Impression of the Japanese Language

A scientific introduction to a language requires lots of details and jargon. We rather show you a few aspects of Japanese, which should give you a first impression.

The Hiragana

See above for all sounds possibly occuring in Japanese; vowels should be read as singles, not like oo or ew. The alphabets from Rome, Russia and India ( and everything in between) have a common ancestor. The Hiragana were developed independently from Kanji, which are originally pictures of things. In principle there are 50 symbols representing a sound such as Mu or Yo, but for Ba, one puts dashes on the upper right corner of Ha. For Pa, this becomes a small circle. A period is a small circle below. The Japanese R is produced at the tip of the tongue with a single flip, so between an Italian/Russian/Scottish R and an L. My sincere apologies for people from countries where such an R is common. Mya is Mi with a small Ya, so pronounced Mya. Hi is actually not an H but rather a Russian X, which should not be a problem for Slavic and North German peoples.


Now there are three Japanese alphabets, namely Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji. See above. Katakana works exactly the same as Hiragana and is used to for instance put stress, so a bit like upper and lower case. Kan-ji, signs-from-Kan, have two pronounciations and a meaning. Kunyomi is pure Japanese word revealing the meaning, usually longer than Onyomi, the classical Chinese (Kan-era) pronounciation dating 1900 years ago, slightly Japanised. So has Kunyomi O-o-ki-i and Onyomi Da-i meaning large (size). You can see by a Kana suffix whether it is Onyomi or Kunyomi, in a Jukugo so character combination it is usually Onyomi.


Watashi wa jazu ongaku ga suki desu. Here its says literally: I-(subject)-jazz-music-(direct object)-like-is, I like Jazz music. Ga indicates that a word is subject and O a direct object. Such particles are called Tenioha or Joshi. Don't worry, they are regular and far less numerous than all those conjugations for each vowel stem such as in Latin. Watashi is Kunyomi, Jazu is Katakana, ongaku is a jukugo andsuki is Kunyomi. Suki is not a jukugo and from Ki you see that it should be Kunyomi, here Ki is a Okurigana, an auxillary suffix. Here the verb is desu, in this construction more or less pleasing-is. You see that Japanese works entirely differently than European languages.

How many Kanji do Orientals know ?

In the Kan-periode (25-220 AD) there were just 2000 characters, parto of the imperial state examination for civil servants. In principle, all education systems in Asia descend from this state examination. In Japan, Kanji made in Japan were added and in all countries dialect characters and synonyms arose. Nowadays, in an average Kanwa-Jiten, a Kanji-Japanese dictionary, there are 10000 entries. This is a separate book as opposed to the regular dictionary, a Kokugo-Jiten. A Japanese knows between 2000 and 3000 Kanji, a Kanji professor more. Of course, he knows jukugo-combinations and pure Japanese in Hiragana. A korean learns 900 mandatory characters in Secondary School and an optional set of another 900 characters. A Chinese from the People's Republic learns in principle 2500 characters but they are heavily simplified.

Having said this, the list of 1000 Kanji from Elementary School is enough to read 90 % of the Kanji occuring in an average text. The Kyoiku-Kanji-Hyou is thereby one of your learning goals, but also for any other exam, also for Nihongo-Nouryoku-Shiken or a Bachelor's Exam at a university.