The Mysterious World of Hyogai Kanji: Unlocking the Secrets

Hyogai Kanji refers to the set of Japanese characters that are not commonly used in modern Japanese language. These characters are typically older, more complex, and often carry historical or cultural significance. While knowledge of hyogai kanji is not essential for everyday communication in Japanese, they are still taught in schools and used in certain specialized fields, such as classical literature and calligraphy. Understanding these characters can provide deeper insight into the rich cultural heritage of Japan.

hyogai kanji

Origins and history of Hyogai Kanji

Hyogai Kanji is a term used to describe Chinese characters that are not included in the Jōyō Kanji, or the list of commonly used Chinese characters in Japan. The Hyogai Kanji first appeared in Japan during the Heian period (794-1185), when they were introduced through Buddhist texts and other cultural imports from China. Throughout history, the use of Hyogai Kanji in Japan has been closely tied to cultural exchange and intellectual development. In the 8th century, for example, Japanese scholars traveled to China to study Confucianism, Buddhism, and Chinese literature, bringing back with them numerous Chinese characters. These were then incorporated into the Japanese writing system, adding to its complexity and richness. During the Edo period (1603-1867), the use of Hyogai Kanji became more widespread, particularly in the domains of medicine, astronomy, and mathematics. Scholars from Japan’s various domains and provinces began to compile dictionaries and reference books that included Hyogai Kanji, further expanding their usage. Despite the growing influence of Hyogai Kanji, however, it wasn’t until the Meiji period (1868-1912) that the Japanese government began to take a more active role in standardizing the writing system. In 1900, the government issued the first official list of Jōyō Kanji, which excluded many Hyogai Kanji. Today, while the majority of Japanese texts are written using Jōyō Kanji, Hyogai Kanji still play an important role in scholarly research, literature, and specialized fields like medicine and law.

Commonly Used Hyogai Kanji Characters

Hyogai Kanji characters, also known as rare or obscure Kanji characters, are those that are not included in the official list of 2,136 characters of the Jōyō Kanji. Despite not being on the official list, Hyogai Kanji are still commonly used in everyday writing, especially in business and academic contexts. Here are some of the most commonly used Hyogai Kanji characters:

1. 醜 (Shuu)

The Kanji character 醜 means “ugly” or “unattractive.” It is often used in business language to describe unappealing products or designs.

2. 獣 (Juu)

The Kanji character 獣 means “beast” or “animal.” It is often used in academic writing to refer to animals, especially in the fields of zoology and biology.


Differences between Hyogai Kanji and regular Kanji

Hyogai Kanji, also known as “uncommon” or “rare” Kanji, are those characters that are not included in the list of officially recognized Kanji in Japan. These Kanji are rarely used in everyday writing and are considered more difficult to learn compared to regular Kanji. Here are some of the key differences between Hyogai and regular Kanji:

  1. Number and usage

    Regular Kanji number over 2,000, and are officially recognized by the Japanese government. They are frequently used in literature, newspapers, magazines, and other written materials in Japan. On the other hand, Hyogai Kanji are not officially recognized, and their number is estimated to be around 5,000. Moreover, they are not commonly used in everyday writing, and their usage is usually restricted to specific fields like medicine, science, and technical writing.

  2. Difficulty level

    Hyogai Kanji are generally considered more difficult and complex to learn compared to regular Kanji. They often have multiple meanings and readings, and their stroke order and formation can be more complex. This makes them a challenge for Japanese learners, even advanced learners, to master.

  3. Origin and history

    Hyogai Kanji have their origin in ancient China, and they were introduced to Japan during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). They were used extensively in Japanese literature and poetry before the standardization of Kanji in the mid-20th century. In contrast, regular Kanji were developed in Japan and are a product of centuries of evolution and simplification.

  4. Use in Names

    Hyogai Kanji are commonly used in personal and place names, particularly those that are written in kanji characters that have a special meaning. This is because Hyogai Kanji often carry a more profound and elegant quality, which makes them suitable for use in artistic expressions or symbolic representations. On the other hand, regular Kanji are often used for common words and expressions as they are more widely understood and recognized.

In summary, while Hyogai Kanji and regular Kanji share many similarities, they also have significant differences in their usage, difficulty level, origin, and history. Knowing the differences between these two types of Kanji is important for Japanese learners, as it can help them to better understand and appreciate the complexities and nuances of the Japanese language.

Importance of Learning Hyogai Kanji in Japanese Language Study

Japanese language has three scripts that are used in daily communication, including Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji, with the latter being the most complex one to master. Kanji is a set of Chinese characters and they are essential to understanding Japanese. The Japanese language has thousands of Kanji characters, which are categorized into two types: Joyo Kanji, which are commonly used in daily communication, and Hyogai Kanji, which are more rarely used. Although it might be tempting to focus only on Joyo Kanji, learning Hyogai Kanji is equally important in mastering the Japanese language. In this section, we will discuss the importance of learning Hyogai Kanji in Japanese language study.

