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Do Koreans Use Kanji?

Jason Park
Published by: Jason Park
Last updated:

Kanji is a writing system of Japanese words using Chinese characters. This system is known as Hanja when used with Korean words. Many people in North American have taken interest in learning about Asian languages.

When learning to speak Korean, a lot of Westerners are interested in learning more about Kanji/ Hanja. Does Korean use Kanji?

In Korean culture, Hanja is used instead of Kanji. Many decades ago, Hanja was a required class in North Korean Schools. However, this is no longer the case and these days most of the younger generation isn’t familiar with Hanja or Kanji.

Today, you can find Hanja being used for scholarly monographs, ancient Korean literature, and even legal documents. However, it’s not common to use socially.

Are you interested to learn more about how Kanji/ Hanja is used in Korean language? On this page, we’re going to discuss the relationship Koreans have with Kanji, as well as its history and why it’s no longer used today in North Korea and South Korea. Keep reading to learn more about these unique writing systems.

How Much Kanji Do Koreans Know?

Kanji and Hanja borrow Chinese characters, however, these words are not as common in modern Korean vocabulary. Hanja education is not mandatory, but many students will choose to take the class to learn the basics. While Kanji/ Hanja isn’t commonly used in Korean language for basic words, people are familiar with certain Kanji/ Hanja in Korea.

Most Koreans are familiar with how to write their name and their surname using Hanja. There also know how to use it when writing out directions, such as North and West or up and down. It is also likely for the average Korean to know how to write numbers using Kanji or Hanja.

There are also some important words that they will use often that they can write in Kanji/ Hanja. They are quick to learn sizes, such as small, medium, and large. It’s also common for them to learn how to use Hanja for dates and times.

Most Koreans have advanced reading comprehension, allowing them to pick up on Kanji/ Hanja even if they don’t frequently use it.

If you spend time in Korea, you likely won’t notice Kanji or Hanja being used. They are mainly used in ancient literature, which isn’t as common with the younger generations.

If you do meet a Korean who has a strong knowledge of Hanja, they likely won’t be familiar with Kanji. Let’s take a look at why.

What Does Kanji Mean in Korean?

Japanese and Korean people both introduce Chinese borrowed words into their language. To be specific, Kanji is a Japanese word and Hanja is a Korean word. However, both of these words have the same meaning: Chinese character.

Hanja isn’t used in Korea as commonly today because Koreans use their own alphabet system, Hangul. As the culture adapted the Hangul alphabet, they no longer need to use Chinese script. Koreans only used Hanja as a way to create written language.

Once they had their own characters with Hangul, Hanja wasn’t necessary for society. This is one of the main reasons why it’s no longer in school.

Kanji is actually a slang word in Korea

The word is pronounced differently between the two languages, which is why both Kanji and Hanja exist. Koreans will refer to this as Hanja and may give you a confused look if you use the term Kanji to refer to the use of Chinese characters in the language.

While Koreans used Hanja, you may hear them use the term Kanji. When a Korean person uses the word “kanji” they aren’t referring to Chinese characters.

Kanji is a slang word in Korea that is used to describe someone who is cool and stylish. If a Korean person admires your sense of style, they may call you kanji.

Hanja vs Kanji- What’s the difference?

As you read through this article, you probably have noticed we kept using the terms Hanja and Kanji. You may be wondering what the difference is between Hanja vs Kanji. The main difference between the two is their pronunciation. Hanja belongs to the Korean language and Kanji belongs to the Japanese language.

Chinese characters are important to both languages because Japanese and Korean languages borrowed scripts from Chinese languages.

However, there are a few key differences to add up to why Korean and Japanese people pronounce the words differently. To start, the most obvious difference is the timeframe of when they borrowed these characters.

Korea began to borrow characters from the Chinese language from 400 BC to 50 BC. Japan didn’t begin to adapt Kanji to their language until roughly 50 AD and later.

There are also some big differences in how they pronounce native words. Japan doesn’t use “ng” in its language. The Korean language uses the combination of “tae” instead of “tai” to use fewer syllables.

Is Kanji the Same as Chinese

A lot of people wonder if Kanji is the same as Hanja. They also wonder if Kanji/ Hanja is the same as Chinese.

Kanji and Chinese are not the same things. Chinese words are written in Hanzi, whereas Kanji is the incorporation of Chinese letters being used in the language of Japanese. Hanja is quite different from Chinese as well, even though many native Korean words have borrowed from Chinese script.

When Hanja, Kanji, and Chinese (Hanzi) are all written, the differences become more clear. The characters from the Korean alphabet are a lot different than what is used in Chinese writing.

Korean writing uses more ovals, while Chinese writing uses more complex square shapes.

However, someone who is fluent in Mandarin Chinese should be able to read Kanji or Hanja easily, even if they are not familiar with the Japanese or Korean language.

This is because both Kanji and Hanja use traditional Chinese. They may pronounce it differently, but they will understand the meaning of what has been written.

Many younger Chinese people will have difficulties traveling in Korea because Hanja is not frequently used there anymore.

Koreans use the Hangul alphabet, which Chinese culture isn’t familiar with. However, Chinese travelers may have an easier time in Japan because Kanji uses more mixed scripts and borrows from the modern language of Chinese script.


Kanji is not used in Korea, instead, they use a writing system known as Hanja. This means Chinese characters in Korea. It was adapted before Korean script existed when they borrowed scripture from Chinese languages to create their own.

Kanji is Japanese, and it also means characters Chinese. The main difference between Kanji and Hanja is how they pronounce their language.

Words aren’t pronounced the same in Korean and Japanese because they use different letters and syllables. Even when the two cultures are reading Chinese scripture, they will have different pronunciations.

However, both cultures started incorporating Chinese scripts during different time eras. This contributes to slight differences in how they are used and pronounced.

A lot has changed since Hanja was created, and now it is rarely used in Korea. In 1971, Korean schools stopped making Hanja a requirement. The scripture is no longer used as frequently, with many of the younger generations only knowing the basics of it.

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    About The Author

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    Jason Park

    Jason has been living in Seoul for over 4 years, and during that time, he has experienced many of the city's hidden stores. He loves to write about his experiences and share them with others. Jason has been quoted and referenced by different major media companies like Mashed, Distractify, ThePrint and TastingTable. In his free time, he likes to watch Korean dramas and learn more about Korean culture.

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