Japanese writing system

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Kana and kanji in Kalligrafie exercises from Kyoto

the writing system of the modern Japanese language consist those of kanji, the Chinese writing come of and as logogramsusually form the word trunk for the Silbenschriften, hiragana (often for grammatical forms) and katakana (main for foreign words) and latin alphabet, which is called in Japan Rōmaji. These character fonts have different specific functions and in everyday life texts are parallel used.

Table of contents

way of writing and - direction

in the Japanese the words are usually lined up without blanks and separated at the line or column end in arbitrary places without hyphen (not directly before a punctuation mark).The indications are written into meant squares: Differently than e.g. in latin writing, where „a i is many narrower “than „an m “, each indication (including punctuation marks) receives equal much place, approximately around narrower or smaller in the Japanese writingIndication remains thus somewhat more empty space.

In the traditional Japanese, as also in the classical Chinese, is from top to bottom written, whereby the columns are from right to left lined up. This writing direction finds nowadays with literary texts and Manga application.From this it results also that Japanese books and other multilateral printing elements on (after western understanding) „wrong the “page are broken open: if one sees on the title page, then the backbone lies right.

With special texts and texts, which contain many Rōmaji, becomes usuallyafter western model in horizontal lines from left to right written. This applies also to (horizontal) signs.

In newspapers dependent both writing directions occur on the respective article.

character fonts


Yamada Tarō - Japanese namein kanji

kanji (漢字) means Han indications, whereby Han as synonym for China and/or. Stands for Chinese.

Kanji have (contrary to kana) their own meaning and also as logograms are designated, which are divided again in three groupscan:Pictograms, ideograms and Phonogramme. Many kanji are compound thereby from several (often two) reduced indications. Those ideograms under these components, which often stand for the core meaning of respective kanji and are arranged according to those them into kanji encyclopedias,one calls radicals and/or. Bushu; the other element in two-piece indications often marks the original Chinese discussion. The reading (kind of discussion) was adapted thereby to the Japanese Lautsystem. In the consequence also a relatively small number of own Japanese kanji were developed,the so-called national characters or Kokuji (国字), like z. B. 働 (dō, dt. Work), 辻 (tsuji, dt. Road) and 峠 (tōge, dt. Mountain passport).

Many kanji have two or still more different readings, which one summarizes in two groupscan:

  • On-yomi (音読み, literally: ) One calls sound reading also sino Japanese reading. It was derived from the Chinese one (this concerns one to Japanese adapted variant of the original Chinese discussion of the indication) and becomes therefore also often Chinese readingcalled. To mostly result in On-yomi (however not always) used, if an indication as well as other kanji stands, in order a compound word. On-yomi in discussion lists (for instance in encyclopedias) usually as katakana are indicated.
  • Kun yomi (訓読み, literally: Term reading)also clean-Japanese reading is called. With such a reading it acts i.d.R. around a old-Japanese word (thus from the Chinese one does not originate), for which the character only of its importance one took over, but not from the sound. ThisReading is mostly used (however not always), if kanji stands alone and forms even a whole word. kun yomi in discussion lists with hiragana are usually shown.

Nearly all kanji, with exception of some fewer Kokuji, have one or more on readings, butnot all have Kun readings. Those often several different on readings of only one indication resulted from the fact that many indications were taken over several times at different times from different regions of China, and concomitantly the different discussions of the indication in the different Chinese languages. Which of the readings is to be used in each case, depends on the kanji combination, in which the indication emerges in each case.

It means in Japanese legends that a Chinese scholar named Wani, working in Paekche (Baekje), (王仁, Korean Wang in, chin. Wang Ren) the Chinese characters in late 4. Century to Japan brought, as it to the yard of the Yamato - realm was invited, in order to teach the Konfuzianismus, and the Chinese books to Analekte of the Confucius and the thousand-indication classical author to Japan brought.Wani is mentioned in the Kojiki and in the Nihon Shoki. Whether Wani really lived or is only a fictitious person, is unclear, because those today well-known version of the thousand-indication classical author is at present the regency of emperor Liang Wu (502- 549) developed.
It is considered possible by some scientists that already in the 3. Century Chinese works their way to Japan found. As secured it is considered that at the latest starting from that 5. Century of our time calculation kanji in several wavesfrom different parts of China were imported.
Today one calls the classical way of writing of the Chinese texts for Japan Kanbun.

