Japanese is a language spoken by more than 130 million people, and most of them are found on the islands distributed near the state of Japan, in the same way there are other parts of the world in which Japanese is practiced, especially in United States, Brazil and Peru.
The fact that Japan is a country considered a great economic power worldwide has increased interest in learning this language, as well as the need to translate it.
There is a Chinese influence in the writing of Japanese, due to its closeness and the diplomatic relations established during the Han Dynasty (Chinese imperial dynasty) with the Yamato (Japanese imperial court).
The Japanese language uses three types of letters or syllabaries, the Kanji , the hiragana and the katakana. Studying Kanji can be a great challenge, but at the same time very fun and stimulating for the brain, in this system the symbols represent the meaning (ideogram) instead of only representing the sound.
For example, a single horizontal line (一) is the kanji for “one.” The kanji for “two” is represented by two lines (二) and the kanji for “three” is three lines (三). It is true that there are many characters to learn in Japanese (children memorize more than a thousand in the first six years of elementary school), it is the beginning to learn the complex Japanese language.
Because the hiragana and katakana syllabaries represent sound (phonetic alphabets), they are a familiar concept to people who come from different linguistic backgrounds. But the kanji offer a new perspective. Since each one has a different meaning, in theory there is a lot to study. But the most frequent characters are soon to be found, and they will stand out like friendly faces, offering their guide to the meaning of the texts we may encounter. Mastering a few helps us better understand the Japanese language as a whole. It is up to each apprentice to target a specific number of kanjis to memorize or not.
The kanji symbols
- Kanji is the symbolic or logographic. It is the most common means of written communication in the Japanese language.
- It has over 50,000 different symbols according to some estimates.
- However, most of the Japanese do not use more than 2000 in their daily communication.
- A single kanji character has endless meanings, depending on how it is pronounced and the context in which it is used.
“Hiragana” and “Katakana”
Hiragana and katakana are phonetic (or syllabic). There are 46 basic characters in each. Hiragana is mainly used to spell words that have Japanese roots or grammatical elements. Katakana is used to spell technical and foreign words (“computer” is an example), or used for emphasis.
The romaji , pronunciation “romayi”, is an approach of the Japanese culture to the western culture. It is transcribed using the Western alphabet and the pronunciation of the Japanese script. The symbols used in Japanese writing have no known meaning to most people in the Western world, so Romaji transcribes Japanese into a format that most Westerners can read and understand.
- In most Japanese advertising, English words are used to emphasize the style.
- Kanji has very efficient and expressive characters which is why it is used in most of the writings.
- By only using hiragana and katakana sentences the texts and scripts would be extremely long and resemble a jumble of letters, not a complete thought. But used in conjunction with kanji , the Japanese language becomes nuanced.
The written forms of kanji originate from China, were first used in Japan as early as 800 AD, and slowly evolved into the modern era, along with hiragana and katakana . Following Japan’s defeat in World War II, the government adopted a series of rules designed to simplify the most common kanji characters to make them easier to learn.
About Japanese writing
Japanese culture is very eclectic, given to combining elements from different sources to create new items, and the best example of this is their writing. When we talk about Japanese writing, we mean a hodgepodge of language coding systems, which says a lot about the eclecticism that characterizes Japanese culture.) Each linguistic code has its specific function.
Elementary students have to learn about 1,000 characters. That number doubles in high school.
The 100 most common kanji characters
These characters are the most used in newspapers, so these are the most useful if you want to learn this language.
kanji character Meaning 日 Sun 一 one 大 great 年 year 中 medium 会 know 人 human being, man, people 本 book 月 moon, month 長 long 国 country 出 go out 上 mobile 十 10 生 life 子 kid 分 minute 東 East 三 three 行 go 同 same 今 now 高 high, expensive 金 money, gold 時 hour 手 hand 見 to see, look 市 town 力 can 米 rice 自 oneself 前 before 円 yen (Japanese currency) 合 to combine 立 rest 内 within 二 two 事 matter 社 company, society 者 person 地 the ground, the place 京 capital 間 interval, between 田 rice field 体 Body 学 for study 下 under 目 eye 五 five 後 after 新 new 明 bright, clear 方 address 部 section . 女 women 八 eight 心 heart 四 four 民 people, nation 対 opposite 主 main, the master 正 Correct 代 to replace, the generation 言 say 九 nine 小 little 思 think 七 Seven 山 mountain 実 real 入 get in 回 to turn around, time 場 place 野 field 開 to open 万 10000 全 everything 定 arrange 家 home 北 north 六 six 問 Question 話 speak 文 letter, writings 動 to move 度 degree, time, every time 県 the prefecture 水 Water 安 cheap, peaceful 氏 courtesy name (Mr., Mrs.) 和 harmonious, peace 政 government, politics 保 to keep, to keep 表 to express, surface 道 road 相 phase, mutual 意 mind meaning 発 to start, to issue 不 No, a-, in- 党 party