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Introductory Japanese Lessons (3)

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Japanese Writing Systems

The Japanese writing system is totally different from English, because it does not use an alphabet. It may be the most difficult part of Japanese to learn, but I think it is also fun and interesting. There are three different types of writing scripts in Japanese.

  1. Kanji

  2. Hiragana

  3. Katakana

One writes Japanese using a combination of all three. Roughly speaking, kanji represents blocks of meaning (nouns, stems of adjectives and verbs) and hiragana expresses the grammatical relationship between them (endings of adjectives and verbs, particles). Katakana is used for foreign names, the names of foreign places and words of foreign origin. My article, "Katakana in the Matrix" shows you how kanji, hiragana and katakana are used in a sentence.

If you want to learn Japanese writing, start with hiragana and katakana, then kanji. Hiragana and katakana are simpler than kanji, and have only 46 characters each. It is possible to write an entire Japanese sentence in hiragana. For example, many children's books are written in hiragana only. Japanese children start to read and write in hiragana before making an attempt to learn some of the two thousand kanji commonly used.

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