Kanji, go home. You’re drunk.

A little while ago we took a look at the most difficult kanji ever – the ones with the most strokes. But that was only the beginning. Now that we’ve stepped into the world of crazy kanji, there’s no going back. The only path is straight forward through the thick kanji woods, and along the way we’re going to spot some really weird specimens.

That’s why today we’re counting down the top five strangest kanji ever. Like last time, we’re concentrating mostly on kanji that are in the Morohashi Daikanwa Jiten, the official dictionary of pretty much every kanji that has ever been written down.

I’ve spent hours exploring the Morohashi for the most bizarre kanji ever, and now I’m here with you, a changed man with some very strange tales to tell.

So let’s get to it! Starting off with…

#5. I think my kanji is broken


Oh. Oh, my god, what did they do to that poor kanji?

Even beginning learners of Japanese will recognize the kanji 中 as meaning “middle/inside.” So then what happened here with this poor guy? Did someone bend his bottom stroke out of shape? Did he take a cannonball to the gut?

▼ Nope. According to Morohashi, this is just an old form of 中.
I guess 中 must’ve done some weird experimenting in his adolescent years.


But then you get something like this…


Seeing this kanji reminds me of the scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail where they go into a cave and read symbols off a wall that someone died while carving.

That… makes it sound really not funny, so watch this video below for a better idea:

▼ Skip to 1:15 for the most probable hypothesis for this kanji’s creation.

Basically the only way I can imagine this kanji coming into existence is an old, decrepit kanji master writing out some characters suddenly has a heart attack, dies, and his disciples decide to preserve the last kanji he wrote in his memory. Is there any other way to explain that squiggle?

▼ Aside from the fact that the squiggle is an old form
of the kanji 雲 (“cloud”) – no, there is no way to explain it.


#4. Something’s not quite right here


So when you start to learn kanji, you learn some basic rules. Things like: they’re mostly made up of radicals, you write them top to bottom left to right, you mostly use straight lines, and so on.

One thing you don’t learn, however, is that apparently pitchforks are part of some kanji.

For anyone who has studied kanji before, this just looks… wrong. Kanji aren’t supposed to bend like that. Coupled with the eerie symmetry it’s just making me uncomfortable.

▼ This kanji is an older version of 葵 (“hollyhock flower”).
Some of those other entries nearby it look a little unsettling too.


Speaking of unsettling…


Somebody help that defenseless kanji up! It’s fallen over and- oh. It’s supposed to be that way? The poor, poor thing.

Yup, that’s right. This kanji isn’t upside down; that’s just how it looks. And best of all, this kanji isn’t even an older version or variant of something else – it’s a legit kanji with its own meaning. Let’s see what the definitions are:

▼ Okay, so the first definition is kakeru, which can mean a variety
of things from “wearing glasses” to “hanging something.”


▼ And the second definition is… ahem, “boy’s genital area.”
Well, I guess that makes sense for the “hanging” part of the definition?


#3. Those curves tho


There are some things that just do not look flattering on kanji, and curves are one of them. Sure, a few slight arcs here and there are fine, but straight-up circles and loops? What do you think you’re drawing here, a breakfast cereal?!

▼ That is NOT cool, Capt. Kanji! NOT cool!

kanji-cerealFlickr/Danielle Elder (Edited by RocketNews24)

▼ This kanji is an old form of 戀 which itself is an older form of 恋 (“love”) .
Expect no love in return if you show someone this kanji.


Oh hey, look what the tiger dragged in.


▼ Yup, this curvaceous beast is the old form of 虎 (“tiger”).
Because when I think “tiger” I also think “breast cancer awareness ribbon.”


And then there’s this thing.


You know, I’ve never been a fan of double-loop rollercoasters, and I can’t say I’m a fan of double-loop kanji either. I mean, you go through all the trouble of coming up with a bunch of standardized radicals and strokes, and then what? You throw it all out the window because you feel like doing some loop-de-loops?

I guess some people just want to watch the world turn.

