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When learning Japanese you may be wondering where to start
with understanding Japanese writing. To help you in this quest
we have outlined the basics for you below.
If you truly want to learn to read and write in Japanese
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To start with Japanese writing is made up of three different
scripts (characters) these are as follows:
All the above use characters that are made up of a
series of strokes. The Japanese also use 'Romaji' which is a
standard way of writing Japanese with the Latin alphabet (as we
do in English).
Romaji makes learning
Japanese a lot easier when starting out because you
can read the Romaji and understand the correct
pronunciation before having to worry about learning all the
For example the word for; 'Fish' is spelt 'Sakana' in
romaji, and we recognise the letters and can pronounce the
word. You can also write 'Sakana' with Japanese charatcers
Everyday Japanese literature such as a newspaper or magazine
in Japan uses a combination of all three writing scripts.
Kanji is slightly different than the other two forms where
the symbols that make up Kanji represent a thing, such as girl
or hand, and the character can have a different meaning and
pronunciation in different context.
Katakana and Hiragana characters are different from Kanji in
that they represent syllables of words. For example in the
table below the word for I is 'Wa-ta-shi' which is three
syllables and has three corresponding characters for each
||Names/Nouns/Words that have
their own meaning
||Used for words that don't have
their own character, such as uncommon words
or foreign words like television ot
||The symbols themsleves don't
have their own meaning, yet are used to
form words and can be used to change tense
of other words and as particles and
||Romanji is where
Japanese words are written with Romanized
letter that we use in English.
The above table provides a basic example of
Japanese writing. When learning Katakana it is important to
realise that it is made up of 46 characters. 5 of these are
vowels sounds, 40 are consonants combined with a vowel, eg.
'Ka' and there is also a character that is for a sound that is
most like the English 'N'.
Similarly Hiragana also has 46 characters which
have a counterpart in Katakana. Hiragana is the first text that
is taught to children in Japan, and often when a text is
written using a Kanji symbol the Hiragana is written above
Kanji is the most difficult of the three
scripts. This is because each character can have more than one
possible meaning. This can be confusing, however when read in
context can make more sense.
There is also another difference with Japanese writing (sponsored affiliate
link) compared to English, and this is the direction of the
Traditional Japanese writing is vertical and that
is called 'Tategaki'. Therefore when you read a script in
Japanese you start at the top right hand corner and read
downwards and end at the bottom left corner. However with
modern Japanese writing they now follow the same method that
Latin does and that is left to right and this is
When you start learning Japanese writing we
understand that it can be difficult as there are numerous
differences to Latin based languages such as English.
If you want to really get the hang of Japanese
writing then I recommend getting a copy of the Kanji Supremecy
Course. This is one of the only courses that focuses on
Japanese writing and it is well worth checking it.
You can check out the Kanji Supremacy website
for yourself and see what you think by clicking this link:
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All the best!!