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I've been slowly learning my hiragana, and I ran into an unexpected dilemma.

The characters are hard to write.

I know, obvious perhaps. But this being the first alphabet I've learned outside of English, I hadn't really thought about how much practice it took as a young kid to perfect writing English letters with good form.

But even so, I feel like the flourishes in the characters, the fanciful weighting to the brush strokes, are near impossible to replicate with the ball-point pen I've been using, or with a pencil. Difficult to replicate with any sort of grace, anyway.

So is that normal? Do people in Japan write with pens/pencils and just leave out the elegant but non-essential shaping of the strokes?

Or do they use a different sort of writing utensil? Or, do they manage to pull off such flourishes with the same ordinary stuff we use?

migrated from japanese.stackexchange.com Jul 16 '12 at 13:16

This question came from our site for students, teachers, and linguists wanting to discuss the finer points of the Japanese language.

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    I once asked my Japanese teacher if she used to take notes, at University lectures, in kana/kanji or in Romaji. Turned out that she used a propelling/mechanical pencil and would write in kana/kanji. I think that the best tip I can give (from my experience) is to practise with whatever is comfortable. After all, you wont keep doing it if it's not comfortable to do. – Jamie Taylor Jul 16 '12 at 7:27
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    PS We start using brushes in calligraphy class at school at age 8-9, in the 3rd grade. – user1016 Jul 16 '12 at 8:45
  • Is this question being down/close voted as a "technical setup" question, akin to meta.japanese.stackexchange.com/a/800/91 ? @Flaw My interpretation of the question is that the OP is merely wanting to write Japanese correctly. – Andrew Grimm Jul 16 '12 at 13:28
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    1) this question fell squarely off the scope of JLU. I realise the question of "what goes into the scope" is a bit muddled, but a quick perusal of FAQ entries on Meta should give you the gist (questions have to be about the language, not the tools). 2) BE NICE. There is definitely a mean streak in JLU comments. Granted, some questions/members can be irritating and could use some FAQ pointers, but please do so in a friendly, non-confrontational way. 3) If you must bicker and argue, consider using the Chat rather than comments. – Dave Jul 18 '12 at 17:36
  • @Dave Does the question fit okay on meta-JLU? – temporary_user_name Jul 18 '12 at 18:00
  • Comments have been cleaned up. @Aerovistae: probably. – Dave Aug 8 '12 at 8:20
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You might want to take a look at this nifty combination of brush and pen called 筆ペン

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ボールペン字 or just ペン字 should turn up practice sheets aimed at writing with pen rather than brush.

For example: http://ji.bdmj.net/hiragana.php (the squares are split into four with the dotted lines as a guide - correct stroke order will help, too).

A finer pen/mechanical pencil makes things easier when it comes to writing.

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It's my understanding that kids in Japan do use brushes in school when learning how to write properly. I've seen they have these little brush-sets to put in their weird little backpacks. Then of course they use pens/pencils for most other occasions when they don't have a computer. (you're not writing cursive with a feather quill, are you?) Anyhow. with a pencil you may not get the full effect as though you had a brush, but there are certain methods to at least finish off a stroke: http://namakajiri.net/nikki/hiragana-stroke-ends/ (I haven't read this myself but it seems decent enough) These actually do make quite a difference. (though admittedly I'm lazy to learn these properly for every new kanji) Other than that, just practice.. I had tremendous problems getting の right, it always ended up looking like a weird swirl. But after just writing down answers to questions etc it eventually just started to look right.

Btw, this may be more of a meta-question..

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    That's funny, no is the symbol I got the easiest and fastest! But there are plenty of others I stumble over. REALLY helpful link. – temporary_user_name Jul 16 '12 at 16:39
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From my personal experience, mechanical pencils work the best. Cheep ball-points are to be avoided like the plague, because they don't stand up well to the many short lines in Japanese. English has fewer, longer lines, so it give it more of a chance to get the ink rolling. (The exception to this is if you have a hard surface to put under your paper, so you're not writing on a stack of soft papers, like a notebook.) I like mechanical pencils because they're more often sharp, and if you're drawing kanji with high stroke counts, dull pencils mush everything together.

Sometimes I use an ink pen, but it's very fluid and it flows very well. It runs out of ink fast, but it's worth it. (Here, click on "GEL")

And, to get to the crux of your question, it just takes practice to get your handwriting looking closer to Japanese people's. If you're having trouble writing a specific kana or two, look up native handwriting samples and copy over and over...trying to mimic computer font will end up making your handwriting seem a little unnatural (which is what I did for the longest time...). Also, it might interest you to look at the stroke orders for the kana. It helped me to start writing the "crossbars" parts first, like for "お"

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    "I like mechanical pencils because they're more often sharp" Fun fact: according to Wikipedia, "Sharp pencil" is wasei-eigo for mechanical pencil. – Andrew Grimm Jul 22 '12 at 12:58

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