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The Japanese writing system was introduced to Japan from China in the 4th century AD. Initially, the Chinese characters were only used for reading and writing Chinese. Around the mid seventh century, or possibly earlier, a writing system was developed which used Chinese characters to represent the Japanese language. This was called Manyogana (万葉仮名). The name has been derived from the Manyoshu, a Japanese poetry anthology from the Nara Period (710-794).
The Meiji Period (1868-1912) saw a range of important transformations in the use of written Japanese. The Genbunitchi (言文一致) movement, for example, resulted in using a colloquial form to write. Previously, a classical style had been used. Additionally, in 1900, the Education Ministry standardized the hiragana script and limited the number of kanji (Chinese characters) taught in elementary schools to about 1,200.
More significant reform followed after the end of WWII, when conservatives were removed from control of the educational system. Undoubtedly, the most important reforms were limiting the number of kanji students learn at Japanese high-schools to just 1,850, and changing the direction from right-to-left to left-to-right.