How important is stroke order in reality? When you write a kanji does it matter if you write in the correct order?
When people first start to learn kanji they normally learn the rules for which strokes (normally) come first. Even the exceptions start to feel natural after a while.
At primary school, sorry.. I mean elementary school, Japanese children learn kanji and take kanji kentei tests in which stroke order must be known exactly.
Some people argue that for beautifully written characters you should use the correct stroke order and stroke direction, hence why left-handedness isn’t so highly rated. Nothing irritates a Japanese person more than watching a kanji being written ‘backwards’! (I have an left-handed American friend who would testify to this).
However, over my time in Japan I have noted to myself on numerous occaions that Japanese people often have forgotten ‘correct’ stroke order and use their own. Often they don’t even realise they are doing this. Sometimes I point this out to people but they don’t even believe me until they check a dictionary.
A prime example of this: I was talking with one of my private students about her kanji name. I wondered whether she knew the correct stroke order and asked her to show me. With confidence she waved her finger in the air and spelt out her name. Unfortunately, she waved in the wrong order! Her own name…!
So, I believe foreign people who are studying Japanese at a relatively early stage in a thorough fashion are more like elementary school children who know things like stroke order.
But does it really matter if we don’t use this order? After all, the Chinese sometimes use different stroke order to Japanese for the same kanji. If I think of English, it doesn’t bother me in the least if I am using the ‘correct’ order for writing. In the end we evolve our own styles of writing.
Just as a side note, something I find distinctively Japanese which I don’t think native writers of English would do is to dot the letter ‘i’ before writing the bottom half. Following kanji stroke order perhaps that would be the best choice. Writing joined up with a word using many i’s would be a challenge though!
To anyone Japanese reading this: are you sure you know the stroke order for your name and even if you were wrong would it bother you?
[Apologies if you read this twice – I think I’m going to post this to my main blog too.]