Stroke Order

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.]


  1. Japanese Road

    At last the announcement of Nihongo No Michi.

  2. Japanese itself is very dificult to learn. You have kanji, katakana, hiragana, different words for the same kanji, etc. I don’t worry anything about the kanji stroke order. Moreover, today, everything is writing using computers, so I think the stroke order is much less important.

  3. Hello again,
    I’m sure I know the stroke order for my name!
    Umm… I hope so, but I don’t mind anyway.
    Basically it doesn’t matter which stroke comes first to write a kanji, but the correct stroke order and stroke direction is important for calligraphy.
    ‘Cause it’s art of writing as you know.
    By the way, thanks for your reply and I’m always impressed with your beautiful calligraphy work! 

  4. This also happens with language usage as well where what becomes standard is not considered grammatically correct. In the case of stroke order its just easier to point to a book and prove someone wrong. However, I once had a disagreement with someone and after looking it up in several different books found two different stroke orders. Go figure. The kanji was 何

  5. Thanks for all the comments. I don’t know why but I find this subject fascinating. I must admit that I do like proving a Japanese person ‘wrong’ particularly if they seem very confident. Perhaps it makes me feel better because in all other aspects of Japanese I will always be playing catch-up.
    It’s interesting that you found different stroke orders in different books, Roy. After reading your comment I wondered what stroke order I use for 何 for quite a while before it came to me – and only because I used my finger as a pencil 😉
    On a couple of occasions I’ve noticed my calligraphy teacher use ‘strange’ stroke order. Sometimes I am not sure whether this is on purpose or not, but in any case it really confuses me.

  6. Sorry for dredging this old post up, but I’ve actually found stroke order useful. I’ve found that stroke order helps me read other people’s handwriting (calligraphic or otherwise) which is partucularly useful with some restaurants’ menus/signs.
    Though, take my opinion with a grain of salt, since you’re much more advanced than I…

  7. Kanji is no challenge for someone who can read and write Chinese… and the stroke order is rarely an issue since the rule is “left-top-down then right-top-down”. I can not imagine how 何 can be written in more than 1 way… 😕
    Stroke order is an important part of writing. It feels weird to see incorrect stroke order….it will make me start to wonder if the person really knows the word or he is just writing it by copying. It’s almost like someone writing 口 with a circle!