As though Japanese wasn’t difficult enough as it is:
There are plenty of dead words in languages all over the world, but can the same be said about ghost words? Floating around the murky regions of digitized Unicode values are anywhere between 60 and 100 yürei-moji — literally, “ghost characters” — haunting the Japanese kanji lexicon.
Though academically obscure, these characters’ origins can be understood readily enough by anyone who has mistaken their doctor’s handwriting for chicken scratch (or vice versa, for that matter). All it took was a few unintentional splatters of ink and some poorly rendered photocopies to bewitch people into seeing kanji that, for all we know, should never have existed.
And are these bogus-ish characters being expunged? Not in the least:
Despite another two decades having passed since the discovery of yürei-moji they can all still be generated using standard fonts in most word processors via Unicode input. The reason for this harkens back to the first JIS Kanji Code revision in 1983. These revisions added some new characters, modified roughly 300 kanji to depict simplified forms, and swapped some kanji around as per the request of the education ministry.
Unfortunately, due to the limited functionality of early-1980s computers, these revisions caused massive technical problems with international Unicode compatibility between both Chinese and Korean computers. So, when the 1997 investigation shed some figurative light on these spectral symbols, the JISC decided that it would be far less of a headache to just register the correct kanji in new code and allow the yürei-moji to remain with their original Unicode values, awaiting the day when an overly enthusiastic translator writes an article about them.
And there will always be the reader, mystified by what she’s read, who chooses to follow up her puzzlement with research; it would be unkind to leave her in the dark.