Japanese Writing Systems


1. Kana and Kanji

There are three types of writing systems in Japanese: hiragana, katakana, and kanji. Hiragana and Katakana are under the 'kana' group. All types can be used in one sentence:

ケーキを食べます。(keeki o tabemasu. = I eat cake.)


Hiragana and katakana are phonetic alphabets.
Hiragana has round shape and is used for function words, conjugation endings, and native Japanese words that are not covered by kanji.

を:function word (particle)
べます:verb conjugation ending

Katakana has more straight lines compared to hiragana, and is used for writing loan words from other languages, foreign names, and onomatopoeia.

ケーキ:loan word from English

Kanji, or Chinese characters, represents both sounds and meanings. Kanji are used for nouns, the stem of adjectives, and part of verb stem.

食:for 'ta' in 'tabemasu' followed by hiragana 'bemasu'.


2. Horizontal and Vertical Writings

There are two ways to write Japanese sentences, horizontally or vertically.

Vertical writing is the traditional Japanese writing, and it is used for Japanese language textbooks for Japanese schools in Japan, literature, newspaper, and official governmental documents. When you write Japanese vertically, it starts from top right of the paper, and books with the vertical writing open from left to right.

Horizontal writing is widely used nowadays for the publications related to the field such as foreign languages, science, mathematics, music, and all textbooks but Japanese language in Japanese schools are written horizontally. Books with the horizontal writing open from right to left.


3. Punctuation Marks

1) Kuten:【。】small circle that is used to mark the end of the sentence.

2) Touten:【、】small comma that is basically used to break the sentence when it is too long and hard to read.

a. 'touten' is often used after conjunctions:
妹の二十歳の誕生日だったから、ケーキを買ったんです。(Because it was my sisters 20th birthday, I bought a cake.)

b. 'touten' is also used to address someone in writing:
田中さん、明日パーティに行きませんか。(Tanaka-san, won't you go to the party tomorrow?)

3) Question mark

When the question marker particle 'ka' is dropped for more relaxed conversation, you need a question mark to indicate clearly that it is a question sentence:

これ、できます?(Kore, dekimasu?) Can you do this?

あした何を食べる?(Ashita nani o taberu?) What are you going to eat tomorrow?



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