Japanese writing

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Japanese writing
Font Logography and syllabary
languages Japanese
Usage time Max. 5th century to date
Used in Japan , Angaur
Officially in JapanJapan Japan Palau (on Angaur )
Unicode block U + 4E00 – U + 9FBF Kanji
U + 3040 – U + 309F Hiragana
U + 30A0 – U + 30FF Katakana
ISO 15924 Jpan (general)
Hira (Hiragana)
Kana (Katakana)
Hrkt (Hiragana + Katakana)
Kana and Kanji in calligraphy exercises from Kyoto

The Japanese script consists of several scripts . The Japanese writing system uses Kanji , Kana and Romaji functionally equally alongside each other as script . The Kanji (Japanese 漢字 ) come from the Chinese script (Chinese 漢字  /  汉字 , Hànzì ) and, as logograms, usually depict the root of the word. Kana, d. H. Hiragana (Japanese 平 仮 名 or ひ ら が な ) and Katakana (Japanese 片 仮 名 or カ タ カ ナ ), on the other hand, are syllabary scripts (more precisely Morales scripts ) from the historical Man'yōgana , which is derived from the Chinese " grass script " (also conceptual script ). Another script used in the modern Japanese language is the Latin alphabet , which in Japan is called Rōmaji (Japanese ロ ー マ 字 ). Numbers are written using Kanji or Arabic numerals .

The different fonts have specific functions (e.g. Hiragana often for grammatical forms, Katakana mainly for foreign words, Kanji often for the meaningful content). This historically grown complex script culture with the various scripts is used in parallel in everyday texts.

Spelling and direction

Advertising poster from 1938 with three directions of writing. At the top, the name of the product in a left-handed manner: ン ミ タ ィ ヴ 研 理 ( n mi ta vi ken ri ), on the bottle shown the same name to the right: 理 研 ヴ ィ タ ミ ン ( ri ken vi ta mi n ), on the box next to it from top to bottom.

In Japanese, words are usually strung together without spaces and separated at almost any point at the end of a line or column without a hyphen (depending on the "rule", however, not directly before a punctuation mark or a small kana). The characters are written in imaginary squares of the same size: Unlike z. For example, in the Latin script, where an “i” is much narrower than an “m”, each character (including punctuation marks) is given the same amount of space, so there is a little more space around narrower or smaller characters . However, proportional fonts are often used in typesetting , so that a in a vertical type no longer takes up a square.

In traditional Japanese, as in classic Chinese , the letters are written from top to bottom, with the columns lined up from right to left. This writing style is used today for literary texts, newspaper articles and manga .

( Non-factual ) texts that contain many Rōmaji ( Latin characters ), as well as (horizontal) signs are nowadays mostly written in horizontal lines from left to right according to the Western model - only with historical name signs of old buildings or the like. You can still occasionally see the traditional horizontal writing from right to left today. Vehicles and ships are sometimes labeled to the left on the right and clockwise on the left. In newspapers, both horizontal and vertical writing directions occur, sometimes mixed.



Yamada ( 山田 ) Tarō ( 太郎 ) - Japanese personal name in Kanjis

Kanji (Japanese. 漢字 ) means Han characters , with " Han " (Ch.  /  ), Japanese reading " Kan " (Jap. ), as a synonym for China and Chinese stands.

To understand the following, it is helpful to know that Japanese and Chinese are neither related nor typologically similar.

The writing itself, in the form of Chinese characters, came to Japan via Korea from the 5th century at the latest. Originally, texts were recorded in pure Chinese, the so-called Kanbun , a style that was used with reading aids, starting with the Setsuwa literature of the 9th century, for official documents in a modified form until the end of World War II .

The Kanji (in contrast to the Kana) have their own meaning and are also known as logograms , which in turn can be divided into three groups: Pictograms , ideograms and phonograms . Many Kanji are composed of several (often two) reduced characters. Those ideograms among these components which often stand for the core meaning of the respective Kanji and according to which they are arranged in Kanji lexicons are called radicals or Bushu ; the other element in two-part characters often denotes the original Chinese pronunciation, which is generally not identical to the Japanese pronunciation (s). As a result, a relatively small number of their own Japanese kanji were developed, the so-called "national characters" (more precisely: "national characters") or Kokuji , such as B. (dō, German work ), (tsuji, German road crossing ) and (tōge, German mountain pass ).

