Kamo no Mabuchi, an eighteenth-century Japanese poet and philologist, had some striking ideas about the use of Chinese characters, as reported by Victor Mair at the Log quoting Peter Flueckiger’s translation in “Reflections on the Meaning of Our Country: Kamo no Mabuchi’s Kokuikō” (JSTOR), pp. 247-8:
[An interlocutor said,] “This country, though, has no writing of its own. Instead, we use Chinese characters and through these are able to know about everything.” My response was that first of all, it goes without saying that China is a troublesome and poorly governed country. To give a specific example, there are the characters in the form of pictures. When we look at the characters that someone has put forth as just the ones necessary for ordinary use, they amount to some 38,000. To describe a single flower, for example, one needs to use different characters for blooming, scattering, pistil, plant, stem, and more than ten other things. Moreover, there are characters that are used in the name of a specific country or place, or for a particular type of plant, but are used nowhere else. Could people remember so many characters even if they tried? Sometimes people make mistakes with characters, and sometimes the characters change over time, leading to disputes over their usage; they are burdensome and useless.
In India, though, using fifty characters, they have written and passed down over five thousand volumes of Buddhist texts. Just knowing fifty characters, it is possible to know and transmit a limitless number of words from both past and present. Moreover, it is not only a matter of the characters; the fifty sounds are the voice of Heaven and Earth (ametsuchi no koe [characters omitted]), so what they contain within them is natural (onozukara). In the same way, there seem to have been some kind of characters in our Imperial Land as well, but after the introduction of Chinese characters, this original writing sunk wrongly into obscurity, and now only the ancient words remain. Although these words are not the same as the fifty sounds of India, they are based on the same principle in that fifty sounds suffice to express all things. To repeat the example of the flower discussed above, we can just say “blooming,” “scattering,” “budding,” “fading,” “pistil,” “stem,” and the like; without needing to resort to characters, one can easily express both the good and the bad, and there is nothing troublesome. In Holland they have twenty-five characters, in this country there are fifty, and, in general, characters are like this in all countries. Only China concocted a cumbersome system, so things are disorderly there and everything is troublesome.
Too bad more people didn’t think like him!