Building Vocabulary

Firstly, learning Hyogai Kanji can assist Japanese language learners in expanding their vocabulary and understanding the language better. Hyogai Kanji appears in Japanese literature, legal documents, newspapers, and academic papers. By neglecting Hyogai Kanji characters, students of Japanese language will not have access to the wider range of vocabulary used in the Japanese language, which will limit their ability to comprehend more sophisticated written materials and conversations.

Enhancing Reading and Writing Skills

Secondly, learning Hyogai Kanji can improve a student’s reading and writing ability in Japanese. Japanese writing comprises of the use of Kanji, Hiragana, and Katakana. By learning Hyogai Kanji, learners can read and write complex sentences, understand the meaning of complex Kanji expressions, and communicate their thoughts more accurately in written form. This can be particularly useful when writing essays, academic papers, and business communication.

Improving Cultural Understanding

Thirdly, learning Hyogai Kanji can help learners better understand the Japanese culture and history. Hyogai Kanji characters can be found in traditional Japanese literature, historical documents, and religious texts. By studying Hyogai Kanji learners can gain insight into the Japanese culture, values, and beliefs, which can enrich their understanding of the language, and help them appreciate the depth and intricacy of the Japanese culture.


In summary, learning Hyogai Kanji is an essential component of mastering Japanese language. It helps students to improve their vocabulary, reading and writing skills, and cultural knowledge. Japanese language learners should incorporate Hyogai Kanji in their study to enhance their language proficiency and gain a deeper understanding of the language and culture.

Resources and Tips for Mastering Hyogai Kanji

If you are learning Japanese, you may have heard about Hyogai Kanji. Hyogai Kanji are Chinese characters that are not officially used in Japanese, but they are still important to know because they appear in many Japanese words and texts. Here are some resources and tips that can help you master Hyogai Kanji:

1. Hyogai Kanji Lists

One of the best ways to start learning Hyogai Kanji is by studying Hyogai Kanji lists. These lists include the most commonly used Hyogai Kanji, along with their meanings and pronunciations. You can find Hyogai Kanji lists online or in Japanese language textbooks. Some popular Hyogai Kanji lists include the Kanji Kentei (漢字検定) and the Joyo Kanji (常用漢字).

2. Japanese Language Courses

Taking a Japanese language course can also be helpful in mastering Hyogai Kanji. Many language courses include lessons on Hyogai Kanji and provide students with practice exercises and drills. Some of the most popular Japanese language courses include Genki, Minna no Nihongo, and Japanese from Zero.

3. Kanji Learning Apps

There are many Kanji learning apps available that can help you master Hyogai Kanji. These apps include flashcards, quizzes, and games that can make learning Kanji fun and engaging. Some popular Kanji learning apps include WaniKani, Kanji Study, and Duolingo.

4. Read Japanese Literature

Reading Japanese literature can also be a great way to learn Hyogai Kanji. Many Japanese novels, poems, and essays contain a lot of Hyogai Kanji, and by reading them, you can learn how to use the Kanji in context. Some popular Japanese authors include Haruki Murakami, Natsume Soseki, and Yukio Mishima.

5. Practice, Practice, Practice

Finally, the best way to master Hyogai Kanji is to practice as much as possible. Make flashcards, write the Kanji multiple times, and use them in your everyday writing and conversations. The more you practice, the more familiar you will become with the Kanji, and the easier it will be to use them correctly. In summary, Hyogai Kanji are an important part of the Japanese language, and mastering them can take time and effort. By using these resources and tips, you can make the learning process easier and more enjoyable, and become a master of Hyogai Kanji in no time.


What are Hyogai Kanji?

Hyogai Kanji are a set of kanji characters used in Japanese language that are not part of the official Jōyō kanji list. They are often used in names of people, places, and companies, and have unique meanings and pronunciations.

How many Hyogai Kanji are there?

There is no fixed number of Hyogai Kanji as new characters can be added over time. However, it is estimated that there are thousands of Hyogai Kanji in use.

Do I need to learn Hyogai Kanji?

It is not necessary to learn all Hyogai Kanji as they are not included in the official Japanese language curriculum. However, learning some commonly used Hyogai Kanji may be useful for understanding Japanese names and vocabulary.


In conclusion, the Hyogai Kanji, also known as uncommon or rare kanji, plays a vital role in Japan’s writing system. These characters have meanings that are not often used or uncommon in everyday language, making them challenging to read and write. Despite their difficulty, the Hyogai Kanji is still relevant in Japan as it is widely used in legal documents, literature, and historical texts. Learning Hyogai Kanji is a significant milestone for those studying Japanese, as it opens up a whole new world of understanding the language. Therefore, it is essential to familiarize oneself with these characters, as it will undoubtedly enhance the overall grasp of the Japanese language.

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