After the Second World War became the number „for the everyday life common characters “from the education Ministry on first 1,850 and in the year 1981 on 1.945 (Tōyō - and/or. Jōyō - kanji) fixed, which are taught also in the school. Official texts and many newspapers are limited to these indications and shown all other terms in kana. Besides there are furtherapprox. 580 so-called Jinmeiyō kanji, which are official only for the use in Japanese names.

In principle kanji correspond to the traditional Chinese long characters. Some indications were simplified with the Tōyō reform however in a similar way as the abbreviations with the Chinese writing reform of 1955.

Educated Japanese control pretty often (at least passively) over 5.000 kanji, which particularly for reading from literary texts is necessary. Altogether there are more than 50,000 however kanji uncommon in the majority. Insome vocational fields, about law, medicine or buddhistischer theology, the control is presupposed by up to 1.000 further kanji, which play a role within this range. It concerns however technical terms.

Japanese texts for adults leave themselves if necessarywith high speed „transverseread “. Since substantial contents with kanji are written and to be explained to be able, one knows also complex terms with only few kanji by jumping from kanji to kanji under neglect of the other plotting systems the sense of a textseize rapidly. On the other hand one can recognize by the total portion and the degree of difficulty of kanji of a text, for which age and/or. Group of education it was preferably written.

Were by the strong Chinese influence on Korea kanji (kor. Hanja) traditionally also in Koreacommon, since the Kabo reform end 19. Jh. these are however large by hangul - indications replaced.

Altogether the number of used kanji decreases/goes back ever more, which is possibly also because of the fact that due to the today existing electronic SchreibhilfenJapanese text processing systems the younger Japanese it still read, but particularly rarer kanji ever more frequently any longer handwritten to write cannot, so that in numerous printed media in the meantime over complicated kanji pertinent kana (Furigana) are printed.

Commons: Chinese one Character - pictures, videos and/or audio files


Höfi poets 7. to 8. Century began to use the Chinese indications independently of their importance only more than phonograms in order to obtain certain aesthetic effects for their poetry.Slowly thereby in or few crystallized „standard characters in each case “for each possible Japanese syllable. This Schreibart (Man'yōgana) was however very aufwändig - for the often vielsilbigen Japanese words one needed in each case several complicated Chinese indications.

This ledto the education kana in such a way specified from kanji. They are syllable alphabets, with which the individual highly simplified indications do not have an independent meaning and only sounds to show. Depending upon developing history and write style one differentiates with kana between hiragana and katakana.

See also: Derivative board of the kana characters


development that hiragana from Man'yōgana
hiragana - indications of the syllable mu
major items: Hiragana

hiragana (ひらがな or also 平仮名) 9 became in. Century develops and first above allfrom noble women uses, since to women both the study of the Chinese language and learning kanji applied as inadequately. With hiragana it concerns sanded off italic forms of the Man'yōgana described above, therefore they work relatively simply formedand rounded off. In the course of the years only one indication of each possible Japanese syllable became generally accepted in each case. This in an alphabet was arranged, which one after the model of the Siddham - writing of the Sanskrit at that time systematically constructed, the only alphabetical ones Writing, which admits to some scholars by the Buddhismus in Japan was. This alphabet, the fifty-sound board, serves also today still in Japan for the alphabetical arrangement, approximately in dictionaries; in kanji or katakana written words are arranged thereby according to their hiragana transcription.

Japanese children read and write everything first in hiragana, before them for learning kanji to turn into (example: ひらがな hiragana in hiragana means written and 平仮名 means hiragana in kanji written). With texts for adults hiragana becomes particularly for Präand Suffixe, for grammatical particles (Okurigana) and for such Japanese words uses, for which there is no kanji or for those kanji is so rare that one would not like to use it in consideration of the readers. Alsoin private letters many hiragana are used, since it applies in relation to the receiver as impolite to want to impress this by the own education.