Many kanji have two or more different readings that can be grouped into two groups:

  • The on-yomi (literally: "sound reading") is also called a Sino-Japanese reading (in which three subgroups are distinguished according to the time of reception). It was derived from Chinese (it is a variant of the original Chinese pronunciation of the sign that has been adapted to the Japanese phonetic system) and is therefore often referred to as the Chinese reading . The ON-yomi is mostly (but not always) used when a character is combined with other kanji to form a compound word. ON-yomi are usually given in pronunciation lists (e.g. in lexica) with katakana , in Latin such lists are often in capital letters.
  • The kun-yomi (literally: "term reading") is also called a purely Japanese reading. Such a reading is usually a Japanese hereditary word (which does not come from Chinese), for which the character has only been adopted for its meaning, but not for its sound. This reading is mostly (but not always) used when a Kanji stands alone and forms a whole word by itself. In pronunciation lists, kun-yomi are usually reproduced using hiragana , and when the lists are written in Latin, they are often written in lower case.

Almost all kanji, with the exception of a few kokuji, have one or more on readings, but not all have kun readings. The often several different on-readings of a single sign arose from the fact that many characters were taken over several times at different times from different parts of China, and thus also the different pronunciations of the character in the different Chinese languages . Which of the readings is to be used depends on the Kanji combination in which the character appears.

It is said in Japanese legends (10th book of Nihon Shoki ) that a Chinese scholar named Achiki ( 阿 直 岐 , Korean Ajikgi ) working in Baekje (Japanese Kudara), a state in what is now Korea, in the 15th year of the emperor Ōjin (corrected date: 404) was sent to Japan and became the teacher of the heir to the throne Uji no Waka-iratsuko ( 菟 道 稚 郎 子 ). On Achiki's recommendation, the scholar Wani ( 王仁 , Korean Wang-in , Chinese Wang-ren ) was invited to the court of the Yamato Empire and was invited by Aredawake and Kamu-nagi-wake in the spring of the second month of the 16th year (under Ōjin) brought over from Baekje.

Wani brought the Chinese characters to Japan in the late 4th century to teach Confucianism , and in the process brought the Chinese books Analects of Confucius and the Thousand Character Classic to Japan. Wani is mentioned in the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki. It is unclear whether Wani was really alive or just a fictional person, because the version of the thousand-character classic known today was created later, during the reign of Emperor Liang Wu Di (502-549). Some scholars believe that Chinese works found their way to Japan as early as the 3rd century. What is certain is that by the 5th century AD at the latest, the Kanji were imported in several waves from different parts of China. Today the classical spelling of Chinese texts for Japan is called Kanbun .

After the Second World War, the number of "characters commonly used in everyday life" was set by the Ministry of Education to 1850, in 1981 to 1945 and 2010 to 2136 ( Tōyō - or Jōyō -Kanji ), which are also taught in schools. Official texts and many newspapers limit themselves to these signs and reproduce all other terms in Cana. There are also about 580 more so-called Jinmeiyō Kanji , which are only official for use in Japanese proper names.

The Kanji basically correspond to the traditional Chinese characters . However, some characters were simplified with the Tōyō reform, in a similar way, but less radically, than the abbreviations in the Chinese writing reform of 1955 .

In total there are more than 50,000 Kanji, the majority of which are uncommon. It is not uncommon for educated Japanese people to master more than 5000 Kanji (at least passively), which is particularly necessary for reading literary texts. In some professions that have been taught since ancient times, such as law, medicine or Buddhist theology, mastery of up to 1,000 other Kanji that play a role in this area is required. However, these are technical terms. Modern professional fields such as science and technology usually write their technical terms in Katakana or in Latin script.

Japanese texts for adults can be “cross-read” at high speed if necessary. Since the main content is written with Kanji and complex terms can be represented with only a few Kanji, one can quickly grasp the meaning of a text by jumping from Kanji to Kanji, ignoring the other character systems. On the other hand, one can see from the total proportion and the level of difficulty of the Kanji of a text for which age or educational group it was preferably written.

Due to the strong Chinese influence on Korea , Kanji ( Kor.Hanja ) were traditionally also used in Korea, but since the Kabo reform at the end of the 19th century these have been largely (in North Korea completely) replaced by the Hangeul characters.

