spelling was determined later. English has such whacky spelling rules due to the fact that it's a mash-up of German, French, etc. which all have different pronunciation rules for things represented by roman letters. Thus, we spell "blue" and "blew" differently because they're fundamentally different words, although they're spoken the same way. In conversation we understand the difference based on context. In Japanese, there are too many homophones to switch from kanji (which is the word itself) to purely phonetic alphabet system. In the same way 賞, 小, 症, 将, and 章 are all fundamentally different words, too.
 
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Japanese, like Chinese, is a pictographic language. The characters are the words. That means you cannot separate the word from the kanji (setting aside the exclusive use of kana for certain words in practice). The pronunciation is simply meant for speaking the words, which again, are symbols to represent things.
The difference is, in Chinese the pronunciations are varied widely by use of tonal accents; in Japanese the pronunciations are non-tonal and thus numerous homophones arise.
So, if someone says しょう / しょう / しょう / しょう / しょう do they mean "award (賞)", "smallness (小)", "illness (症)", "commander (将)", or "chapter (章)"? It's easier to understand by context, of course, but only because anyone who has studied kanji knows (by the context) which symbol is being pronounced as しょう.
I like to think of mathematics, which relies heavily on symbolic representation of various quantities and relationships. Although some people use different conventions (varying by field), it's immediately understood what
means (Gauss' law for electricity) without having to clumsily write an equation using syllabic abbreviations for each quantity.

Conversely, English (and many other European languages) is a spoken/phonetic language. The writing follows the speaking, not the other way around. The word "family" was first spoken long ago to mean "unit of biologically related individuals", then the spelling was determined later. English has such whacky spelling rules due to the fact that it's a mash-up of German, French, etc. which all have different pronunciation rules for things represented by roman letters. Thus, we spell "blue" and "blew" differently because they're fundamentally different words, although they're spoken the same way. In conversation we understand the difference based on context. In Japanese, there are too many homophones to switch from kanji (which is the word itself) to purely phonetic alphabet system. In the same way 賞, 小, 症, 将, and 章 are all fundamentally different words, too.
Good explanation.
So basically they are stuck with Kanji because too many words sound the same?.
But you know just like in English where honophones are spelled differently and then people can instantly distuinguish between them after familiarity with their different spelling they can easily overcome that by inventing a few special symbols just to distinguish beteeen them.
For instance しょう with a circle above will only mean 'smallness"/ しょう with a straight line above will only mean "ilness"/ しょう with a wavy line above will only mean "commander" and so on, and just like an English speaker instantly sees the difference between "ad" and "add" , so will the Japanese speakers easily see it .
Yes they will have to memorize these special homophone words but it surely is easier than memorizing thousands of Kanji.
 
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they can easily overcome that by inventing a few special symbols just to distinguish beteeen them.
What, like ゑ and ゐ?

Even ignoring the logistical nightmare your suggestion of lines above words would be for computer text (imagine a situation where copy/paste is impossible, every program has to be specifically designed to handle Japanese, and screen readers for blind people don't work), you can't just invent a new written language like that. Change has to come about slowly and organically, i.e. over the course of centuries. Every once in a while you can have a low-scale spelling reform (like the one American English had with spelling e.g. "colour" -> "color", "flavour" -> "flavor"; or the one Japanese had where ゑ, ゐ, and the uses of はひふへほ sounding like わいうえお in words were removed), but you can't just completely abandon the entire way words are spelled at the drop of a hat.
 

Toritoribe

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For instance しょう with a circle above will only mean 'smallness"/ しょう with a straight line above will only mean "ilness"/ しょう with a wavy line above will only mean "commander" and so on
That's exactly the way how a group of kanji 形声文字 were made. For instance, as for 症, the reading ショウ is from a reading of the phonetic element 正. Once you remember the reading(s) of this component, you can guess the reading of the kanji 証, 征, 政 or 整 even if you've never seen them before. (The main reading of the last three examples is セイ, which is another reading of 正.) Furthermore, unlike your meaningless marks such like the circle or straight line, the radical やまいだれ 疒 provides the meaning "illness" to the kanji, so you can guess that the kanji 病, 癌, 痘 or 療 are related to "illness" even if you've never seen them before. This construction of kanji was mentioned in the thread lanthas-san provided above. This is exactly the reason why I wrote you were going to repeat the same discussion again. You even didn't read the thread, no?
 