▼ This kanji is the old form of 官 (“office/government”).
At least it looks like a human wrote it because the next kanji on the list are…


#2. From an alien language


I’m sorry, but I’m having a hard time believing that human hands would ever create something like that.

Those who have studied kanji before know that there are pretty much only four types of strokes that all kanji are built on: the line (一), the hook (亅), the brush (丿), and the dot (丶). Even though that last one is called a “dot,” it’s not usually written as a point but instead as a very short brush stroke. Making an actual, circular dot in the kanji is just something you never see, unless you’re looking at these alien-like weirdos.

But wait a minute. That kanji’s shape… that eye… it all looks very familiar.

▼ Illumi-kanji confirmed!

▼ Unfortunately this is a real kanji, the old version
of 靑 (“blue/green, youth”). So many youthful mistakes.



Oh god, it grew another eye! I can just imagine it hopping around on its single leg, dripping alien-goo everywhere.

▼ Or it’s just the old version of 玄 (“mysterious, natural, black”).
The only thing that’s mysterious here are those two eyeballs!



I don’t know, there’s something almost cute about this one. I feel like it’s some sort of alien-dog with its tongue hanging out, or a man with a long nose and flag for a hat who’s looking at me sideways.

▼ And look at that, it’s another version of the kanji 丑 (“ox”).
I guess that explains aliens’ penchant for abducting livestock.



Then there’s this, which I have no explanation for. We’ve already talked about how wrong it is for kanji to have curves, so this snake-like backwards S is just creepy. I’d expect to see this symbol on a button inside a UFO being pressed by an alien tentacle.

▼ This kanji is the old version of 巨 (“gigantic”). That’s also the kanji in
Shingeki no Kyojin (Attack on Titan), which basically explains everything.


And the #1 strangest kanji ever is…













Curves… circles… loops… one giant stroke to end all strokes… what is going on here?!

There are two explanations out there for this kanji’s meaning, because it’s just so weird that no one can seem to agree what it’s used for: (1) it’s used phonetically for the sound “in,” or (2) it’s a variant on the kanji 一 (“one”). Yep, that’s right. One simple stroke going from left to right just wasn’t good enough for some ancient scribe, and they decided to turn one of the few kanji everyone can agree on into some meandering monster.

To be fair, this kanji isn’t in the Morohashi dictionary. It’s a bonji, characters used in transcriptions of Sanskrit and Buddhist texts.

But that doesn’t make it any less real than the other kanji on this list; here it is being used in the Shakumaka Enron, a 7-8th century collection of Buddhist writings translated into Chinese (and marked up to be read in Japanese).

▼ It kind looks like whoever was writing this fell asleep
partway through, woke up, and just continued as if nothing happened.

strange-kanji-14National Diet Library

▼ And good god! What is that kanji next to it? It looks like two 山 (“mountain”)
kanji came together and had an abomination of a baby,


But that’s not to say there aren’t any bonji in the Morohashi. Here’s one that looks more like an alphabet reject than a kanji:

strange-kanji-11▼ And what is the definition of this weirdo? It’s just used
phonetically for the sound “i.” Well, it gets points for trying.


There are plenty of other bonji out there, but with few of them appearing in Morohashi, it’s hard to validate them. Still, if you ever come across one in your kanji travels, be sure to bear this piece of advice in mind:

▼ Just play dead, let it sniff you,
and pray it leaves without a fight.


So there you have it, the top five strangest kanji ever. What’s the strangest kanji you’ve ever come across? Let us know in the comments so that we can petition the editors of Morohashi to get these new finds into the next edition!

References: Ishimizu Sugoi Kanji, Miyasui! Kanji Beya no Kanji
Featured/top image: National Diet Library (Edited by RocketNews24)
Insert images: GlyphWiki
Photos: ©RocketNews24

I’ll be back next Thursday with some autumn Japanese treats. In the meantime, give me a follow on Twitter and let me know if there’s any topics you’d like to see covered on W.T.F. Japan. See you next week!