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Lesson 3: The Writing System

Konnichiwa minna-san. In this lesson we are going to cover the Japanese writing system. I'll do this lesson in three parts, and this part will have both the intro, and the first part ^_^. Now I know that this may seem like a very hard system to learn, but if you just try to do a consonant group a day (ka, ki, ku, ke, ko) you'll be able to learn them without much difficulty (no really). If you can't see the Japanese characters, click here


Traditionally Japanese is written from top to bottom, and from right to left, but it can also be written like English, that is horizontally, and from left to right.

The Japanese writing system uses three different alphabets. The Katakana (outlined in red in the following pic), the Hiragana (in blue) and the Kanji (in green).


The Kanji system was adapted from the Chinese, and has over 10,000 characters, and each character is called a kanji. These characters represent both a meaning and a sound (so means fire, and can be read as hi, ha, or ka ). Kanji can range from simple, with one or two strokes, to complex, with more than fourteen. Some can even look like pictures of what they represent. A kanji usually has a minimum of two readings (the original Chinese one (called the ON reading), and a Japanese one (called a Kun reading) and some can have six readings or more. By the end of junior high, one is expected to know 2,000 basic kanji. (BTW: that first box in the last line says Naoko Takeuchi ^_^)


Hiragana is one of the two syllable alphabets, in which letters stand for sounds like a, i, u, e, o, or ka, ki, ku, ke, ko. In this alphabet the only consonant that can be without a vowel is n. Often, in manga kanji are written with small hiragana letters over them denoting pronunciation. These hiragana letters are then called furigana. Hiragana is used for native Japanese words only.


Katakana has the same structure as hiragana, but is only used for foreign words, and for emphasis. We'll start with Katakana this week ^_^.

Here's a chart of the basic characters:

What you need to keep in mind is this: to turn a ka ( ) into a ga ( ) with the addition of what looks like a quotation mark at an angle (just call it that, and you'll remember it easier ^_^) the same additions turns a s into a z, a t into a d (except for the which is read as chi, so it becomes a ji.) in the same way a h becomes a b. Also you can turn an h into a p with this (ie hu-pu: to ) Try reading this: 顼ࡼ (the dashes just tell you to prolong the sound) Also often you'll see the y's (ya, yo, and yu) written smaller, and after certain letters. In those cases take the consonant of the first character and add the y_ sound to it. so is read as kyo. Now lets practice a bit with some words:

マーキョ リ アクア イリュジョン

That pretty much covers Katakana, and ends our lesson for this week ^_^.next week I'll go over the Hiragana alphabet, and Kanji will be the week after that (no we won't do all the Kanji, but I'll just explain the basics, and I might do a few extra Kanji each following week )

Answers: hotel, katakana, Mercury Aqua Illusion ^_^, Luna, home run, wise man

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