Japanese writing systems

Japanese writing systems

Learn the 3 now japanese writing systems used!

Well, if you're here, it's because you want to learn japanese language and therefore it is somehow asking itself, “Where do I begin”.

Well, how about we give it a little push?

The Japanese language consists of three Japanese writing systems (Japanese alphabet), hiragana (ひらがな), katakana (カタカナ) and kanji (漢字).

Article Summary

Hiragana (ひらがな)) Japanese writing system

O hiragana it is the first writing system that the Japanese use when they are learning the language in schools.

With it, you can write ALL words of Japanese origin, without exception. We can think of hiragana as a syllabic alphabet, to which we add a few syllables to form a word.


たまご (たまご)=Egg

ま ど (まど)=Window

Assuming that you can write everything with hiragana, so why not just use it to write?

Why, because that's how the language is. We simply accept the language as it is.

The most frequent question of self-taught students is: “But there are words that cannot be written with hiragana. How do I do it then?”

Katakana writing system (カタカナ)

In fact, there are words that cannot be written with hiragana, these are the foreign words and the onomatopoeias.
Let's try to explain.

The word gas comes from the English meaning gasoline. This is certainly not something that already existed in Japan before foreigners arrived there, so what did they do?

Like hiragana, katakana was created as a more simplified way of writing and reading Japanese.

Thus, children's learning would be faster if they started with these systems and only later moved on to kanji studies.

As many strange sounds were completely out of place within the japanese language, then this separation between hiragana and katakana was made, and some more phonetic sounds were created this second, so that it could support different sounds from foreign languages.

Thus, some sounds were created such as: ヴぃ (vi), ティ (ti) and among others. If we take the Portuguese language, for example, there are many people who have immense difficulty making the th sound of the English language. Therefore, we can understand well why the Japanese need another writing system for these words.

A few words in katakana:

バ ス=Bus (Bus)

ブ ラ ジ ル = Brazil

And yet another application of the katakana alphabet is onomatopoeia.

The famous hits, stomps, punches, kicks, slips, among others that we see in manga and the like.

It is also widely used for such purposes as:

ドン ドン (don don) = Someone knocking at the door

ハハハ (ha ha ha) = Laughter

japanese writing system

This is the basics of these two syllabaries, anything that deviates from that, you can consider as: "There's nothing to do, if the Japanese do it, the way is to accept it!"

For example, the fact that the Japanese have a word in their own language, but prefer to use it with a foreign origin.

In Japanese the word used for milk is ぎゅにゅ (gyunyu), but some Japanese (generally younger) prefer to “Americanize” and speak ミルク (miruku) or milk.

See that doesn't make sense?

You're not going to pick a fight with a Japanese guy telling them to stop talking miruku, just because they have a word in their own language to say that. It's no use! Incorporating words from other languages is something almost unstoppable in today's society.

The way is to learn that it is spoken in both ways and when you hear them, to know that they are the same thing.

And finally, to finish the katakana.

You will see words of Japanese origin written in katakana in some very specific cases, like to emphasize something.

Let's say a newspaper reports a terrible death and they want to emphasize the word しぬ (shinu) which is death. So they write it as シヌ (shinu).

It's not entirely uncommon. In fact, it happens a lot on the news and signs of establishments that want to draw your attention to a special dish or something they are selling, or even “do not enter, danger” warnings.

"But how am I supposed to know when it's a Japanese word written in katakana?"

Once again, there is nothing to be done. Open your mind and let the content in and when you least expect it, you will read everything as if it were one thing.

Kanji writing system(漢字)

Finally, the most anticipated, the Kanji.
There are studies that indicate that there may be more than 10,000 kanji.

But don't despair!

There is one list called Joyou Kanji, where the kanji most used in everyday life are listed. This list contains about 1945 kanji that are approved by the Ministry of Education and are taught in Japanese schools.

With this kanji base, you can easily read a newspaper.

Yes, it's a lot, but it's improved a lot, right?

Any kanji that are outside this list, i.e. the countless others still remaining to reach 10,000, are commonly used furigana.

That is, on top of the kanji it is used in hiragana with phonetic reading so that the person does not get lost.

Yes, the Japanese have that concern, so don't worry about the other 8,000 kanji, as no Japanese actually memorizes all 10,000, they will also need a helping hand.

It is good to point out that Kanji do not just represent words, but ideas and concepts as well.

I meet many people who want to know the meaning of this or that kanji and when you don't know how to explain it in a satisfactory way, you run the risk of the person thinking you don't know any Japanese.

So, do not stick to the exact translation of each kanji, there is not always an equivalent word for Portuguese for a given kanji.

It won't always be possible. It's best to always keep an open mind about it and when you have an equivalent word like 食べる (eat), great.

But when you don't, try to broaden your mind to find the best way to try to translate this into your language without losing too much in the process.

Sometimes, you will need an entire sentence in Portuguese to be able to define a single kanji, and other times, the opposite.

And the last question.

Yes, the text got long.

“Each kanji has different readings, what do I do to memorize them all?”

Okay, let's remember that the internet is very good at confusing people's heads. Especially when it comes to tables.

So, we can find several scattered around the internet with just one kanji and dozens of readings.


If you stick to memorizing all of them, you will inevitably not be able to memorize more than 200 or 300 kanji, but if you make an effort to understand words and phrases it will be much easier.
Let me give you a personal example.

In one day I discovered that:

冷たい (tsumetai) is cold.

In another, I found that:

冷凍 (reitou) is to freeze.

In another, I found that:

冷蔵庫 (reizouko) is refrigerator.

Note that each one, even if it has another kanji or not, in some cases, has a slightly different reading. All are with this kanji 冷.

Now if you ask me, what does this kanji mean by itself. Well, I confess that I will have to do some research to answer you.

But does it really matter?

I mean, I know three words with him. And if by any chance I see it being used in some other word, from the general context of what the other words are usually in, I can deduce its meaning.

And this is how it gradually follows with kanji, which in many language schools is treated as a villain, where the person sometimes spends hours and hours to learn just one, and forget it in a few minutes.

Good studies and see you later!