The search for the objectively hardest hiragana.

As anyone who has studied Japanese knows, the language has three different sets of characters to write with: kanji, the complex characters that come from Chinese; katakana, phonetic characters used to write foreign words; and hiragana, phonetic characters used to write Japanese words.

Anyone learning to write Japanese, including Japanese children, usually start with hiragana. But just because it’s the first, that doesn’t mean it’s super simple.

In fact, for the Arithmetic and Mathematics Free Research contest put on by the General Incorporated Foundation Research Institute of Science and Math Education last December, a project that calculated exactly how difficult it is to write each hiragana was the winner.

▼ Using math to help solve your Japanese homework!

The author of the project was seven-year-old Japanese first grader Rika Yoshida from the Utsunomiya University-Connected Elementary School in Tochigi Prefecture. Her project was selected as the winner out of 17,429 entries and was praised for its unique concept.

The way she went about measuring the difficulty of each hiragana was by assigning values to different components, then totaling them up. Each hiragana got one point for each stroke, plus another point for a “zig zag,” two points for a “curve,” and three points for a “circle.”

▼ So for example, the hiragana for “a” (winner of Cutest Hiragana) would get 8 points: 3 strokes plus 2 for a curve and 3 for a circle.

According to Yoshida’s research, the easiest hiragana were 「く」and「へ」coming in at only two points each, whereas the hardest one was「ぬ」with a whopping 10 points.

Yoshida said that her reason for performing the research was because, after starting first grade, she noticed that there were some hiragana that were easier to write then others, so she wanted to investigate why.

“By giving each hiragana a number, you can easily see which ones are easy to write and which ones are hard,” she said. As for her reaction to winning, she said, “I worked hard on it so I’m happy,” and “When I start second grade and we learn katakana and kanji, I want to try calculating them the same way.”

As adorable as the project is, it also shows a lot of advanced thinking for a first grader. If you’d asked first-grade me which letter of the alphabet was the hardest to write, I’d probably say something like “B because I don’t like broccoli.” Assigning each one a number is a pretty amazing application of logic for someone so young.

Netizens were similarly impressed and shared their own thoughts on Yoshida’s initial question:

“Great research! I thought she’d just taken a survey of her classmates or something, but taking the non-subjective route is awesome.”
“Personally I find 「む」hard to write.”
“For me it’s「あ」and「や」instead.”
“My「ふ」always look weird.”
“I can’t write a pretty「ゆ」if my life depended on it.”

It seems like we need more data on which hiragana is objectively the hardest to write. Yoshida has broken new ground, and it’s a field that is ripe for fresh research!

And I feel like this video showing each hiragana getting measured for gym class is an excellent place to start.

Source: The Sankei News via My Game News Flash
Top image: Pixabay
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