Writing came to Japan from China, and Japanese still uses the Chinese characters along with their own native alphabets adapted from them. It was part of the massive cultural importation that occurred over the course of several hundred years. However, there are also hundreds of kanji characters that were made right here in Japan. These native Japanese characters are called kokuji (国字 – national characters). They’re also referred to as wasei kanji (和製漢字 – kanji made in Japan). It’s hard to know exactly how many kokuji there are out there since most aren’t commonly used, but you can find dictionaries that list them and there are at least around four hundred. Photo by Pedro Kokuji characters include: Shigi (鴫 – snipe) Kochi (鯒 – flathead) Namazu (鯰 – catfish) Iwashi (鰯 – sardine) Tara (鱈 – cod) Shachi (鯱 – orca) Sakaki (榊 – Cleyera japonica, a species of evergreen tree) Toge (峠 – mountain pass) Hatake (畑 – cultivated field) Tsuji (辻 – crossroads) Nuta (垈 – swamp, wetlands) Sasa (笹 – bamboo grass) Momi (籾 – unhulled rice) Goza (蓙 – mat) Kamasu (叺 – straw bag) Hei (塀 – fence or wall) Waku (枠 – frame) Tako (凧 – kite) Momme (匁 – a measurement of 3.75 grams) Kuruma (俥 – rickshaw) Ama (塰 – title of a Noh play) Udon (饂 – udon, Japanese noodles) Tochi (橡 – horse chestnut) Shiboru (搾る – to squeeze) Not every kokuji is something that doesn’t exist in China. Maybe some of the words didn’t make it across the pond or the Japanese just decided to devise their own. Two that are a bit peculiar are働 (work) and匂 (smell). You have to wonder why these were created anew in Japan. Interestingly, some kokuji have made it back to China and are now in use there. 働 is an example of one of these.