The Art of Japanese Writing

We sincerely apologize for the delay since our last post. We have been having trouble trying to decide on what would be the best approach for this blog, and I think it is safe to say we still have no idea how to appropriately put it together. With that out of the way, we would like to spend some time today to talk to you about the written language system and for next time there will be some helpful ways for those of us who are American to try to memorize it more easily.

So, to get started, the Japanese writing system has 3 major different styles that are used: Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji. The Kanji writing system is based on the Chinese writing system (as to which dialect, I have no idea), and Hiragana and Katakana stem from that original system. So, the meanings of the symbols are the same for Japanese people as they are for Chinese people, but the way it is read is quite different.

Hiragana is the main form of writing that is shared with Kanji. Kanji’s main purpose in Japanese is to give a clear meaning to what the writer wants to say as there are multiple words with the same pronunciation with completely different meanings, much like some words in English. When not using Kanji, Hiragana is the main form of writing. Kanji is a special writing system that is reserved mainly for foreign words that have been adapted into the Japanese language. There are of course other uses for it, but that is the main way it is seen (It is also used to write a foreigner’s name).

 

Young Japanese children are taught to read Hiragana and Katakana at first and they must master it at a young age so that they may begin learning Kanji once they are in school and move up through their grade schools. In total, there are 71 different characters for writing in hiragana and 71 for katakana. However, as you will see below 20 of these characters are just variations of other writings, so for counting purposes it can be possible to count the total characters per writing system as 51. However, it is important to remember how that variation is applied to the character, and how the sound changes, so they probably should be considered as separate characters for learning purposes.

 

However, it is also important to remember that the Japanese language has something called Romaji, which uses the same characters as the English alphabet. However, reading it feels really weird after you are used to reading any of the other writing systems, so it is strictly useful for foreigners who are not accustomed to the Japanese characters yet. So, let’s talk about how to read the alphabet.

The consonant sounds are almost always associated with a vowel, the lone exception being (n). I’ll write out the alphabet below in romaji, hiragana, and katakana. Keep in mind that the sounds for a letter stay consistent and do not change, unlike English in which the letters around it may change the sound. So, for the vowels (a) is always read as “ahh”, like the “o” in “on”. (i) is always read as “ee”, like in “cheese”. (u) is always read as “oo”, like in “loop”. (e) is always read as “eh”, like in “met”. (o) is always “oh”, like in “open”. These sounds always stay the same in pronunciation, making the language a tad bit easier than English. So, let’s get to that alphabet.

Romaji

A I U E O

Ka Ki Ku Ke Ko      Ga Gi Gu Ge Go

Sa Shi Su Se So      Za Zi Zu Ze Zo

Ta Chi Tsu Te To      Da Di Du De Do

Na Ni Nu Ne No

Ha Hi Fu He Ho      Ba Bi Bu Be Bo      Pa Pi Pu Pe Po

Ma Mi Mu Me Mo

Ya Yu Yo

Wa Wo N

Ra Ri Ru Re Ro

 

Hiragana

あいうえお ← 5

かきくけこ がぎぐげご ← 10

さしすせそ ざじずぜぞ ← 10

たちつてと だぢづでど ← 10

なにぬねの ← 5

はひふへほ ばびぶべぼ ぱぴぷぺぽ ← 15

まみむめも ← 5

や ゆ よ ← 3

わ を ん ← 3

らりるれろ ← 5

 

Katakana

アイウえオ

カキクケコ ガギグゲゴ

サシスセソ ザじズゼゾ

タチツテト ダヂヅデド

ナ二ヌネノ

ハヒフへホ バびブベボ パピプペポ

マ三ムメモ

ヤ ユ ヨ

ワ ヲ ン

ラリルレロ

 

One very interesting point to note is that the Japanese language does not have the sound for “R”, “V”, and “Th” (like in “the”). Therefore, pronunciation of these sounds for Japanese people is very difficult and only those practiced in English well enough will be able to speak them. Likewise, if you are attempting to speak Japanese, or even to a Japanese person, using one of those sounds may cause confusion. Those 71 different characters and sounds are what consist of the entire alphabet. Even Kanji characters will have the same sounds involved, but they are much more difficult to read. Altogether, there are over 6000 kanji characters, and most average Japanese people will know roughly between 2000-3000 of those characters depending on their jobs or educational level.

 

With all that said, it looks like this is a good place to stop for today. Thank you so much for reading, we look forward to hearing what you feel or have to say about this topic in the comments! Also, for those of you who are interested in learning some basic words in Japanese, check us out on Youtube. We are FELJAC, the Fun Easy Learning Japanese And Culture channel. Let us know anything that interests you and we’ll do our best to cover your topic.

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