Is it Really that Japanese Horizontal Words are Occasionally Read from Right to Left?

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Is it Really that Japanese Horizontal Words are Occasionally Read from Right to Left?

As you may know, Japanese written horizontally is generally read from left to right. However, in traditional culture scenes, such as Kyudo (Japanese archery, 弓道、きゅうどう) and Sado (Japanese tea ceremony, 茶道、さどう), it is read the other way around. To understand the differences, you will need to know the historical background of the Japanese language.

At first, Japanese was written vertically not horizontally long time ago. In vertical writing, we write from right to left. Before the World War II (*1), Japanese people also used to do the same, right to left, in horizontal writing. Since 1946, the left horizontal writing style had widely spread (*2). It was originally adopted by newspaper publishing companies. With this historical background, the right horizontal writing is still used in some very specific cultural scenes nowadays.

 

Charlotte, 破邪顕正

©VisualArt’s/Key/Charlotte Project

This words from “Charlotte” are read from the right to the left as “破邪顕正” (はじゃ けんしょう, Haja Kensyou). The meaning is that preaching the truth and combating error.
“破” (は, Ha) is to crush.
“邪” (じゃ, Ja) is an evil or heresy.
“顕” (けん, Ken) is to clear or clarity.
“正” (しょう, Syou) is in a good or positive condition.

Kyudo players need to strengthen both spiritually and physically. According to that reason, the word is hung up at the Kyudo hall. In this image, however, Nao, who isn’t a member of the Kyudo club, combats the team leader’s error, preaches him the truth and makes him follow it.

For your information, at “Kanji exam (to test reading and writing of Kanji)”, “破邪顕正” is at the level four with difficultly in the 12 levels. Not many Japanese could read and write this word (I am a university graduate. It’s embarrassing to say, but I couldn’t read this either).

 

(*1)
In fact, there were both the left and right horizontal writings available before war. The left horizontal styles were used in European dictionaries, textbooks, mathematics and music with the influence of the Western languages.

(*2)
It is not the Allied to attempt to unify the right horizontal writing from the left. It is undertaken by the Japanese Ministry of Education in 1942 during the World War II.

 

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