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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 elementary school and junior high school, along with the English alphabet.

Roots of Katakana and Hiragana

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