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How exactly do you learn to read/write japanese?


23 Jul 2010
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I'm somewhat confused as to how this all works.
I know there's Kanji, Hiragana, and Katakana. And I'm assuming you need to know all these in order to read semi fluently.

Someone told me that all the words in the Japanese language have their own specific symbol for writing, and that in order to write in Japanese, you need to memorize somewhere between 50-100,000 characters? Is this true?

The reason why I say this is because I just got my textbook for the Japanese college course I'm taking and it has a list of sounds (There's a list of Hiragana sounds and a list of Katakana sounds...)

It seems like the entire book is written with these two systems. (If there's an example section with the sentence "I am not a student.", it is written with the hiragana symbols wa+ta+shi wa ga+ku+se+i )

any reason why they're not in Katakana? I guess the main question is when do you use the different types of script?

(I'm sorry, I really know nothing about the Japanese writing system so I'm sorry if I come off extremely stupid. )

Angel Valis

15 Jul 2010
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Yes, to get around you'll need to know all three writing systems.

A brief run down:
Hiragana is used mainly to write inflectional endings for words (called okurigana) and words that don't have (or generally use) kanji.

Katakana is used mainly to write foreign words like hamburger (hanbaagaa) and such. It's also sometimes used as a form of italicization as emphasis, [EDIT:] and for onomatopoeia (oh my, I spelled that right the first time ha ha).

Kanji are used for nouns and the non-inflectional parts of verbs and adjectives. There are about 2000 kanji approved for daily use in newspapers and books. Usually when someone uses a lesser known kanji, they will write furigana next to it (small hiragana characters used to let the reader know how to read the kanji).

So no, you don't need to memorize nearly 50,000 characters. Only about 2000 or so. If you were learning Chinese you'd have to learn a lot more since Chinese is written completely in kanji (well I doubt they call them kanji but I digress).

All words can be written in hiragana, but kanji are used to differentiate homophones....or are they homonyms? I can never remember (EDIT: In Japanese they're homonyms, but that includes homophones anyway so yay)....ANYWAY....a popular sentence to demonstrate the need for kanji is:

niwa niwa niwa niwa ga imasu.
There are two hens in the garden.

That's kinda hard to understand huh? If you were with someone who was pointing to two hens in a garden it would be easy to understand through context. But if it was written without a lot of extra contextual information given, it's pretty much incomprehensible.

However, with kanji (and unfortunately I don't know the kanji in this sentence, so I'm just letting the IME [with help from google translate :(] choose for me...so if anyone wants to post the correct ones, I'd appreciate it; I'm just using this as a visual example):


I really hope that's right...I really don't like posting incorrect information....but I think it serves to show that as long as you know each kanji you'd be able to discern the correct meaning of the sentence.

I hope this helps and that you continue studying Japanese. It's a really beautiful language and it's fun to learn. Just don't let yourself become overwhelmed.
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8 Jan 2004
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I wanted to add, too (but couldn't at the time), that the kana for the above version is にわにはにわにわとりがいる.


17 Jul 2007
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This reminds me of the fun little saying, "Toasters don't toast toast, toast toast toast."


22 Feb 2008
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more complex (and I believe more common) one;-)

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