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I
What, like ゑ and ゐ?
Even ignoring the logistical nightmare your suggestion of lines above words would be for computer text (imagine a situation where copy/paste is impossible, every program has to be specifically designed to handle Japanese, and screen readers for blind people don't work), you can't just invent a new written language like that. Change has to come about slowly and organically, i.e. over the course of centuries. Every once in a while you can have a low-scale spelling reform (like the one American English had with spelling e.g. "colour" -> "color", "flavour" -> "flavor"; or the one Japanese had where ゑ, ゐ, and the uses of はひふへほ sounding like わいうえお in words were removed), but you can't just completely abandon the entire way words are spelled at the drop of a hat.
No, not like ゑ and ゐ.
See the image I have attached here.
And it's not going to be a "logisitcal nightmare".
This guy counted all the homophones in 170,000 Japanese words - Research Results: Homophones in Japanese – Self Taught Japanese .
Out of 170,000 words, 167,425 have no homophones (94.11%).
Another 6101 have only one other homophones (3.43%) , so only one word out of the pair needs a circle.
Another 2066 have two other homophones (1.16%) , so one word will have nothing, one will have circle and one a line.
This brings you to 98.7% of the words in Japanese .
So let's say しょう has three meanings (I know it has more , I am just giving it as an example on how this will work ) - "award","smallness" and "illness".
So しょう alone without any sign will mean ''award", しょう with a circle above will mean "smallness" and しょう with a line above will mean ''illness''.
 

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Why take Kanji away when it makes reading Japanese a lot easier, yes Kanji can be a pain to learn but honestly it isn't that hard as long as you put your mind to it. It gets to the point now where it's annoying for me to read hiragana text without Kanji because they you have to take extra time to tell where one word ends and another begins and what that word means depending on the context because there are multiple words spelt the same. To me Kanji is a God send
 
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No, not like ゑ and ゐ.
See the image I have attached here.
I understood what you meant just fine. I was just pointing out that spelling variations (which is ultimately what you are suggesting) already existed in the past and were deliberately removed.

And it's not going to be a "logisitcal nightmare".
This guy counted all the homophones in 170,000 Japanese words - Research Results: Homophones in Japanese – Self Taught Japanese .
Out of 170,000 words, 167,425 have no homophones (94.11%).
Another 6101 have only one other homophones (3.43%) , so only one word out of the pair needs a circle.
Another 2066 have two other homophones (1.16%) , so one word will have nothing, one will have circle and one a line.
This brings you to 98.7% of the words in Japanese .
None of this has anything to do with how computers will handle a system like this. You don't even need to imagine it; you're basically suggesting a version of furigana which is made up of random symbols for hiragana. Do you know how annoying it is to insert furigana into text? There's no text-based standard that can do it adequately, so you always have to do some sort of custom formatting. Not a problem when you're writing documents meant to be printed on paper, for instance, but it's impractical or even outright impossible in a lot of computer contexts to depend on that (e.g. a standard website, or a translation file for a program). Thank goodness furigana isn't necessary if you know your kanji. Just thinking of what documents in Japanese would do to accomplish what you're suggesting makes me shudder.

I must admit, though, I exaggerated one effect (the effect on screen readers) in my mind. They wouldn't be impossible, just low quality.

In any case, that's a minor point really. The important bit is that it can't happen. It's too radical of a change.
 

Toritoribe

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See the image I have attached here.
And it's not going to be a "logisitcal nightmare".
This guy counted all the homophones in 170,000 Japanese words - Research Results: Homophones in Japanese – Self Taught Japanese .
Out of 170,000 words, 167,425 have no homophones (94.11%).
Another 6101 have only one other homophones (3.43%) , so only one word out of the pair needs a circle.
Another 2066 have two other homophones (1.16%) , so one word will have nothing, one will have circle and one a line.
This brings you to 98.7% of the words in Japanese .
So let's say しょう has three meanings (I know it has more , I am just giving it as an example on how this will work ) - "award","smallness" and "illness".
So しょう alone without any sign will mean ''award", しょう with a circle above will mean "smallness" and しょう with a line above will mean ''illness''.
You ignored the merit of the radicals of kanji I pointed out in my previous post. Again, it's incredibly better than your meaningless marks such like the circle or straight line.
You also ignored the writer's comment "Fortunately, more homophones tend to be used in Japanese writing (on advanced topics), but the kanji there helps make up for it." in the page you linked. He clearly pointed out the merit of kanji. Furthermore, as he mentioned, the word frequency is a key. It's meaningless to include rarely-used words in the denominator to calculate the percentage. He also mentioned that most of words that have a large number of homophones are commonly used in Japanese, thus, it means that there are so many possible homophones in commonly-used words, for instance, for こうかん or かんこう. Kanji are really useful to distinguish these homophones. You failed to deny the merit of using kanji after all. Grade F.
 
