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Japanese language

Japanese language ("Nihongo" in Japanese) is the language which only Japanese people are using in the world.

It uses kanji characters from China, but the language system is very different from Chinese language.
There are a little similarity to Korea language, but it is also basically different.

Therefore Japanese language is isolated language in the world.

Pronunciation in Japanese

Japanese language has 5 vowel sounds : A, I, U, E, O.
Sound "U" is neutral, and it is unrounded in the production of sound.

In Japanese language, consonants are less than English, Chinese and many other languages.
The followings are all. (These are not pronunciation symbol, and are the pronunciation in English words.)

K, S, SH, T, CH, TS, N, H, M, Y, R, W
G, Z, J, D, B, P

Japanese language doesn't have the consonants "L", "F", "V".
Additionally it has not the sounds "TH" in English.
So Japanese people are difficult to distinguish a sound of the English word "right" from "light".

Syllabic sound in Japanese

In Japanese language, we recognize the followings as a syllabic sound.

  • A vowel without consonant. A, I, U ,E, O.
  • A consonant + a vowel. As an example, "KA".
  • A consonant + "Y" + a vowel. As an example, "KYA".
  • Independent "N"

Japanese words are constructed of these syllabic sounds.
So we don't recognize any diphthong or double consonant.

And, most consonants are followed by a vowel, so when Japanese people pronounce an English word "strong", they inevitably tend to say "sutorongu".

Characters in Japanese

In Japanese, 3 kinds of characters are used.

Hiragana : Most basic characters for Japanese language.
Katakana : The characters instead of hiragana for foreign words or imitation sounds.
Kanji : The many characters brought from China. Each character have a meaning.

Basically we can write all in hiragana and katakana, but most Japanese words are individually given paticular kanji, so we use kanji as possible.

Alphabetic notation of Japanese language

Basically Japanese language are able to be represented by letters of the alphabet easily, because it has just 5 vowels and less consonants than English.

But we must make consideration about long vowels.
When we write long "a","i","u","e","o", we use "â","ii","û","ê","ô".

In English, such special characters are not used, so the writing depends on the person.

For example, 2 "o"s in a word "Tokyo" are both long.
We can write it as "Toukyou", "Tohkyoh" or "Tookyoo". You may learn long vowel by such writing.
But in many cases such writing is not used like "Tokyo".

Please listen to the pronunciation of Japanese people, and recognize the vowel wheather it is long or not.

Vertical writing

Japanese language is basically written in vertical direction.
And the vertical lines are written from right to left.

Therefore, most Japanese books, magazines and newspapers are read from right to left. The same goes for manga or comics.

Of course, Japanese language is able to write horizontally.
The books or magazines containing foreign language, mathematical expression or computer programming language are so.
And the documents made by using word-processing software are also horizontal writing.
Many guide signs in town are almost horizontal writing.

Structure of Japanese language

See the page of Structure of Japanese language.

Some basic conversation in Japanese

  • Kon'nichiwa. (Good afternoon.)
  • Ohayou. (Good morning.)
  • Konbanwa. (Good evening.)
  • Oyasumi. (Good night.)
  • Sayounara. (Good-bye.)
  • Arigatou. (Thank you.)
  • Sumimasen. (Excuse me. / I'm sorry.)
  • Hai. (Yes.)
  • Iie. (No.)
  • ... wa doko desu ka? (Where is ...?)
  • ... e ikitai no desu. (I'd like to go to ...)
  • ... wa arimasu ka? (Do you have a ...? {in a shop})
  • Kore wa ikura desu ka? (How much is this?)
  • Kore wo kudasai. (I'd like this.)
  • Kore wa takai desu. Motto yasuino wa arimasen ka?
    (This is too expensive. Do you have a cheaper one?)

Japanese words for travelers

When you travel in Japan, you must see many Japanese characters.
I have listed the words on the next table.
These are the words which is written on sign or information.
Of course, in many cases you can see the English words.

Main Japanese words for travelers

Some websites about Japanese language

  • Nihongo o hanasukai : The official website of Japanese speaking community in California, US.
  • Learn Japanese : Japanese is considered one of the most difficult languages to learn, if you want to learn Japanese language in a short time, this is the best place.
  • Skype Japanese Lessons : Learn Japanese Lessons online when and where you want.


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