What writing system(s) does this language use? edit

Japanese uses three different writing systems, known as hiragana, katakana, and kanji. In some cases, Japanese people will also use the letters of the English alphabet; this is called rōmaji (literally, "Roman characters").


The bar over the "o" in the word rōmaji is called a macron. It indicates that the "o" sound should be held longer than normal when speaking the word. It doesn't change the sound of the vowel, only its length.

Hiragana and katakana are called "syllabaries" because each symbol represents a specific one-syllable sound. Although they function somewhat like an alphabet, since they can be used to "spell out" Japanese words phonetically, most of the symbols in hiragana and katakana represent a consonant-vowel pair, like "ka" or "so". Hiragana is used for native Japanese words, while katakana is used for foreign words that have been integrated into the language, like the English words "rodeo" (from Spanish) and "shampoo" (from Hindi).

Basic hiragana (left) and katakana (right)
(a) (i) (u) (e) (o)
(ka) (ki) (ku) (ke) (ko)
(sa) (shi) (su) (se) (so)
(ta) (chi) (tsu) (te) (to)
(na) (ni) (nu) (ne) (no)
(ha) (hi) (fu) (he) (ho)
(ma) (mi) (mu) (me) (mo)
(ya) * (yu) * (yo)
(ra) (ri) (ru) (re) (ro)
(wa) * * * (wo)

Actually, the characters for "wo" in the table are pronounced more like "o". Entries containing "*" are for sounds that are not used very often in Japanese.

Kanji are associated with particular meanings, like full words in English. Unlike the hiragana and katakana symbols, each kanji can be "read" (that is, spoken) in more than one way. In fact, most kanji have two different pronunciations: one based on spoken Japanese and one based on spoken Chinese, because the kanji characters were originally brought to Japan by Chinese monks starting in the 5th century.

Many Japanese kanji look the same as, or very similar to, the Chinese characters for the same concepts. However, some kanji have changed their appearance over time, as the Japanese and Chinese languages developed separately.

The Japanese government has designated more than 2,100 kanji for standard use; high school students in Japan must know all of the standard characters before they graduate.

Romaji is the system used to write Japanese words using the Roman alphabet, like the words on this page (hiragana, katakana, kanji, romaji), and is used to help English-speaking Japanese learners learn how to read and pronounce Japanese.

How many people speak this language? edit

The Japanese language has 127 million native speakers, plus 1 million other speakers that learned Japanese as a second language.


native speaker — someone who learned to speak a language as a young child.


second language — any language that a person learns to speak after the first language.

Where is this language spoken? edit

Japanese is primarily spoken in Japan, but is also spoken in Hawaii, Guam, and other parts of the United States, mostly along the Pacific Ocean; in South America, mainly in Peru and Brazil; and on many Pacific islands.

What is the history of this language? edit

At first glance, it would be easy to think that Japanese is closely related to Chinese. The kanji characters were all adopted from Chinese, and the kana (hiragana and katakana) were developed from the kanji. However, Japanese is actually a very different language from Chinese. Before the 5th century, Japanese had no written form, but because of contact with China, Japan adapted the writing system of Chinese to the Japanese language.

The origins of the Japanese language itself are lost to history. Some people believe that it's related to Korean, but this is uncertain. Perhaps one day more information on the history of this language will be discovered.

Who are some famous authors or poets in this language? edit

Murasaki Shikibu (c.973–c.1014), authored The Tale of Genji, one of the earliest novels in the world.

Miyamoto Musashi (c.1584–1645), a samurai who wrote The Book of Five Rings.

Matsuo Bashō (c.1644–1694), a master of the poetry form of haiku.

Kyokutei Bakin (1767–1848), the author of Nansō satomi hakkenden or The Legend of the Eight Dog Warriors.

Shusaku Endo (1923–1996) was a writer whose inspiration and motivation came from being a Japanese Catholic.

Koji Suzuki (b. 1957) is a writer of horror novels and short stories. Many of these have been translated into other languages, including his most famous work, Ring. Many of his books have been made into films in many languages, including English, Japanese and Korean.

What are some basic words in this language that I can learn? edit

Basic Greetings:

  • おはようございます! - Ohayō gozaimasu! - "Good morning!"
  • こんにちは! - Konnichiwa! - "Good afternoon!" or "Hello!"
  • さようなら! - Sayōnara! - "Good bye!"
  • また明日! - Mata ashita! - "See you tomorrow!"

Simple Words:

  • はい - hai - "yes"
  • いいえ - iie - "no"
  • 猫 - neko - "cat"
  • 犬 - inu - "dog"
  • 日本 - Nihon - "Japan"
  • 日本語 - Nihongo - "Japanese language"
  • 月 - tsuki - "moon"
  • 絵 - e - "picture"
  • 愛 - ai - "love"


  1. 一 - ichi
  2. 二 - ni
  3. 三 - san
  4. 四 - yon (shi)
  5. 五 - go
  6. 六 - roku
  7. 七 - nana (shichi)
  8. 八 - hachi
  9. 九 - kyū
  10. 十 - jū


  • すみません - Sumimasen - "Excuse me."
  • ありがとうございます - Arigatō gozaimasu - "Thank you."
  • ごめんなさい - Gomen nasai - "I'm sorry."
  • 大丈夫ですか? - Daijōbu desu ka - "Are you okay?"

What is a simple song/poem/story that I can learn in this language? edit

桜 桜 さくら さくら Sakura, Sakura Cherry Blossom

桜 桜
桜 桜

桜 桜
いざや いざや

さくら さくら
のやま も さと も
みわたす かぎり
かすみ か くも か
あさひ に におう
さくら さくら
はな ざかり

さくら さくら
やよい の そら は
みわたす かぎり
かすみ か くも か
におい ぞ いずる
いざや いざや
みに ゆ かん

Sakura sakura
Noyama mo sato mo
Miwatasu kagiri
Kasumi ka kumo ka
Asahi ni niou
Sakura sakura
Hana zakari

Sakura sakura
Yayoi no sora wa
Miwatasu kagiri
Kasumi ka kumo ka
Nioi zo izuru
Izaya izaya
Mini yu kan

Cherry blossoms, cherry blossoms,
On mountains and in villages,
As far as you can see.
They look like a mist, or clouds,
Fragrant in the morning sun.
Cherry blossoms, cherry blossoms,
They’re in full bloom.

Cherry blossoms, cherry blossoms,
Across the April skies,
As far as you can see.
They look like a mist, or clouds,
Blooming fragrantly.
Let's go! Let's go!
Let's go see them!

The second verse of the song

かえるの歌 かえる の うた Kaeru no Uta The Frog's Song

ぐぁ ぐぁ ぐぁ ぐぁ
げろ げろ げろ げろ

かえる の うた が
きこえて くる よ
ぐぁ ぐぁ ぐぁ ぐぁ
げろ げろ げろ げろ

Kaeru no uta ga
Kikoete kuru yo
Gwa, gwa, gwa, gwa,
gero, gero, gero, gero,
gwa, gwa, gwa.

The frog's song
we can hear it
ribbit, ribbit, ribbit, ribbit,
ribbit, ribbit, ribbit, ribbit,
ribbit, ribbit, ribbit.

References edit