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This Question Came to My Inbox: “What form of writing is used in Japan?”

The Japanese use hiragana, katakana, kanji, and English letters they call Romaji. Hiragana is the basic Japanese alphabet. Katakana has the same sounds as hiragana, but it is written differently. Foreign words are written in katakana so they know they are not originally Japanese. The kanji are pictographs from China. The kanji have no pronunciation, only meaning. Every kanji can also be written in hiragana, and it may have two different pronunciations. They use hiragana, katakana, and kanji to write their sentences. On the signs, you may also see English letters, Romaji.

The signs in Japan might be in kanji, hiragana, katakana, or Romaji, the English letters.

If they write a sentence, it usually has kanji and hiragana in the same sentence. 私は神様を愛してます means “I love the Lord God.” 私 means “I” and is a kanji. In hiragana, it is written わたし (watashi). The は after it, if it is in a word, is pronounced “ha,” but since it comes after the subject, it is pronounced “wa.” It is just a subject marker. I have already explained the kanji for “Lord God.” After that, you have を (wo). It is hiragana, and it is a post position particle that tells you that the word before it is the direct object. 愛 is the kanji for “love” and the hiragana for it is あい (ah-ee). Just like it is here, it is a noun, but it has してます (shi-te-masu_ on the end, and that is a verb ending in hiragana, so it makes 愛 into a verb. As you can see, they mix the hiragana and kanji together.

神様を愛してます。 (I love the Lord God.) Photo by Juhasz Imre on Pexels.com

They write foreign words in katakana. Each katakana letter corresponds to a hiragana letter. They are just written differently. They make a difference between the words so everyone knows it is a foreign word and not originally.They don’t normally add the Romaji to their sentences, but the katakana, the hiragana, and the kanji are mixed together in their sentences. 私はアイスクリームを好きです。This is an example of a sentence that has kanji, hiragana, and katakana. Transcribed into English letters, it would be “watashi wa aisukurimuwo sukideus.” It means “I like Ice cream.”

ハムバッカーを食べますか? (Do you eat hamburgers?) The first word: ハムバッカー is in katakana. を (wo) is the post position particle that tells you that “hamburger” is a direct object. 食べます (tabemasu) is a kanji and two hiragana that mean “eat.” が (ga) is like a question mark, and it is hiragana. You can use all of these alphabets in the same sentence in Japanese.
アイスクリームを好きですか (Do you like ice cream?) アイスクリーム is katakana and is pronounced “aisukurimu” and mans “ice cream.” を again, is the post position particle that makes “ice cream” into the direct object. It is a hiragana, and is pronounced, “oh” or “wo.” 好きです (sukidesu) is the verb that means “like.” It is written in kanji and hiragana. か, again, is pronounced “ga,” and is like a question mark.

They write foreign words in katakana. Each katakana letter corresponds to a hiragana letter. They are just written differently. They make a difference between the words so everyone knows it is a foreign word and not originally.They don’t normally add the Romaji to their sentences, but the katakana, the hiragana, and the kanji are mixed together in their sentences. 私はアイスクリームを好きです。This is an example of a sentence that has kanji, hiragana, and katakana. Transcribed into English letters, it would be “watashi wa aisukurimuwo sukideus.” It means “I like Ice cream.”

I hope this gives you a better basic understanding of the Japanese writing system. It is one of the most complicated writing systems in the world. The Japanese children have to study hard, and even as high as high school, they are still taking tests to figure out what their level of kanji is. If a foreigner learns Japanese, they could easily get bogged down in the kanji, but my Japanese teacher told me it would take me 12 years of study in Japan to be able to read the Japanese newspaper, so I concentrated on speaking because I knew I couldn’t be there that long. My oldest daughter took Japanese and made the mistake of only learning kanji, and when I tried to speak to her in Japanese, she freaked out asking me not to. I can carry on conversations in Japanese and slowly through time, I have learned a few more kanji, but I never got to study it as much as I would have liked. It just takes an enormous amount to know all the kanji they use. If you read something in Japanese, you can find kanji, hiragana, and katakana. However, I have found books that have the hiragana pronunciation written in smaller letters next to the kanji, and that helps people like me.

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