Tōyō kanji

The tōyō kanji, also known as the Tōyō kanjihyō (当用漢字表, "list of kanji for general use") are the result of a reform of the Kanji characters of Chinese origin in the Japanese written language. They were the kanji declared "official", i.e. characters that could be used in official government documents, by the Japanese Ministry of Education (文部省) on November 16, 1946.

The 1850-character list was not meant to be exhaustive, as many characters that were in common use at the time, and are today, were not included. It was meant as a baseline for satisfactory functional literacy in Japanese at a secondary education level, as all of the listed characters were to be taught nationwide in compulsory education.

They were replaced in 1981 by the Jōyō kanji, which had been expanded to ~2,100 characters by 2010 following several revisions.


Thousands of kanji characters were in use in various writing systems, leading to great difficulties for those learning written Japanese. Additionally, several characters had identical meanings but were written differently from each other, further increasing complexity.

After World War II, the Ministry of Education decided to minimize the number of kanji by choosing the most commonly used kanji, along with simplified kanji (see Shinjitai) commonly appearing in contemporary literature, to form the tōyō kanji. This was an integral part of the postwar reform of Japanese national writing.

This was meant as a preparation for re-introducing their previous unsuccessful reform abolishing Chinese characters. Although the postwar timing meant no public debate was held on the future of the Japanese written language, the defenders of the original kanji system considered and accepted the tōyō kanji as a reasonable compromise. Since this compromise could not then be withdrawn in favour of more radical reform, discussion of kanji abolition ended. Thirty-five years passed before further reforms were brought to the Japanese written form.

The table of the pronunciations of the kanji was published in 1948 and the list of characters in 1949.

In 1981, the Ministry of Education decided to replace the tōyō kanji with a more flexible system, leading to the publication of the jōyō kanji. This rendered the tōyō kanji obsolete.

Applications and limitations

Rather than being a simple list of the kanji, the reform published by the Ministry for Education also contains clear rules for the use of the tōyō kanji.

The foreword of the document states that:

  • Tōyō kanji must be used in legal and governmental documents, newspapers, magazines and by the public in general.
  • If a kanji can only be used to cover part of a word, e.g. 小さい (chiisai, 小=chii, さい=sai) then the uncovered part can only be written using hiragana.
  • It is preferred to write pronouns, conjunctions, interjections, adverbs, verb auxiliaries, articles and postpositions using hiragana.
  • Words of foreign origin must be written in katakana.
  • In general, furigana should not be used.
  • For technical terms, tōyō kanji are preferred to other kanji, but non-tōyō kanji are preferred to hiragana or katakana.
  • Proper names may use non-tōyō kanji.
  • Names of animals, plants and the names and places of another country are changed to match the pronunciation of the original language in question and are written with katakana. An exception is made for the names of certain countries whose kanji are in traditional use, including China, the United States, and the United Kingdom.
  • The list of characters is standardized.


Because the majority of character-based words are composed of two (or more) kanji, many words were left with one character included in the Tōyō kanji, and the other character missing. In this case, the recommendation was to write the included part in kanji and the excluded part in kana, e.g. ふ頭 for 埠頭 and 危ぐ for 危惧. These words were called mazegaki (交ぜ書き, "mixed characters").

List of the 1,850 tōyō kanji

Bold in 1981 and 2010 year added kanji

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See also

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