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Japanese Language at Glance


Pict. A : 3 elements in Japanese : 1. Kanji. 2. Hiragana. 3. Katakana. Pict. B : Horizontally written sentence. Pict. C : Vertically written sentence.

Japanese language consists of three alphabets: kanji (pictographic characters imported from China), hiragana and katakana  (phonetic alphabets developed in Japan). To read a newspaper, one must know 1,945 commonly used kanji, hiragana and katakana, which are taught in elemantary school and junior high school, along with the English alphabet.

- Vertically written sentences should be read from top to bottom and from the right line to the left line.
– Pages should be turned from left to right.
– Horizontally writen sentences should be read from left to right.

Kanji  (漢字) : an ideographic character. Each letter has a meaning.
Hiragana (平仮名) : phoenetic symbols.
Katakana (片仮名) : phoenetic symbols, used to describe a word of foreign origin or onomatopoeia, or to make a strong impression of a word.

Katakana was made by deleting a part of kanji and symbolizing it. Hiragana was made from the cursive style of writing kanji, particularly as used in the ancient poetry anthology, the Man’ youshuu.

:: Nihon Marugoto Jiten. Kodansha, Ltd.