January 8

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Which Kanji Has the Most Strokes?

By Charles Hoshino

January 8, 2021


Some of you Japanese kanji lovers (and learners) may wonder, “Which kanji has the most strokes?” Two top contenders, I imagine, are the kanji that make up rose (薔薇)which—unless I miscounted—have a total of 35 strokes.

Luckily, our good friend Wikipedia has a page that can help us answer this question. The page has kanji grouped togethe by stroke counts, and includes 2,187 different kanji.

Scrolling through the page, you can see that the vast majority of kanji have stroke counts somewhere in the range of five to fifteen. Scrolling to the very bottom, we can see what kanji has the most strokes.

The most complicated kanji?

The winner, at thirty-stree strokes is 麤. It almost beats the two kanji for rose all on its own. According to my dictionary, it means, “coarse; rough; crude; raw; unrefined,” and is pronounced “so.”

On closer observation, it seems the kanji is made up of three repetitions of the kanji for deer (鹿). I wonder which member of the kanji design committee made that call…

Giving this kanji the award for “kanji with the most strokes” feels like cheating, though. Wikipedia says, “This character, 麤, is a variant traditional form of 粗.” If you’re wondering, some words that use kanji 粗 include 粗い (あらい), meaning course or rough and 粗末 (そまつ), meaning something like “humble, plain or shabby.” I often see this one used to describe plain food.

Second place for kanji with most strokes

Since 麤 has a simpler alternative and is rarely used, we might as well look at some of the other contenders for “kanji with the most strokes.” Tied for second place, with thirty strokes, are the kanji 驫 and

Funnily enough, one of these is another triple-animal kanji—this time for horse (馬). Perhaps this was designed by the same member of the kanji design committee…

This one is read “hyuu” or “hyou,” and means, “many horses.” My gosh, I would have never guessed that from the radicals!

The other kanji is read “ran” (on-yomi) or “suzu” (kun-yomi) and represents the luan, a mythical Japanese bird. Kanji with many strokes, it seems, often have something to do with animals.

According to Wikipedia, “[The luan] is said to trample on snakes while wearing one on its breast.” Weird.

Third place for kanji with the most strokes

Okay, because we still haven’t found a commonly-used kanji (and because three is a magic number), let’s look at one more kanji. In third place is the kanji , which has twenty-nine strokes.

This one is read “utsu” (on-yomi) or, among other readings, “ussuru” (kun-yomi) and means “gloom, depression, melancholy, luxuriant.” If you’ve been studying Japanese for a while, this might found familiar. A quick search on jisho.org returns…

We found it! A kanji with many strokes that people actually use! Well, almost… It turns out that いつ病 (depression) is usually written in hiragana alone.

It seems that Japanese learners aren’t the only ones who hate writing out difficult kanji. If something has too many strokes, it seems that people will prefer to use the hiragana form. The kanji for rose are another example of this—people use the katakana バラ instead of 薔薇.

Even more kanji with even more strokes?

Of course, the Wikipedia list only has ~2200 kanji, and there are many more kanji in the Japanese language (that, ahem, nobody uses). If you really wanted to see what kanji has the most strokes, you would probably need to get data for all kanji, sort them by stroke order, and then find the “true” winner.

But this exercise has gone on long enough. I leave that kind of programming exercise to you, the reader.

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