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How To Write In Japanese

Posted by Ken Cannon


Are the Japanese, thieves?
Ken Cannon here,

Ok I want to make this as basic as possible for people who really don’t know what the hell is going on with all those squiggly lines.

Now as this obviously doesn’t serve much of a purpose for anime, it is important if you’re fond of Manga. And in general I believe all learners of Japanese even if they only wish to learn for anime purposes should learn to write. Simply because the Japanese writing system has some wicked awesome insights to the actual spoken language, for instance why you say certain things, plus it just looks cool, and you can laugh at your friends when they get a tattoo that says something that they didn’t want it to.

Alright to break it down the Japanese have 3 different writing system (don’t get happy yet, it gets better)

First they have an alphabet of 46 like we do that spell/sound things out.

Hiragana  = ひらがな

Second, they have a second version of the same exact alphabet. (the Japanese are real efficiency experts…)

Katakana = カタカナ

The reason for this is that Japanese apparently were even more sexist than me at one point (I’m just kidding, I was always more sexist)

So the hiragana being more curvy and cursive in appearance was adopted by women, where the more “official” katakana was reserved for the obviously superior men.

And then a couple hundred years later men realized that they couldn’t make women be with them by sticking a giant samurai sword to their throat anymore, and that they had to actually be nice to them (I still have my samurai sword though… just in case…) So they let them use their writing system.

Anyways, then there’s the third writing system, the dreaded....

Kanji = 漢字


The Kanji are actually stolen Chinese characters (Now you know the real purpose of the ninja, writing system robbers!)

Ok, the real history of how the Japanese started using the Chinese character is actually shrouded in mystery because the records for this time period… well didn’t exist (this was before they stole the characters remember?)

And in the process of this grand thievery the Japanese had to change a lot of the meanings and pronunciations of the characters. So in essence they effectively made the two thousand plus blobs of lines even more confusing.

Now the hiragana and katakana I talked about earlier are simplified versions of the original Chinese characters. Or it might be better to say they are kanji “inspired. Since they are nothing like them anymore and only resemble them in appearance.

And as I said the hiragana and katakana are an alphabet of sorts like in English. The kanji on the other hand actually have no sounds attached to them and can’t be sounded out.  So you won’t be seeing any "Hooked on Phonics" – Kanji Edition.

Instead each one has a unique meaning attached to them, and the way to pronounce them changes on what other characters are around them, and the situation.

So in case you’re wondering, yes there is a katakana, hiragana, and a kanji version to pronounce every single word in the Japanese dictionary. However nowadays katakana is mainly used to depict English "loan" words (..they call them loan words because they don't want another repeat of the kanji incident..)

As for the reason for this ancient torture method and exactly how it all works, you’ll have to wait till tomorrow, since I haven’t slept since last week and my eyes are starting to bleed.

:'( (…that’s not a tear…)

Ken Cannon

16 comments:

  1. I have learned the Hiragana and some basic Kanji. Do you think I should bother learning Katakana?

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  2. I never knew that they originally designed the writing systems for woman and men separately. The more I learn Japanese the weirder they seem.

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  3. I think you should... but I honestly think it can be saved for much later. Now of course that depends on your priorities. If you're really eager to get into some JP literature then nevermind. But from the sounds of it, you really should focus on other, more important things first.

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  4. And yeah they're pretty weird, almost take the weird crown from me, but not quite.

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  5. Agreed, with all the different things about their literature, culture, anime and also formal and informal JP speaking it is very easy to get distracted.

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  6. And you should stay weird. Even with all the different study material out there your video clips are by far the most entertaining and most relevant to anime.

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  7. Nice. Never knew about the whole female vs male character writing thing. Interesting.
    I already know both hiragana and katakana and about 100 kanji.
    Isn't katakana used to loan words from other languages in general - not just English? (like パン is portuguese)

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  8. Yes! you're absolutely right, I suppose I just forgot about that since around 70% of loan words are from English, especially the more recent ones. Most other languages loans words came much earlier in the century.

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  9. thanks for all the awesome help you are cannon-san, and ihave been learning for using the techniquies and reasons u have!
    i tried learning japanese in my free time(still do) but i'm actually taking a chinese class in school, it's so awesome to be able to understand what some of the characters say just from studing japanese first...

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  10. Actually, women were forbidden from learning Kanji for a long time, as I understand it, and they picked up hiragana so they could write "pillow stories" some of which are used as children's bedtime stories while others are used to inspire men during ... (Yes, I'm leaving that blank as I'm not sure of the G-- PG-- R rating of this room).
    Remember, there was a class of women in not too distant past of the Japanese that entertained Samurai and men, and to some extent they are still around.

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  11. Your videos are very entertaining! I watch a lot of anime and it has inspired me to learn some Japanese of my own. Your funny way of teaching is very helpful, Ken-sensei!

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  12. @Anonymous, Thanks! I'm totally glad I could help :)

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  13. I thought it was the Kanji/Chinese that was considered men's writing instead of Katakana and that Katakana came in later (although Katakana was based from Chinese). I don't think Kanji was stolen from China though, more like it was necessary in order to deal with international politics.

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  14. Is it just me or does Japanese get weirder and weirder by the lesson???-.- -_-

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