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Japan Writing System: Kanji, Hiragana, and Katakana


Anybody with an interest in Japanese and japan writing system, or who has made a trip to Japan and attempted – maybe uselessly – to read signs in Japanese, has presumably known about the 3 japan writing system: kanji, hiragana, and katakana.

Japan Writing System’ Outline

Kanji is the most oldest and is an image based system from China comprised of logograms, which are characters that address entire words. Hiragana and katakana are local to Japan and address syllable sounds; together these two letters in order are refferred to as kana. The 3 composing frameworks are being used today – sometimes even within the same sentence – which can make things confusing for those unfamiliar with their workings.


Kanji was the first of the 3 writing system used in Japan today. It was introduced in the 4th or 5th century by way of the Korean peninsula when Japan had its own spoken language but no writing system to go with it. The Japanese took the kanji image related with a specific word in Chinese and matched it to a similar word in their own language. In any case, the Chinese pronunciation likewise came into utilization in Japan after some time, presumably from associating with Chinese-talking individuals through trade. Thus, today, most kanji can be perused two different ways: the Chinese way, on-yomi, and the Japanese way, kun-yomi.

One popular model is the word for ‘mountain’. In Japanese, the word is yama, so individuals took the Chinese image for a mountain (山) and said, “This implies yama”. Nonetheless, the Chinese pronunciation for mountain – ‘san’ – likewise came into utilization in Japan and both are still used today. That is the reason certain individuals beyond Japan mistakenly refer to the UNESCO World Heritage Site Mount Fuji as ‘Fuji-yama’ when as a matter of fact, it’s ‘Fuji-san’.

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As any student of Japanese language knows, learning kanji is difficult. By and large, just men were permitted to be taught in reading and writing kanji, so ladies of the Heian court made hiragana around the 8th century as a more simpler option. Over the long run, men likewise came to understand that hiragana, which depends on sounds as opposed to word-pictures, was a lot more simpler to peruse and compose than kanji, and they also started to utilize hiragana in their day to day writing.


katakana is a local letters based on sounds. However, for what reason did Japan have need for one more writing system? Once more, the explanation returns, to the way that reading kanji is difficult – and not only for non-Japanese individuals and ladies. Men were expected to utilize kanji for formal writing, for example, official government reports, and would make documentations in the lines to assist them with recalling how to use specific words. These katakana characters were a simplified version of the kanji symbols themselves, and were pronounced in the same way. After some time these characters were standardized into an alphabet. And keeping in mind that katakana began as an ally to Chinese kanji, it later came to be utilized for writing words of foreign origin from any language.

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Yet, why keep every one of the three?

Today, the 3 japan writing system are used together, at times even in a similar sentence. Some portion of the explanation is for clarity. Kanji makes normal breaks in a sentence that make it more straightforward for the reader to separate nouns and verbs. Hiragana-only sentence would be challenging to parse  like a sentence written in English without any spaces between words. Katakana, in the mean time, is valuable for unknown dialect words or for adding emphasis, similar as italics are utilized in English. While its possible Japan could work on its writing systems much further, the nation appears to be content to keep utilizing each of the three.

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