In the recent spring cleaning effort, I have found a fair amount of questions that are character recognition requests.

The Help Center page currently states that direct translation/proofreading requests are off-topic, but says nothing about character recognition.

The majority of these questions are similar to translation requests, in the sense that they are unlikely to be useful for anyone other than the OP. However, some of them turn out to be about a common kanji shorthand or cursive script, which can be useful for everybody. (Although it may be difficult for a future visitor with the same question to find the page via search.)

Should there be a rule in the Help Center document about this kind of question? If so, what would be the rule?

  • is an upvote on the question an expression of agreement or an expression that this is a good topic to discuss on meta?
    – virmaior
    Commented Nov 20, 2015 at 4:48
  • 2
    Both, in my case... ^^
    – chocolate Mod
    Commented Nov 20, 2015 at 7:45

3 Answers 3


I personally consider the vast majority of the "what is this character?" questions to be trivial translation questions, and they should be closed as such. Asking "What is this kanji on my T-shirt I bought in Akihabara?" is not significantly different from "Please translate this anime character's catchphrase".

On the other hand, questions focused on differences between formally written/typed characters and either hand-written or archaic characters seem on topic.

To some extent, it depends on what an acceptable answer is. If the question is fundamentally "I know this character is 喜, but it's written like 㐂... what the heck is going on here?". The questioner is asking for an explanation of the orthography and that's a perfectly reasonable question.

If a dictionary link is the answer, it probably falls into one of two offtopic categories. Either it should be closed as a translation question, or perhaps under the "This question was a result of a typographical error" reason.


I think jkerian is right that we can close these as "translation request" questions, but I also think that you're right – we should mention these specifically in the Help Center, just to be as clear as possible.

Right now, the Help Center says:

Direct translations are off topic. While we are very interested in helping people who are having difficulty in their study of Japanese, we are not willing to provide a translation service for cases where a simple dictionary search combined with understanding the basics of Japanese sentence construction would suffice.

Let's give character recognition requests a separate heading:

Character recognition is off topic. In other words, questions which ask "What's this character?" but don't show any research effort will be closed. If you've looked in dictionaries already and still can't figure it out, this sort of question may be acceptable, but please show your research effort and include as much context as you can.

We can still use the existing close reasons as laid out in jkerian's answer, but I think adding this text to the Help Center will make everything a bit clearer for everyone.

If there are no objections, I'll add this text to the help center in a week or two. Otherwise, please leave a comment below or edit the text in this answer if you think it can be improved.

  • I've added the text in this answer to the Help Center, but we can always edit it in the future, so feedback is still welcome :-)
    – user1478
    Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 23:37

The awful thing about kanji is that beginners can't google it like they could google "konnichiwa". (I'm in that category too - I know that some people know how to "look up" a kanji, but I haven't learnt how to do that). Maybe such questions should be mainly close-voted rather than downvoted.

That being said, I agree that it's off topic because answering a given request won't make the sum total of humanity's knowledge, apart from that of the OP, any better than before. It's not like someone can type in "What does this kanji say?", see that someone has asked about what a kanji in a given photo is, and get the result of that person's answer.

  • 3
    Maybe we should start a meta post explaining how to look up a kanji using free online tools :-)
    – user1478
    Commented Nov 29, 2015 at 3:54

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