September 17, 2017
by Miyabi Saeki and Natsumi Awa
In 2016, the Kanji Museum was established in Kyoto. It looks like a modern building, but it suits the scenery of Kyoto because the basic color is black. At the Kanji Museum, you can learn about the origin, history, and development of kanji, as well as become familiar with many different kinds of kanji. There are also a few small collections related to Kanji. For example, you can see the original types of tools used to write Kanji in its early days, like sand and bones, to the present day, such as computers and smart phones.
What are Kanji?
Kanji are ideographs which were made to represent the Chinese language in China, over 3,500 years ago. An ideograph is a picture which has a certain meaning. For example, the Kanji 馬 (uma). This Kanji was made based on the shape of a horse. Therefore, the meaning is ‘horse’. Kanji was introduced into Japan about 1,500 years ago via China. Currently Kanji is used in China, Japan, and Korea. Kanji was originally made by changing the shape of what was a picture. It is said that it is only kanji that is still used from that time. In other words, the most historic writing system in the world is Kanji.
The advantages of Kanji are that it is easy to understand and express short words briefly. In addition, there are many coined words in Kanji, so it enriches the Japanese vocabulary.
The disadvantages of Kanji are that Kanji have many stroke counts and complex shapes. Also, Kanji is not suitable for expressing sounds, so it is difficult to learn to read and write. Therefore, hiragana and katakana (phonetic writing systems in Japan) are used to help people read kanji and for transliteration of loanwords.
The 1st Floor
On the first floor, there is a theater, a café, a gift shop and some historical exhibitions. For example, there is a time line of the history of kanji on the wall. Kanji has a long history, and you can learn about it by looking at the time line. Furthermore, when you enter the Kanji Museum, you will receive a pamphlet, which is a kind of activity in which you learn about the origin of the Japanese writing system. You compare stamps of old and recent kanji and kana which are characters made in Japan that represent sounds. Sometimes the same kanji looks very different.
The 2nd Floor
There are many activities on the 2nd floor. For example, there are kanji quizzes, a kanji photo studio, a place where you can make your own kanji, and so on. The kanji quizzes can be a little difficult even for Japanese native speakers, but there are many kinds of quizzes and the levels are different. Some are like written exams, but others are like games that you can play. For example, you can match different parts of kanji together with cards, or put the correct words onto pictures. You will see many kids and adults taking these quizzes together.
Also, the kanji photo studio is fun, because you can pose in the shape of different kanji. This activity is fun even if you know almost no Japanese. You only have to know the shape of the kanji, and try to make it with your own body. In addition, you can make your own kanji, and also you can see many kanji which were made by other people.
If you don’t know any Japanese, you may not find it interesting, but if you know even just a little Japanese, you should try the stamp activity to see what your name looks like in old kanji.
Events at the Kanji museum
There are many events at the Kanji Museum for people to learn about kanji while also having fun. The events change every month. You can see what events are taking place on the museum’s homepage. For example, one recent event was making kanji with clay. Kids and adults could learn about the different meanings of kanji by making them with clay.
There is also a Kanji fair. The meaning of kanji changes over time. Here, you can learn about those changes. Some words that are now used were used very differently in the past. Many Japanese native speakers also don’t know the old meanings of kanji that they currently use.
If you don’t know a lot of Japanese, the arts and crafts events can be a lot of fun and you also get a souvenir. Or if you want to learn more Japanese, events like the Kanji fair may be more interesting.
At any rate, feel free to check out the Kanji Musuem in Kyoto. You won’t be disappointed.
Basic information about Kanji museum
Established June 29th, 2016
Hours: 9:30 to 17:00 (last admission 16:30) Closed: Mondays
Admissions: Adults: ¥800
University and high school students: ¥500
Junior high and elementary school students: ¥300
Preschool children: Free
Handicapped visitors: Free
Address: 551 Gionmachi Minigawa, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto 605-0074, Kyoto Prefecture
Access: Keihan Line, Gion-Shijo Stn, Exit 6, 5-min walk.
From Kyoto station, city bus number 100 or 206. Stop at Gino Bus Stop. 3 min walk.