How To Write Japanese - Kana And Kanji

by Andrew Bartlett - Date: 2010-07-01 - Word Count: 514 Share This!

One of the more intimidating but interesting aspects of the Japanese language is learning how to write Japanese. Japanese writing looks almost impossible to decipher for a Westerner that has only used the 26 letter Latin alphabet. While it is true that Japanese is a totally different system, with practice and commitment, it can be mastered over time.

One of the first things that you will find in learning how to write Japanese is that there are multiple sets of characters. Written Japanese has three different character sets or "alphabets" - Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji. Hiragana and Katakana are known as Kana and each is a set of 46 characters while Kanji consists of thousands of characters. Mastering Hiragana and Katakana will get you to a level of writing that would get you by, but to truly know written Japanese learning the Kanji will be necessary.

The kana character sets comprise 46 symbols each with each symbol representing a single syllable. Native Japanese words are written with Hiragana and each of the 46 symbols is a single sound such as 'ta' or 'ne'. Hiragana symbols can be combined to make words that may otherwise be expressed by a single Kanji symbol. Non native, foreign, or borrowed words are written in Katakana such as a Western name or a non-Japanese company or brand name (i.e. 'Google'). Every syllable has an equivalent Hiragana as well as Katakana symbol. The way to tell the two kana sets apart is that Katakana is very angular and Hiragana is much more cured in style. Knowing that will make things easier when figuring out how to write Japanese.

In order to read and really know how to write Japanese, one will need to learn some Kanji. Japanese Kanji characters were adapted from Chinese writing thousands of years ago. There are thousands (most estimates are over 5000) of Kanji, but the Japanese government has created a list of just under 2000 that are considered the essential Kanji characters. A person would need to know that list to fully read the newspaper, for instance. The list is large, but with time one can master enough characters to read a newspaper or book with only the occasional need to look something up.

If you do not know the Kanji character for a word but do know how to say it, you can spell it out using Kana and a native Japanese person would be able to read and understand it just fine. Also when you are first learning and do not know how to write Japanese at all, there is another system called Romaji. Romaji is the 'Romanization' of Japanese, or writing it out with the standard 26 letter Latin alphabet. Romaji has become so common that it is actually now taught in Japanese schools. One Romaji example would be writing out the Japanese word for thank you as 'arigato gozaimasu'. Since most people learn to speak Japanese before reading and writing it, Romaji is a great help to the learning process. For many students, learning written Japanese can become more interesting and fun than speaking the language.

Related Tags: kana, japanese language, learning japanese, how to write japanese, japanese kanji, japanese romaji, hiragana, kanji, romaji, katakana

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