Japanese Consultation

About Japanese as a language

This page explains about Japanese as a language. We hope that this page will help you understand the basics of Japanese.

Japanese letters and format

Three different types of characters, Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji are used to write in Japanese. Japanese sentences are written in a combination of these characters.

Japanese is traditionally written vertically, with the lines starting from the top right side of the page. While this way of writing is still predominant, there is another way that is identical to an English manner in starting from the top left hand side, with each line written horizontally.

Sentence

Particles and inflected parts use hiragana and words borrowed from overseas and onomatopoeia use katakana, while kanji is used for the substantive parts of sentences. Hiragana and katakana are phonographic syllabries where each character represents one syllable, whereas kanji is ideographical and each kanji has meaning. Therefore, it is possible to understand the meaning by the appearance of the kanji.

Japanese Roma-ji (Romanization; Roman letters)

Roma-ji is a way to describe the sounds of Japanese in alphabetes. This is mainly used for people who are not familiar with Japanese readings. There are several different romanisation systems to use. In our services, a mixture of these systems is used. This makes non-natives easier to pronounce and read. You can find the system we use as follows.

Roma-ji Roma-ji

Each hiragana and katakana have a corresponding Roma-ji. Most of Japanese words can be described with just combinations of roma-ji. However, there are some special rules. It is hard to explain why these rules exist. Eg. Japanese Currency is pronounced "En", but it is "Yen" when it is described.

Japanese kanji

Kanji was brought from China starting about 1500 years ago and some kanji were created in Japan. There are about 53,000 kanji, however, only about 3000 kanji are used in our daily life.

Japanese kanji have two different kinds of readings. Readings are categorised as either On-yomi (On reading) or Kun-yomi (Kun reading). The On-yomi of a kanji is based on original Chinese pronounciation and some kanji have multiple On-yomi for the same kanji. On-yomi primarily occurs in multi-kanji compound words. On the other hand, the Kun-yomi of kanji is based on the pronounciation of a native Japanese word and represents the meaning of the kanji. There are multiple Kun-yomi for the same kanji and some kanji have no Kun-yomi at all. Kun-yomi are read together with their okurigana which is a conjugation of a hiragana ending added to a kanji but sometimes it is not used. Many kanji have both On-yomi and Kun-yomi.

On-yomi are written in katakana and Kun-yomi are written in hiragana in kanji dictionaries in Japan. The example shown below has 12 different readings for one kanji (kanji dictionary gattken, 1986).

Kanji below

Basic rules of how to write a kanji

When kanji are written, there are some general rules. (Basic Kanji book, 1989)

Rule 1: Make every kanji the same size.

Rule 2: Follow the basic stroke order.

(1) Write from left to right.

(2) Write downward.

Kanji lines

(3)Draw strokes from the top to the bottoms.

Kanji three

(4)Draw strokes from the left to the right.

Kanji river

However, each kanji has its own stroke order.

Rule 3: There are three basic ways to end a stroke.

Kanji ends

Please follow a stroke order and these basic rules, in order to write Kanji correctly, balanced and beautifully.

Characters from the katakana and hiragana syllabries are phonographic where each character has an associated syllable, whereas kanji have shape, reading and meaning. In contrast, the 26 letters in the English alphabet do not have associated meanings of syllables.