Oddball Additions to the Joyo Set

Note: After receiving Jim Breen's guest blog on 頰 versus 頬, I decided to supplement it with information that my proofreader had previously given me about how the Joyo changes of 2010 have affected several kanji.

When the authorities in Japan made changes to the Joyo set in 2010, greatly increasing the number of kanji that Japanese high school students would be required to learn, some additions made a lot of sense. After all, if you were assembling important kanji, wouldn't you also include the ones for tiger (2005: 虎) and bear (1995: 熊)? I would!

However, other additions made less sense, and here I'm speaking specifically about four kanji and their variants.

Kanji 2111: Cheek

People in Japan have long used 頬 for "cheek." This form feels natural to anyone who knows 狭 (1166: narrow) and 頭 (186: head), as it combines the right sides of both. Nevertheless, the powers that be chose the alternate form 頰 for their Joyo set. When I type this second version in Word, it comes out faintly because my document is set to use the Osaka font, and 頰 doesn't exist in that character set. Instead, I need to rely on a faint, fluttery-looking font that makes it seem as if the kanji might fly right off the page!

Anyway, as a result, here's what we now have:

Joyo kanji and Joyo yomi: 頰 (ほお: cheek)
acceptable Joyo variant: 頬 (cheek)

Note the perplexing choice of Joyo readings. I know "cheek" as ほほ, and only as that. However, that was overlooked, as was the on-yomi of キョウ, whereas ほお was designated the Joyo yomi.

As to what "acceptable Joyo variant" means, when the Agency of Cultural Affairs issued an updated list of Joyo kanji, the document included a caveat. It said that if the most “official” shape proves impossible or inconvenient to use, it is acceptable to use whatever shape your computer supports instead.

Kanji 2075: To Fill In

The next kanji and its variant tell the same crazy story. The Japanese have long used 填 (to fill in, fill up, make good), and they continue to do so. This shape feels familiar, combining the "earth" radical on the left with 真 (514: true). However, the kanji authorities deemed that shape merely an acceptable Joyo variant, instead selecting 塡 as the official representative of the pair. Again, the chosen one looks faint in my document because it's not well supported electronically.

Here's the new arrangement:

Joyo kanji and Joyo yomi: 塡 (テン: to fill in, fill up, make good)
acceptable Joyo variant: 填 (to fill in, fill up, make good)

When it comes to kanji 2111 and 2075, my proofreader has summed up the issue quite neatly: "In Japan, these two characters were electronically supported only as simplified non-Joyo kanji. But who would have seen it coming? Their old, original shapes, which are poorly supported, were adopted as official Joyo kanji. That's what's causing the confusion. We’re at a loss as to what to do. For most people 塡 is in no way a handy kanji to use." He explains that when he types ほてん, his computer suggests only 補填 (compensating, making up for, supplementation), rather than 補塡, which is now the sanctioned way to write the word. "Computers still don’t consider 填 and 塡 to be identical or interchangeable."

It's interesting that this discussion of 塡 has led us to a word for "compensating." That's the very thing people must do in adapting to this challenge!

Kanji 2093: To Come Off

What my proofreader has said here applies not only to kanji 2111 and 2075 but also to the next two oddball additions. That is, when it comes to all four kanji, people encounter a lack of electronic support, as well as kana-to-kanji conversion problems. Moreover, when computers don't recognize an oddball kanji and its variant as interchangeable, a search for one will not produce the other, as Jim Breen discussed in relation to kanji 2111.

With kanji 2093, the Joyo authorities once again chose the more complex-looking and less electronically supported kanji for the expanded set:

Joyo kanji and Joyo yomi: 剝 (ハク, はがす, はぐ, はがれる, はげる: to come off, peel, fade, discolor)
acceptable Joyo variant: 剥 (to come off, peel, fade, discolor)

However, in this pair 剝 is even less electronically supported than the two new Joyo kanji we've examined thus far. That is, 剝 does not exist in some commonly used Japanese character sets, whereas the variant does. People generally use the variant.

Kanji 2026: To Scold

Here's the lowdown on the last oddball kanji:

Joyo kanji and Joyo yomi:  (シツ, しか•る: to scold, reprove)
acceptable Joyo variant: 叱 (to scold, reprove)

The Joyo version joins 口 with 七 (seven). The variant, meanwhile, combines 口 with 匕, which is Radical 21, the "katakana hi" radical.

Incidentally, I had to use an image to show you the Joyo version here, just in case your computer does not support the shape officially selected for use. That's how odd this last oddball is!

According to an etymology dictionary, the Joyo shape with 七 is historically correct. In fact, the variant has its own separate etymology. But the situation is a bit more complicated than that.

For one thing, the Japanese have long used the variant when they've typed. The Joyo version has been slow to make it into electronic systems.

For another thing, in typed versions it's often unclear whether one is seeing the sanctioned version or its variant. Consider, for example, these images:

On the left we have the Joyo kanji, and on the right we have its variant. Because some people design fonts with more concern for artistic flair than for accuracy, the diagonal stroke crosses the 乚 in both cases, even though that's not supposed to happen in the right-hand version! However, we can still tell them apart if we look at two other features. First, the diagonal stroke points higher in the variant. Second, that stroke has a different shape in each version, depending on the direction in which you draw it. Here's how it's supposed to work:

  • • In the Joyo version, you would draw the slanted stroke from left to right. The line should be thin until the right side, where it ends with an upward-facing swell (not the technical name, but descriptive enough).
  • • In the variant, you go from right to left with that diagonal bit. The stroke is thickest on the right (with a downward-facing swell) and gradually becomes thinner as you move to the left.

All these fussy distinctions between the two versions of kanji 2026 have questionable value, at least in my mind! Speaking of scolding, I have some choice words for the people in charge of these decisions!