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Being aware of all the benefits of using kanji already mentioned above (and in other threads), there is one i noticed a while ago and haven't seen it mentioned yet. So i decided to put my two cents in.
The benefit i'm talking about is that of a faster and more efficient lookup.

That's right, kanji make looking for a specific information in a text an easy task. Especially in case of larger volumes of text. Have you ever tried to find a specific word within a text in a quick fashion? Do you remember that hindering impact non-character-based scripts have on the search speed? There are 30'ish-40'ish characters in most alphabets, all looking rather similar, and to make matters worse the characters have no intrinsic meaning by themselves. Some tasks, like looking for a proper name may be less time-consuming, but then again in certain languages like German it makes little difference since all the nouns begin with a capital letter.
Now let's say we've got some article or narrative describing some island. The description is omnibus, ranging from climate and wild life, down to native traditions and main industries. We are particularly interested in birds. Anything referring birds: native species, local recipes, folklore, hunting seasons etc. Imagine how arduous a task it would be in your language. Whereas all you have to do with a text in Japanese is quickly run through the page looking for a 鳥 symbol, without exerting extra brain processing power and time actually reading anything. Just like looking through a photo-album looking for pictures of birds. The text itself can be regarded as series of illustrations connected by syntax.
Let's take a look at a verse from a song: この背中に鳥のように白い翼付けてください. Disregard the kana and quickly run through kanji: 背中 鳥 白 翼付. Just like a comic strip: a back, a bird, white, attach wings.
Birds may be a bad example, since many species will probably have their own kanji, or they might be a good example since it offers scope for broader search functions, just like filters and arguments in web search/digital search. The species do share a radical or two after all: 鶏,鳳,鶴,雀,隼. Although i admit, there will always be some swallow not giving a dime for radicals, if you know what i mean ;)

Speaking of web search. My speculations above might seem irrelevant to digital texts, where all you have to do is just press Ctrl+F and type in a part of a word. But i believe kanji enhance digital search too. Let's say we are reading a wikipedia article about nasal pronunciation of が-row. Suppose there was an English article as well as Japanese. We'd like to know whether nasal pronunciation has anything to do with feminine speech. All we have to do in Japanese is search for "女" for all possible "feminine, girlish, woman-like" etc. whereas in English it would require at least three queries: "fem, girl, wom" to account for all possible paraphrases of a concept "feminine"
 
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As I am learning kanji (slowly), I actually find its efficiency very useful. It also has artistic merit (beauty) and I understand it is called shūji (習字) - I have seen examples in a school (that one of my friends kids attends - they compete) and it is a skill to be learned and practiced. They even have TV shows about it and the Prime Minister made the news for mis-reading a speech - priceless.
Also, reading the comments above I was reminded of reading Edmund Spencer's "The Faeire Queen" from 1590. It is a little difficult to read because it is not "modern" English, but close (easier if you read aloud because of phonetics). It is a good example of how language has changed in just 400 years. Similarly, as I travel around Japan I see modern and older kanji styles - it is an evolving language and will continue to evolve, so the idea that dropping a writing method should already have occurred is short-sighted (a mere few centuries). Next you'll be suggesting we drop the nengō date system (!?).
For fun, you might like this example is copied from a wiki entry (discovered while checking similar pointless entries in English):
  • Although at first glance the single character sentence 子子子子子子子子子子子子 does not seem to make sense, when this sentence is read using the right readings of the kanji 子, it means "the young of cat, kitten, and the young of lion, cub". It is told in the work Ujishūi Monogatari that the Japanese poet Ono no Takamura used this reading to escape death.
(As a disclaimer - my Japanese ability is terrible and while I slowly get better, I appreciate the ability of computers to do a poor translation for me in places.)
 

nice gaijin

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Good explanation.
So basically they are stuck with Kanji because too many words sound the same?.
But you know just like in English where honophones are spelled differently and then people can instantly distuinguish between them after familiarity with their different spelling they can easily overcome that by inventing a few special symbols just to distinguish beteeen them.
For instance しょう with a circle above will only mean 'smallness"/ しょう with a straight line above will only mean "ilness"/ しょう with a wavy line above will only mean "commander" and so on, and just like an English speaker instantly sees the difference between "ad" and "add" , so will the Japanese speakers easily see it .
Yes they will have to memorize these special homophone words but it surely is easier than memorizing thousands of Kanji.
Your proposed solution to facilitate the elimination of kanji is to make kana more complicated, and as @Toritoribe pointed out, essentially reinvent bushu, one of the very things that make kanji so useful in the first place?

