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<About Japanese language>

There was no peculiar character in Japan originally. Based on the Kanji imported from China, predecessors took pains and adapted the Chinese character to Japanese in the Nara period(710-794). The Chinese character used thus is called "Manyogana". ("Manyogana" were used for old books, such as "Manyoshu", "Kojiki", and "Nihonshoki". However, it is too difficult for general people to read "Manyogana" now.) The Japanese notation of the Kana character (Hiragana, Katakana) was produced based on this "Manyogana." Then, the character culture peculiar to Japan different from China progressed.

Japanese consists of three different character sets. Many persons say, "Japanese language is difficult". One of the reason might be the kanji. However, the Kanji can be written in Kana characters. And, the Kanji is unnecessary when talking. "Japanese language education" of Japan starts from the study of Kana characters. All Kanji are not mastered even if it is a Japanese. In short, if you mastered the "Kana character" which is the alphabet of the Japanese language and know the words, you can do communication to some extent.


<Kanamoji (Hiragana and Katakana)>

1. What is Kanamoji (Kana character)?

Kanamoji is a generic name for the character of Hiragana and Katakana. It is equivalent to the English alphabet and the kana character has the 46 standard phonetic characters. Kanamoji is the first step of Japanese language learning.

Hiragana was devised as what is replaced with difficult "Manyogana" at the Heian period (794-1192). Hiragana was formed into the simple style from Chinese character. That is, Hiragana is Ultimate Sosho (fully cursive style). Their shape is rounded and rather simple. For example, the character "hiragana a" was changed as follows.

Transformation of Hiragana

*If you want to learn about "Kaisho, Gyosho, and Sosho", please see about the style of handwriting.

Katakana was devised to write characters easily at the Heian period (794-1192). Katakana was formed using a part of Chinese character. Their shape is angular and simple. For example, the character "katakana ka" was formed from the left part of the following Kanji.

Transformation of Katakana


2. Pronunciation of Kanamoji

Kanamoji has 46 standard phonetic characters. These are called "Seion". There are "Dakuon", "Handakuon", "Yoon", "Sokuon" and "Chouon" besides Seion. And, "Tokushuon" was added in order to write borrowed words. If you want to listen to the basic pronunciation of kana characters with a sound, please see page of Listen to Basic Pronunciation Voice.

<Note>

The alphabet of the Latin alphabet is used so that everybody can read the Japanese language. Those characters are called "Romaji". This is convenient for Japanese first step learning. And, in Japan, generally Romaji is used when inputting the Japanese language into a word processor and computer.


3. Use of Kanamoji

It is possible to write a sentence by only Kanamoji. However, the sentence of only Kana characters will have pauses of words difficult to understand, and will turn into a sentence which is very hard to read. Therefore, Japanese is usually written by using both Kanamoji and Kanji. Each Kana character does not have a meaning. The use of Kanamoji is as follows.


4. Borrowed Words and Japanized English

Japan is a country with many borrowed words. Katakana is used when writing borrowed words, foreign names and place-names. The borrowed word is the word established with the original meaning. "Japanized English" was constructed by combining English words. Although they sound like English, they are the words of expression which is not in original English. As a matter of course, only Japanese people can understand "Japanized English". And, in order that they have flooded too much, we are confused to the difference with original English.

<Note>The symbol of "chouon " is used when lengthening a vowel sound.


<Kanji (Chinese character)>

1. What is Kanji?

The Chinese character was imported from China. However, the Chinese character of Japan has improved so that a Chinese character can be written briefly. For example, the basis of the Kanji "sakura sample1" was "sakura sample2". There are many kanjis which Japanese character culture produced. (The kanji of 10,000 or more are in the "Chinese-Japanese dictionary" of Japan. There is a kanji of 6000 or more which can be used with a personal computer. There are about 2000 also with the "Chinese characters in common use" used usually now.) Please see Japanese Kanji Dictionary with Pronunciation and Japanese Kanji Dictionary help page, if you want to learn in detail about each Kanji.

The Kanji can be written using Kana characters. If so, why does we use the Kanji purposely? The Kanji has the advantage that we can understand a meaning on the shape. For example, it is "kanji sample1" when Kanji is written in Hiragana. There are some words pronounced "kanji sample1" as follows. kanji sample2(Chinese character), kanji sample3(organizer), kanji sample4(inspector), kanji sample5(feeling), a name of a person called Kanji. If it is written as "kanji sample1" in hiragana, we have to interpret the meaning in the context. However, if it has written with the Chinese character, we can understand the meaning only by seeing the word. Of course, if we do not know the Kanji, it is not meaningful. So, it is significant to study the kanji.


2. Pronunciation of Kanji

Kanji has two kinds of readings "On-yomi" and "Kun-yomi". "On-yomi" is Chinese pronunciation. "Kun-yomi" is the original pronunciation of Japan. At the time of "Kun-yomi", "Okurigana(a declensional kana ending)" is added to a Kanji in almost cases. The inside of the parenthesis of the following example is "Okurigana".

Japanese Pronunciation of Kanji


3. Jyukugo (Idiom)

Kanji has a meaning in each and is equivalent to a word. They can combine and can make idioms indicating various meanings. The number of idioms has tens of thousands.

Japanese Idiom


4. Yoji-jukugo (Four Character Kanji Compound Word)

Apart from the usual idioms, there are 1000 or more "Four character Kanji compound words" used as a proverb. These features are that there is much amount of information compared with the number of characters.

yoji-jukugo sample1 A partner's thought is understood without using words. To have a tacit understanding.
yoji-jukugo sample2 Clouds are drifting in the sky, and water is flowing. That is, the free heart without tenacity of purpose is expressed.

*If you want to learn more about "Yoji-jyukugo", please see Four character Kanji compound word list.


5. Bushu (Radical)

A radical is one of the component which compose a Chinese character. They were defined as a standard for classifying Chinese characters. The dictionary of the Chinese character is arranged for each radical. When looking for Kanji which pronunciation does not understand in a dictionary, you can search by the radical. There are many radicals which are one of Kanji originally. The Kanji with the same radical often has a common point in a meaning.

Japanese Kanji Bushu(Radical)


<Japanese symbols except Kana or Kanji>

1. Punctuation marks

The punctuation marks used in Japanese are Kuten "" and Touten "". As for the Touten in lateral writing, "" or "" is used. Kuten is equivalent to an English period. It is always used in the end of a sentence. Touten is used in order to make a sentence easy to read and to understand. However, there is no regular rule in this.

2. Iteration marks

Japanese does not have a grammatical plural form per se like English. However, some Kanji can indicate plurality by iterating. The iteration mark of Kanji is "".
For example,

3. Other marks





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