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Classical Writing - Right to Left

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Classical Writing - Right to Left

Postby spin13 » Sat 05.28.2005 3:41 pm

I understand that in classical Japanese (pre-Meiji era) the writing was not only vertical, but read right to left and pages turned opposite of the Western convention. However, I have also seen that Japan has one of the lowest percentages of left handed people in the world (I've seen it described at around 6 or 7% while the world average is above 13%). Now the two make sense on their own; importation from China and a conformist sword culture.

However, it seems rather unnatural to write from right to left with a right hand. Watching the opposite (lefties in English) write, I can see the nusiance of dragging or lifting your hand over your freshly written text, especially when using ink. Was this simply taken care of by the use of a brush rather than a pen? Was the grip removed enough from the paper to compensate for the hand being positioned over fresh text?

Also, this on more of a curiousity note rather than finding any fault with the system, but why would kanji have a predominatly left to right stroke order/direction when all other written standards differed? When writing vertically it doesn't seem to present any physical problems of spacing or the like, but it just seems interesting that it is that way.

Thank you in advance,
-Eric
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RE: Classical Writing - Right to Left

Postby Spaztick » Sat 05.28.2005 4:42 pm

I wondered about that myself, but Western influence has changed the writing system from left to right, so naturally people became right-handed as well.

I can't say about this on China, but I think many people are left-handed or at least write that way.
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RE: Classical Writing - Right to Left

Postby spin13 » Sat 05.28.2005 6:05 pm

Though I was unable to find any statistics that are not modern, it doesn't seem logical that the hand dominance of the population would have changed 1) in only the past century and 2) because of a Western adaptation of writing. Besides, even after the Meiji restoration, the first change was horizontal to vertical. The writing from left to right followed with some delay.

Just for those who are curious, the place I read the 7% statistic is: http://www.aikiweb.com/weapons/rock4.html
Though the numbers are different, the trend continues at:
[url]http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3690/is_199606/ai_n8734464[/url]
Thus, Porac, Rees, and Buller (1990), in a review of handedness studies, indicate that the prevalence of left - handedness is 4.6% in Orientals and 8.7% in Caucasians. In studies of Japanese populations, Hatta and Nakatsuka (1976) give an incidence of 3% in adults, while Rymar, Kameyama, Niwa, Hiramatsu, and Saitoh (1984) give an incidence of 3.7% and Shimizu and Endo (1983) one of 3.2% in children. Similarly, Teng, Lee, Yang, and Chang (1979) give a value of 5.0% in Taiwan, and Hardyck, Goldman, and Petrinovitch (1975) one of 6.5% among children of Oriental descent living in California.



It seems the left hand is less prefered throughout the world, regardless of race and religion. I was able to find this link which shared a bit about Japanese left-handedness:

[url]http://www.geocities.com/mollyjoyful/lefthand.html[/url]
Only a few decades ago in Japan, left-handedness in a wife was sufficient grounds for divorce. The wedding ring is placed on the left hand in order to chase away evil spirits that may haunt the marriage.


More anecdotal evidence that this hand preference isn't something new, the sword, among other weapons, is taught exclusively right handed. Specifically, my style, Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu (dating to approx. 1600), teaches the technique for a single sword. I have only heard of a few, very specific forms that involve the use of the left hand alone. These are based on drawing the sword while it is not in the belt and sitting on your right hand side. Placing the sword on that side is a sign of peaceful intension as, besides these rare forms, the sword on that side is a very vulnerable position.

I would take all of this evidence to show that Westerners are NOT responsible for the right-handedness of the Japanese, which leaves the initial contradiction quite in tact.

-Eric
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RE: Classical Writing - Right to Left

Postby Mukade » Mon 05.30.2005 12:46 am

WHY the Chinese (and then Japanese) would write from top-bottom/right-left I think is an interesting topic. I don't know if anyone has answered this definitively or not.

You mention lefties dragging their hands over fresh ink - a real pain, I would imagine. This would not be a problem in pre-Modern China/Japan, when the writing system was developed. As you've guessed, the proper grip on a writing brush would be about halfway up the handle, well away from the paper. The hands, in fact, are not supposed to touch the paper at all while writing. This necessitated the development of a special paperweight to be placed at the top of the page to hold it in place (called a Bunchin).

The Bunchin and the grip are still used today in Shodo (calligraphy).

Since most people write using word processors these days, though, dragging one's hand over fresh ink is not an issue. Also, you'll find that when most people do write using pen and paper, they will write Western style, from left-right/top-bottom. The only time they write traditionally is when they are penning a formal essay or letter. These are often done with a fude-pen, kind of like a hybrid between a traditional brush and a modern pen - thus the traditional grip is maintained and the hand-in-ink problem is, again, moot.
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RE: Classical Writing - Right to Left

Postby Spaztick » Mon 05.30.2005 10:55 am

Interesting. I've learned something new today! Thanks for the research info spin and mukade.
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RE: Classical Writing - Right to Left

Postby Kodi » Mon 05.30.2005 6:02 pm

I doub't that people's choice of hands to write with has changed... Unless you are ambidextrous you will *never* write as neat with your non natural hand. My grandfather seriously damaged his Left hand (he was left handed to start with) and he learnt how to write with his right hand. Even after five years or more he still didn't write any where near as neat. Right is more commonly the natural hand eveywhere as you say Spin.

I would have said that too Mukade. Dragging your hand over ink wouldn't have been a problem back in time. It's different with modern ink pens tho now so Right to left... Well Right to left when you are going down the page with the wrong pen could be nasty. Ye 'lefties' in the west may smudge the ink with their hands a little but your hand would be going over lots of words in Japanese. Smudging down the page heh.
I suppose the difference is that in the west you are running your hand over what you haev only just written. With Chinese and Japanese You keep going down and your hand isn't going to touch what you have just gone over anyway. Then when you go back up to the top I guess it would have dried there. Hard to explain.
Many newer pens also dry faster which helps.
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RE: Classical Writing - Right to Left

Postby xdj220 » Tue 05.31.2005 12:35 am

Well, as far as why they do it, I think it's pretty much a mystery to everyone, but it seems to me that characters are a bit easier to read (handwritten) when they are going top to bottom, as it is easier to distinguish between them. That style of writing seems to be rapidly dying out in Japan, though my Chinese professor tells me that it's still much more widely used in mainland China.

It would probably be a topic for a major research paper to find out exactly why the writing system evolved that way initially.
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RE: Classical Writing - Right to Left

Postby Spaztick » Tue 05.31.2005 9:58 am

I smell a thesis paper!
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RE: Classical Writing - Right to Left

Postby Tsuyoiko » Tue 05.31.2005 11:49 am

Here is an interesting article about handedness:

http://www.americanscientist.org/templa ... &print=yes

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