sci.lang.japan FAQ / 1. Writing / 1.2.

1.2.13. How does kanji stroke order work?

This page gives a few generalities about how to write kanji in the correct stroke order. The stroke order given here is specifically the Japanese one. Chinese orderings may differ in some details.

General rules

1. Top to bottom, and left to right

The basic rule of kanji stroke order is "go from top to bottom and left to right".

In mittsu (三), each stroke is written from left to right, starting with the uppermost stroke.

In kawa (川), each stroke is written top to bottom, with the left strokes written before the right strokes.

2. Horizontal before vertical

When horizontal and vertical strokes cross, horizontal strokes are usually written before vertical strokes, as in juu (十).

3. Character-spanning strokes last

Vertical strokes that pass through many other strokes are written after the strokes through which they pass, as in naka (中) or mochiiru (用).

Horizontal strokes that pass through many other strokes are written last, as in haha (母) or fune (舟).

4. Diagonals right-to-left before diagonals left-to-right

Right-to-left diagonals are written before left-to-right diagonals:

5. Long centre verticals before smaller "wings"

In characters with a longer central vertical, like mizu (水) or ito (糸), the vertical is written before the shorter components on the left and right. Then components on the left of the vertical are written before components on the right.

6. Left vertical before across and down

Left vertical strokes are written before across and down strokes, as in kuchi (口) or mon (門).

7. Enclosures before contents

Outside frames are written before insides in kanji like yamai (病), but bottom strokes in the enclosure are written last if present, as in mawaru (回).

8. Nyō

Some enclosing components with a bottom part, known as nyō (繞), are written last, as in the shinnyō in chikai (近) or ennyō of ken (建).

However, some other enclosing components are written first, as in okiru (起).

9. Dashes come last

Dashes are often written last, as in motomeru (求):

Common exceptions

10. "Left" and "right" are inconsistent

The two first strokes of the kanji for "left" hidari (左) and "right" migi (右) are written oppositely.

This mnemonic may be useful to remember the order: If you think of "migi" as your right arm and hand holding a box or O shape, and "hidari" as your left arm and hand holding a girder or rotated H shape, the "hand" of migi is the down and left stroke, and the "hand" of hidari is the across stroke, and in both cases the "hand" is written before the "arm".

11. "Nine" and "strong" are inconsistent

If you think of the two strokes as forming part of one movement with a brush, the order makes a bit more sense.

12. Top stroke often goes right to left

A sloping horizontal stroke at the top, as in kanji like watashi (私) or kasaneru (重), usually goes from right to left.


The kanji illustrations on this page are taken from those of the KanjiVG project, copyright © Ulrich Apel, and are used under a Creative Commons Licence.

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