“We cannot rely too much on computers, we should be able to write ... [and] we should be able to write neatly, it’s a basic thing about being Chinese,” she said.
However, for Matsumura, times change and the spread of technology gives people opportunities to develop their language capability in other ways, for example allowing some to read more.
“I’m one of them. I used to listen to music blankly on trains, but I now read news and other things,” he said.
Guardians of the characters say there is no evidence of any drop-off in enthusiasm. The Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation in Kyoto says the number of people who take its exam every year is holding steady at about 2 million.
People are “increasingly using text messages rather than making phone calls,” which means they need to know which characters to use, a spokeswoman said.
Yusuke Kinouchi, a 24-year-old graduate student at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, said kanji provide a certain economy, where one character can stand in for the sounds made by several letters in a language, such as English — something particularly useful on Twitter, for example, with its 140-character limit.
Moreover, “they [the characters] are beautiful,” he said.