Language, writing

The Japanese Writing Systems


Since this a collection of all of my Japanese language and culture knowledge, I thought I should probably start with the writing systems in order for those who don’t know how to read Japanese can gain a bit more understanding for when start posting writing practice. I will try to go over each writing system briefly in this post and go into more detail in separate posts shortly.


The Japanese writing system has three different sets: hiragana, katakana, and kanji. Hiragana and katakana are what is considered to be syllabaries, meaning that each character represents a syllable. These were created from kanji to represents sound made in the Japanese language.

First: ひらがな Hiragana

Hiragana is typically used for native Japanese words or grammatical aspects of the language and can be identified by the cursive appearance of the characters. For example, ‘sushi’ has two syllables and, therefore, has two characters (すし) 「sushi」 that represent that word using hiragana.

Second: カタカナ Katakana

Katakana is used for words that are not native to Japan, such as loanwords, foreign or scientific names, as well as for emphasis on other words. For example, ピザ「piza」 (pizza) is a word borrowed and slightly changed to fit with the Japanese language. Katakana is more angular with the appearance of the characters with more straight lines and fewer loops than hiragana.

Third: 漢字 Kanji

There are over 50,000 kanji used in Japan. However, students are typically required to learn a little more than 2,000 of them the more common ones. These are usually used to differentiate homophones and tend to shorten the sentences but can be very complicated with the number of strokes required per character. For example, 一 「ichi」 (one) takes up only one space and requires only one stroke while 銀 「gin」 (silver) takes up and shrinks the necessary space by the same amount but require many more strokes than the previous one.

It is very common to see all three systems within one sentence. For example, in my first post, I started it off with a few sentences in Japanese.

今日は!「ベンキョウ・ブログ」へようこそ! ジェスです。よろしくお願いします。

The first and fourth sentences contain a mixture of kanji and hiragana while the second and third sentences contain katakana and hiragana. The first and last sentence are typically phrases used in Japanese which is why kanji and hiragana are both used. The third sentence has my name written in katakana because it’s a foreign word. The second sentence contains katakana because it has the name of my blog. The first word in the name of my blog is a Japanese word but I chose to write it out in katakana for emphasis.

If there are questions or something that I didn’t explain clearly, please let me know and I’ll try to correct it as soon as possible.

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