Raw Japan

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Japan PM finds reading a political headache


Foreigners who’ve spent years trying to learn how to read the thousands of ‘kanji’ ideograms used to write the Japanese language might well sympathise with Prime Minister Taro Aso, who has come under fire in the media for his public bloopers in misreading the written word.

The 68-year-old Japanese leader, whose popularity has slid due to policy flip-flops and other gaffes, has been ridiculed in the media for misreading kanji, first imported from China in the 6th century or before and adapted to write Japanese.

There are more than 70,000 kanji in larger dictionaries, although only about 2,000 are generally used, and the pronunciation of each must be painstakingly memorised.

To make matters worse, many kanji are pronounced differently when combined with other ideograms and take on still other readings when used with the Japanese language’s two phonetic syllabaries, hiragana and katakana.