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How to write in Japanese

Updated on August 5, 2013

Japanese writing is not as difficult as it looks. It is basically just memory and recognition work, each complex looking character is actually made up from a number of smaller simple character or radicals.

The Japanese language uses three different alphabets shown below:

  1. Katakana カタカナ- This is a very angular phonetic script consisting of around 50 characters used to represent foreign, imported or non Japanese words. E.g. Computer would be written as "コンピューター" with the phonetic sound of "Konpyuutaa"
  2. Hiragana ひらがな - This is another phonetic script with the same number of characters as Katakana but with more rounded type lines. This will be used for grammar.e.g. tenses, subjects, objects etc..
  3. Kanji 漢字 - These are the Chinese imported characters. The Japanese versions are slightly different but the basic meanings are almost the same. Kanji will be used to represent nouns, adjectives, verbs and of course names. Kanji can have a number of different readings depending on the position in the text, or depending on what sound precedes or follows it.

KATAKANA

See the table below for learning the full chart. This can easily be memorized in a couple of weeks. Note that certain consonants - such as s,k,t and h are voiced to z,g,d and b when you put the little two strokes above ("). Which the little "o" above the character, the "h" sound will change to a "p" sound.

You will see Katakana everywhere in Japan since it's used also for company names, foreign names, certain food and always stands out for advertising. If you can read Katakana then you should be able to read most (non Japanese food) menus.

If you look at the package on the right, you may be able to recognize it from the image however if you refer to the Katakana chart you will see that it spells "Corn Frosty", phonetically "Koon Furosutei" - it's that simple. Katakana will also be used to represent foreign names and food. One thing the be careful about is that there are a lot of "Japanese English" words in Japanese which do not always correspond to the real English equivalent. For example the word "Front" will be written in Katakana with the pronunciation of "Furonto". This actually means - Front Desk such as a Hotel. NOT in front of the Hotel.

HIRAGANA

Similar to Katakana, this can also be learned in a couple weeks or so with daily practice. They have exactly the same pronunciation as Katakana, however a slightly different rounded face. One of the main uses it to modify verbs into their tenses. e.g. Iku - to go, itta - went, ikitai - want to go and more... The very first character "i" will mean go, what follows it will create the tense. Tenses are very simple in Japanese since they all follow a simple pattern. See the chart below.

KA - ZAN - Volcano
KA - ZAN - Volcano

KANJI

Unlike Hiragana and Katakana, Kanji has a meaning and the sound may change depending on its position in a sentence or the type word. Unfamiliar place names will always be difficult for even Japanese people to read since there are no set rules for the pronunciation of names.

Common every day Kanji (Joyo Kanji) can be memorized rather quickly since you will see the characters around you every day. Take a look at the Kanji to the left. The first Kanji means Fire, and the second Kanji means mountain. If you put them together is means "Volcano". A very simple concept if you think about it.

There are thousands of Kanji that work this way, although this is one of the more simpler examples. The pronunciation of Volcano is "KAZAN", fire - KA, Mountain - ZAN. However the actual word for fire is actually "Hi", the actually word for mountain is "Yama". So why do we pronounce "Kazan" for volcano? The reason is, multiple Kanji together form "compounds" and compounds have a different reading than the standard Japanese reading. The compound sounds "KA" and "ZAN (SAN)" or imported sounds from China (with a Japanese pronunciation).

In short there are at least two sounds for each Kanji which needs to be learned. The readings are often left as the Japanese reading e.g. "Fujiyama" for names of mountains.

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    • profile image

      Moonlight 

      2 months ago

      I think this helped me

      And Japanese is actually easy for me a little bit now because I’m learning how to speak in Japanese and write in japaneas it’s helping me I’m starting to get a hang of speaking in Japanese and writing in Japanese

    • JanisaChatte profile image

      Janisa 

      4 months ago from Earth

      I disagree with you about Japanese writing being easier than it looks. Katakana and hiragana are manageable, but when it comes to kanji...... I can barely tell them apart and I am never able to write them properly :(

    • Hezekiah profile imageAUTHOR

      Hezekiah 

      21 months ago from Japan

      I studied Japanese back in 2001 - been in Japan for 16 years now.

    • Yuki Akisa profile image

      Desi 

      21 months ago

      I will learn Japanece in university and I am so excited ! \^ _ ^/

    • Hezekiah profile imageAUTHOR

      Hezekiah 

      6 years ago from Japan

      It is a lot easier than you think, cheers.

    • Hezekiah profile imageAUTHOR

      Hezekiah 

      6 years ago from Japan

      Chris, You are welcome. I will be updating with Kanji part.

    • Hezekiah profile imageAUTHOR

      Hezekiah 

      6 years ago from Japan

      Thanks, I hope he finds it useful

    • Phil Plasma profile image

      Phil Plasma 

      6 years ago from Montreal, Quebec

      Wow, you make it look so easy. I don't think I have the time to memorize all of these, and certainly not the occasion to practice their use. If I ever do, however, I know where to go. Thanks for this, voted up, useful and interesting.

    • Chris Achilleos profile image

      Chris Achilleos 

      6 years ago

      Well presented hub, I did not know that the Japanese language uses 3 different alphabets. Thanks for sharing this information. Voted up, awesome, interesting and useful!

    • ziyena profile image

      Ziyena Brazos 

      6 years ago from Somewhere in Time ...

      wow ... thanks for the info. My son will love this!

      Voting up :)

    • Hezekiah profile imageAUTHOR

      Hezekiah 

      6 years ago from Japan

      Thanks very much

    • anusujith profile image

      Anoop Aravind A 

      6 years ago from Nilambur, Kerala, India

      Informative and voted up...

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