When using few admitted or not yet to learned kanji (z. B. in school books) the correct discussion becomeswritten in the form of small hiragana over (with perpendicular way of writing right beside) appropriate the indication. Such hiragana Furigana (ふりがな) are called.

Commons: Hiragana - pictures, videos and/or audio files


katakana - indication of the syllable mu
Development that katakana from Man'yōgana
major item: Katakana

katakana (カタカナ or also 片仮名) became by buddhistischen monks, particularly the Shingon -, first as a read assistance for Chinese religious texts as well as a kind Stenografie develops and served sparkling wines. They are mostlyfrom individual components of complicated kanji developed and are noticeable as particularly simple formed and angularly. Sometimes due to their futuristic appearance they are used outside of Japan for Design effects or even for Sciencefiction films (z. B. exist the green indication cascades, in the threeFilms of the matrix - Trilogie over the screen run, apart from numbers also from mirror-wrong katakana).

Today katakana serves above all the emphasis, similarly the italic letters in German. Advertisement, Manga and consumer goods inscriptions use accordingly many katakana.

They become also for leaning wordsand names from other languages uses, for which there are no Chinese characters. Also artists and place names from the Korean one and Chinese one are predominantly explained in the last years with katakana, in order to follow with the discussion the original. Forusually in the writing use meaning persons of the political life and history the assumption of the Chinese characters remains usually. The fremdsprachige word is converted not on the basis the original Orthografie, but alone to the discussion, so that for example from Toys “R” US inKatakana トイザラス (ton-i-za-RA-CSU) becomes.

Also scientific names of animals and plants are written with katakana, whereby there is a certain trend in the last years back to the kanji way of writing. In the language teachings katakana indicates on reading of kanji.

Commons: Katakana - pictures, videos and/or audio files

see also: Gairaigo


keys of a Japanese mobile phone with romaji and hiragana character

with the Rōmaji (ローマ字, Roman/latin indication) concerns it latin alphabet.

Latin the characterscame mainly by Portuguese Jesuiten Missionare to Japan, which traveled already briefly after the landing of the first Europeans in the year 1544 to Japan, in order to spread „the word of God “. 1590 were brought the first Druckpresse from Portugal to Japan. Thisand further imported presses brought out 20 years kirishitanban (Christian pressures), which were written in latin , Portuguese or romanisiertem Japanese.

Afterwards the Rōmaji disappeared due to the political climate nearly completely from Japan and won only again after the opening of theCountry at meaning. The US-American physician and Missionar Dr. James Curtis Hepburn wrote 1867 the first Japanese English dictionary, wa eigo rin shūsei (和英語林集成), and developed for it latin Transkriptionssystem, the Hepburn system designated after it.

Rōmaji become todayto marketing - purposes uses, because in Rōmaji written Japanese is particularly to decay and work internationally, and to the transcription of Japanese describing uses, so that foreigners get along better. Since all pupils in Japan learn English, also all Rōmaji learns. It givesTranskriptionssysteme from Japanese writs recognized three to Rōmaji: Apart from the Hepburn system there is still the Nippon system as well as the Kunrei system. The Nippon system is standardized a modified form of the Hepburn system and according to ISO 3602 Strict. The Kunrei system is again a modifiedForm of the Nippon system and according to ISO 3602 standardizes. Besides there are still some other Transkriptionssysteme, which have smaller meaning, like e.g. JSL. There itself these i.d.R. from one of the recognized systems, can they derive without large problems of well-informed onesanother system to be read.

for Japanese meanwhile the standard method for computer inputs became large, since in Japan nearly all computers have English keyboards. Over on a JapaneseComputers Japanese to write, one usually spells the individual syllables in Rōmaji, which appear on the screen first as kana. This Romanisierung becomes as wāpuro rōmaji (from English. word processor) designates. Both Hepburn essentially become, andKunrei and Nippon Romanisierungen accept. Characteristics of this system are the fact that long vowels are entered in accordance with their kana way of writing with two vowel characters and that small kana by a placed in front x can be entered.

