The profusion of mobile phones, tablets, email software and other electronic communication devices is being blamed for the gradual disappearance of Japanese people who can properly write in kanji, the characters used in the Japanese language.
According to a survey released by the Agency for Cultural Affairs of the Japanese Ministry of Education, two-thirds (66.5 percent) of respondents said they are losing the ability to hand-write in kanji since communication devices automatically generate kanji characters.
A similar survey conducted 10 years ago put that figure at only a quarter (25.2 percent) -- suggesting that the omnipresence of mobile devices has rapidly eroded peoples’ ability (or even willingness) to hand-write the beautiful characters of the Japanese tongue.
Kanji, which comprises thousands of characters that originated in China, is viewed as a key part of Japanese culture.
In the latest survey (which interviewed about 3,500 people above the age of 16), 42 percent complained that handwriting is “too tedious” (up from 10 percent in the prior study), while 29.5 percent declared their allegiance to texting and emailing over oral or written communications.
The Cultural Agency warned that these trends will likely continue, perhaps endangering the future of kanji.
"This trend will certainly become stronger and be a serious problem for children in learning Japanese," the agency said.
"We must seriously consider how children, who have not yet mastered Japanese to a sufficient level, should be taught to use computers."
In October 2010, ComScore reported that Japan has one of the world’s highest rates of mobile phone and Internet usage.
More than three-quarters of Japanese (75.2 percent) were “connected” to mobile media (that is, they browsed, accessed applications or downloaded content), versus 43.7 percent in the U.S. and 28.5 percent in Europe.
The art of handwriting properly is at risk in other parts of the world as well.
The Global Times newspaper of China speculated recently that “with more people typing away on keyboards and cell phones, writing Chinese characters by hand is becoming extinct.”
Noting that beautiful handwriting has long been valued in China for some 5,000 years, some educators fear this precious art will vanish soon due to rapidly changing technology, leading to a deterioration of culture.
Ge Fei, a professor of Chinese language and literature at Tsinghua University, told the Times: "Chinese characters carry the culture of China and have intrinsic characteristics. Its decline will have unpredictable consequences.”
A survey in China over the summer indicated that only about 5 percent of the population write letters by hand anymore, with the overwhelming majority choosing to communicate by texts or emails.
Part of the problem also has to do with the difficulties inherent with learning and accurately writing thousands of individual Chinese characters.
"It is inevitable that the demand to handwrite [will decrease] in modern society," Huang Yushang, a calligraphy artist in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, told the Global Times.
Li Boqian, professor of archaeology at Peking University, asserts that the new technology is not the only factor behind the decline in penmanship in China.
"The deeper reason is the lack of respect for Chinese characters and traditional culture,” he told the Times. “It is an act of shifting responsibility to blame technology.”
Indeed, the larger issue would appear to be how quickly Chinese society is changing – at the expense of traditional culture.
"It is a problem of the times," said Zhang Yun, a member of an art and culture association in Beijing, to the Times.
"The country is developing too fast and the importance of culture is played down during economic development.”
She added: “The root reason is that we are not serious about the Chinese language. People neglect the cultural significance of writing by hand. "
A newspaper in Shenyang recently featured front page that was entirely handwritten to emphasize what is becoming a crisis.
"Handwriting is irreplaceable," the newspaper declared.
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