Probably because you are not studying Japanese and don't understand how kanji work, you seem to be laboring under the assumption that in order to learn kanji, one must memorize all the kanji as individual characters, like some kind of monstrous alphabet. If this were the case, kanji probably would have been abolished long ago...

...But it's still around. 124 million Japanese people and at least a million non-native speakers use it. And a lot of those who have learned it may acknowledge it was challenging, but very few of them seem to think abolishing kanji is a good idea. Is it possible they know something you don't?

The more you learn and understand kanji, the more you understand how to learn kanji, which is all about connecting neurons, forming relational memories between the characters and their constituent parts, and the words in which they appear. You don't learn it through rote memorization, you learn it through exposure and relating it to what you've already learned. You learn how to visually dissect it into its constituent parts to get an idea of what the character might mean, and put it in the context where you're exposed to it to solidify that in your mind. You learn that the etymology of the word is baked right into the word itself. When you learn kanji, you learn to appreciate and respect it. You don't seem to have learned much, so you don't seem to have much respect.

The homophones themselves aren't necessarily the entire word, but different kanji may share readings, which can become hard to distinguish from one another. One of the most useful phrases when learning new vocabulary in context was XのY. Say you hear the word 感激 (かんげき) for the first time, you can casually ask your friend (it helps to realize that the speakers are identifying the kanji in question without seeing them):

You: 感激の「かん」は何の漢字?漢字の「漢」?それか観光の「観」?
What's the "kan" in "kangeki?" Is it the "kan" in "kanji," or the "kan" in "kankou/tourism"?

Friend: いいえ、「感じる」とか「感想」の「かん」。「いい感じ」っていうだろう?それと同じ。
No, it's the "kan" in "kanjiru/to feel" and "kansou/thoughts." You know how we say "ii kanji/feels good?" It's that one.

You: 「げき」は?劇場の劇?
What about the "geki?" Is it like "gekijou/theater/stage"?

Friend: 違う。訓読みは「激しい」。意味は「すごく」と近いんだ。
No, it's different, it means/is also read "Hageshii/Intense." The meaning is similar to "sugoku/extremely."

You: へぇ、じゃあ、感激って激しく感動するってこと?
Ohh, so kangeki means "To be very/intensely moved by something?"

Friend: 当たり。
That's it!
So, in this conversation you've learned a new word and its meaning by relating its constituent characters to other vocabulary you already knew, both strengthening and expanding your vocabulary by making new connections between words. This exact kind of conversation happens all the time, and even native people use it when trying to figure out place names, or when they're explaining how to write something over the telephone. You could imagine that as your vocabulary grows, you rely less on rote memorization and begin learning new characters in context, which is far more effective at ensuring recollection. This can't be done if you remove kanji from the equation.

This argument has been hashed out many times over, and many people seem to think that they know how to better structure a language that is not their own, but when you look at their argument it usually comes down to "kanji is/was/seems hard to me, so it shouldn't be used," and their proposed solution leaves Japanese a poorer language.

So, can Japanese be written using only kana? Can a language change drastically and quickly on a national scale? Sure, Korea ditched hanja and changed its writing system in the mid 20th century and you barely see Chinese characters anymore, and Vietnam uses a modified alphabet now... But both of those languages are heavily influenced by Chinese, and knowledge of those characters is important to understanding the etymology of their own languages. So in Korea, "Chinese" is still a mandatory course, like if English speakers had to study Greek and Latin. Vietnam seems to have moved away from Chu Nom as a concerted effort. And sure, in an effort to make Hanzi more accessible and increase literacy rates, China forced the simplified character set on the PRC. But even a totalitarian regime can't control everyone, and so it may have had some of the intended effect on the mainland, it now has a similar-but-different character set from Hong Kong and Taiwan, and Kanji in Japan, and Hanja in Korea, and Chữ Nôm in Vietnam.
 
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