As soon as sufficient syllables are entered, the computer offers a listwith possible kanji and/or. Kanji combinations on, from which one can select the correct term. After the confirmation the syllables are replaced by the selected term.

fifty-sound board

the alphabetical sequence of the syllables, like it for instance in Japanese directoriesor encyclopedias one uses, follows the lines of a table, which is called on Japanese gojūon (五十音 , fifty-sound board).

There are both with hiragana and with katakana not exactly 50, but ever 46 basic kana (straight sounds). Until 1945there was per 48; two were abolished (ゐ and ゑ and/or. ヰ and ヱ), there the w before it is articulated no longer and it therefore exactly like the vowels i and e (い and え and/or. イ and エ) sound.

The indications no longer usual since 1945 are set in the following table into round clips. In parentheses (w) do not indicate that in former times (English) a w was spoken there, in the today's Japanese however no more.


for instance used since 1945 two accent marks and smaller attached vowel letters systematically, before only in cases of doubt and after mood of the writer. During alphabetical arrangement they are assigned to to the appropriate unakzentuierten indications.


some kana can by adding two small lines (゛, ten ten, dakuten or nigori) or a small circle (゜, handacute or maru) in the discussion be changed, in order to receive further syllables. Nigori makes the sound be correctful or „clouded “, Maru halfbe correctful. Thus a g becomes from a k (e.g. in „hiragana “), from s z (English discussion), from t D and out h/f only b and finally p. (Example: ふ = フ = hu/fu, ぶ= ブ = le, ぷ = プ = pu.)

Palatalisierung/refraction (ligature)

with the palatalen or broken sounds so mentioned (yō·on)out-reading syllable after one after i (i follows·kō, second column) one (made smaller) with y beginning (ya·dan, respect line). Together they form a common syllable, so that either only one j is spoken - sound or theseis void completely: from pi and small yu (ぴゅ/ピュ) pyu, an s (h) followed from small yo ( しょ/ショ) would write i a German „scho “.

katakana offers in addition furtherPossibilities for foreign words of illustrating in Japanese occurring syllables as also syllables are combined on other vowels with small versions of the vowels (ァ, ィ, ゥ, ェ, ォ). The 1945 been omitted ヰ (like) and ヱ (incoming goods) can so bspw. through ウ (u) plus vowel to be replaced (ウィ and ウェ), if the sounds in another language occur; in addition with ウォ contrary to ヲ the w is expressed. With Nigori becomes from the vowel finallya consonant syllable: ヴ = vu (dt. wu), which can be combined again with the other vowels, e.g. ヴィ = vi. From CSU and too (ス, ズ) plus i SI and di become. Sche/she/še, - /je/že and tsche/che/čefrom the syllables on i (シ = s (h) i, ジ = z (h) i/ji, チ = ti/chi) with small e (ェ) are formed. With t and D on the one hand the syllables on e ( テ, デ) with small i become too ti and/or. connected, on the other hand on o (ト, ド) with small u (ゥ) too do and you. The syllables ツ (tsu, dt. too) and フ (fu/hu) finally i, e can with A , and o to be combined, so that the u is omitted. In addition the latters can be followed also by the small yu: フュ (fyu).

Iroha June

beside the fifty-sound board is used for the definition of a sequence occasionally still iroha June (いろは順). It is from the 2. Half 10. Century coming „alphabet “in form of a song, into each possible syllableexactly once occurs (伊呂波歌 iroha - uta):

(without Dakuten)
and kana
Even if flowers smell,
they wither nevertheless.
In our world
everything does not last eternally.
I want to overcome the deep mountains
of developing and passing today,
(in the world of illuminating) no empty dreams to dream,
me not at the illusion berauschen.

Indicated katakana show thereby the original discussion at that time, intoday's Japanese sounds some the words somewhat differently. The indication n is missing, since it was only introduced before relatively short time as independent indication; in former times one wrote for a spoken n as Behelf mu, which also in this poemthe case is. However are the two indications abolished after 1945.

