Basic Facts

Firstly, we must know that -needless to say that some of you may have already known- Japanese Writing System consists of three main alphabets. HIRAGANA, KATAKANA (These two are also called “Kana letters” meaning syllabic writing.) and KANJI letters.

Actually western originated letters which are called “Romaji” should be added to those three. Anyway, we will focus on the ones we are not familiar with.

1- HIRAGANA is the main Japanese alphabet. Containing all the sounds in Japanese, Hiragana alphabet include 46 letters. We will see them in Hiragana section. And it will be good to begin with Hiragana. Because, Hiragana letters are not only used by themselves but also together with Kanji and Katakana letters. Japanese writing does not have spaces between words. In most of the spaces Hiragana is used to combine the other words. This helps for the reading preferences of other words in the sentences. Then the beginning and the ending of the words are understood, and some different readings of Kanji consisting words are differentiated easily. Additionally Hiragana is used to clarify the inflexion suffixes of Kanjis.


Photo by S./CC BY 2.0


 2- The other alphabet, KATAKANA, also consists of 46 letters like Hiragana. This letters are used in order to express foreign/loan (Rather than Chinese) words that somehow took place in Japanese. We use Katakana letters in expressing proper nouns/names, animal names and terms needed to be emphasized. Details are in Katakana section.

3- KANJI symbols are the third kind of expressions and more time consuming letters. Derived from Chinese writing letters, kanjis are more than thousands in number. “Kan” means coming from China and “ji” means symbol or sign.

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    Most kanjis have more than two readings. These readings are categorized as “Kun” reading (written in romaji as “Kunyomi”. Here “yomi” means reading.) and “Onyomi” reading. Kunyomi is the Japanese reading of the imported original Chinese letters. On the other hand Onyomi is the Chinese reading of the same letter as known by Japanese. 

    Throughout hundreds of passing years since first known by Japanese in China or by some monks going or coming back from China, Kanjis had different reading due to different means of importation. Because of that some words containing same kanji letters became words with particular readings. Actually that made the Kanji reading harder comparing the other alphabets. Looking from the bright side, remembering various readings of Kanji letters becomes easier when getting familiar with the readings of the combined forms of Kanjis. We will focus on that in Kanji Grouping section.