The song is a free, poetisierte Japanese transmission of the following Chinese passage mahayana - of the buddhistischen text Daihatsunehangyō (大般涅槃経; Sutra of the Nirvana): 諸行無常/是正滅法/生滅滅己/寂滅為楽 (Chinese with Japanese discussion, as the holy texts are usually read in the Japanese Buddhismus: The Japanese writing system has itself Shogyōmujō /Zeshōmeppō


) [work on] reform thought in the course of the centuries to thatprobably develops most complicated writing system of the world. Many kanji can have more than five different, rarely readings different up to nearly a dozen. Turned around a spoken word, without there would be for this general rules, can both with different kanji andwith different Okurigana - variants (kana for „the endings “of a word) to be written. Finally there are still words, which can be built up rebusartig from different kanji: For example became from the Portuguese taken over word tabako (cigarette, tobacco) with kanjifor smoke and grass shown, but not so expressed, as these kanji are normally read. This development reached its high point in the Meiji time, whereby it was more common as nowadays at that time, kanji Furigana (small kana apart from or over kanjito attach for discussion guidance).

Since the Meiji era it gave considerations in Japan several times to reform the Japanese writing radically. The suggestions are enough from a restriction on the Silbenschriften (like z. B. in the Korean one) with large renouncement of kanjiup to a complete conversion to latin writing (similar as it z. B. in the Turkish one happened).

This failed so far however because of numerous factors:

  • Differently than Turkey, where illiteratism up to the end of the Osmani realm was the normal caseand the latin writing for most Turks their first learned writing was, has Japan for several centuries an extensive Alphabetisierung (it was in 19. Century even a time long the most strongly alphabetisierte country in the world).
  • The Japanese language hasunusually many homonyms, which could not be differentiated with respect to latin writing or with respect to kana no more. The Japanese language is poor with only somewhat more than 100 syllables relatively „“at sounds - in contrast z. B. to the Chinese one, that about400 syllables knows. Often therefore the context of a word is important, in order to determine its meaning in the Japanese. (In discussions it occurs therefore pretty often that with a questionable word correct kanji in addition with the finger on thosePalm „“becomes painted, thus it misunderstandings does not come.)
  • the large libraries and thousands of years old extensive writing culture would be only accessible to few scholars.
  • During the writing only with kana a text would become longer and the possibility for fast transverse vintagesdisappear.
  • The existing kanji knowledge makes the easy learning ever of the Chinese language more importantly becoming in Eastern Asia for the Japanese possible.
  • Also some peculiarities of the Japanese culture were lost then. Thus there are several different ways of writing approximately for many first names, from thoseparents after aesthetic considerations one select: For example the Japanese first name Akira in hiragana as あきら, in katakana as アキラ and in kanji can and. A. as 明, 光, 旭, 玲, 日明, 彰, 晶, 彬, 明朗, 晄, 徴 or 亜喜良are written.

In the year 1945 in the course of a writing reform the number „of everyday life kanji “to 1945 were reduced, the number of the readings of kanji was reduced clearly and new rules for the use of hiragana, katakana, Okurigana and Furigana were set up.

the theory of the character fonts at Japanese schools

see to school in Japan


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  • peoples grass-grumble: The Japanese writing andtheir digitization. In: Winfried Nöth and Karin Wenz (Hrsg.), intervals of 2: Medium theory and digital media. Kassel University press, Kassel 1999, ISBN 3-933146-05-4 - (chapter also on-line)
  • Yaeko Sato Habein: The History OF the Japanese Written LANGUAGE. UniversityOF Tokyo press, 1984 ISBN 0-86008-347-0
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  • Christopher Seeley: A History OF Writing in Japan.
  • Christopher Seeley: TheJapanese Script sinks 1900. In: Visible LANGUAGE, XVIII 3, 267-302, 1984
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  • Nanette Twine: LANGUAGE and the decaying State - The reform OF Written Japanese. Routledge, 1991 ISBN 0-4150-0990-1
  • James marshal Unger: Literacy and Script reform in Occupation Japan: Reading Between the LINEs. Oxford University press, 1996 ISBN 0-1951-0166-9 (excerpt)
  • Voss, Viola: Writing typology and the Japanese writing system. White lake, Berlin, 2003, ISBN 3-89998-017-4

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