Overall, the number of Kanji used is decreasing more and more, which may also be due to the fact that, due to the electronic writing aids of Japanese word processing systems that are available today, the younger Japanese can still read them, but are increasingly unable to write the less common Kanji by hand. In numerous print media, the associated kana ( furigana ) are now printed using complicated kanji .

Commons : Chinese characters  - album with pictures, videos and audio files


The development of their own Japanese script by writers and scholars began around 600 when the Chinese characters were reduced to their phonetic value. The phonetic word sound of the Chinese words was used, but the actual meaning of the symbols used in this way was neglected. This was initially used to reproduce Japanese place names and personal names.

Around 760 the first anthology of Japanese-language poetry Man'yōshū appeared , in which the characters translated into Japanese were used according to their sound, i.e. as phonetic transcription. Based on this anthology, this type of writing was called Man'yōgana. Kana or in combinations -gana comes from kari na 'borrowed names' (cf. loan word ).

At this point, however, the problems with this document also came to light. The phonetic signs, some of which sound very similar, were not used according to a certain system, but according to their appearance. The design of the font and the aesthetic effects achieved with it played a decisive role for the poets. Because of this, not only were the Man'yōgana used by feeling, there was also a mixture of Man'yōgana and Chinese ideograms. Since the two do not differ in their external form, it is difficult for the reader to recognize whether the characters are to be interpreted in terms of their phonetic or content-related meaning. Furthermore, this type of writing was very time-consuming and complicated. The often multi-syllable Japanese words each required several complicated Chinese characters.

The court at the time, however, saw no need for the development of a uniform and simple writing system despite these problems of the still immature writing system, which could not be dismissed out of hand. Chinese poetry was still a great model for the educated, so it was part of the good style of the time to write your poems in Chinese. The Man'yōgana were not respected by the elite and, according to their conception of poetry, were only suitable for writing diaries, notes or love letters.


It was not until the 9th century that a separate Japanese syllable or, more precisely, Morescript, the so-called Kana (Japanese 仮 名 / 仮 字 / 假名 ) emerged. They are syllable alphabets in which the individual, highly simplified characters do not have an independent meaning, but rather represent sounds and combinations of sounds. The subdivision of Japanese syllables into time units ( moras ) is shown in the script by the fact that in addition to syllables from a vowel or a consonant with a following vowel, the second part of a long vowel or diphthong , the syllable ending sound n and the stuffing sound are reproduced in their own kana.

The necessary changes were made in Japan by the Buddhist monk Kūkai , which initiated the development of the kana, the syllable writing. Kūkai was one of the most important religious teachers. He is still revered by the Japanese today because he not only had a great religious influence on the development of Japan, but was also a gifted poet and one of the first linguists in Japan. Japan owes its own script to Kūkai.

In 804, Kūkai was taught Sanskrit by two Indian masters in order to be able to read in the original language the sutras , which are studied in Japan to this day mainly in Chinese translation. During this time he learned the syllabary Siddham in which the sutras have been written. After returning to Japan, he began to translate the Sanskrit texts into Japanese as accurately as possible. The pronunciation of the sutras, however, can only be reproduced very imprecisely due to the Chinese transcription; Japanese syllables are more suitable for a more precise pronunciation, as Japanese has a greater variety of syllables due to the many polysyllabic words.

In his Shingon school, one of the most important Buddhist movements in Japan, he imparted his knowledge of Sanskrit texts with the help of phonetic signs. After his death in 835 his teaching continued.

As a result, the phonetic signs were increasingly used in writing. Writing in phonetic transcription became common around 900, encouraged by Japanese poets who wrote down their works with phonetic signs. This in turn ensured that Japanese literature began to break away from Chinese.

During this time there was also a simplification of the Manyogana, which until then still had the form of the complex Chinese characters. The characters were shortened and abraded.

Since a certain character prevailed for every syllable in Japanese, it came about at the end of the 10th and beginning of the 11th century that the syllable characters were arranged in an alphabet by monks. This fifty-lute table is still common today.

In the 12th century, Chinese characters and syllable characters were linked so that they complemented each other and corresponded to the grammatical conditions of the language. The Japanese writing system in its usual form came into being. The Kanji are used for the root of the nouns, verbs and adjectives, the grammatical form of the words is clarified by adding Japanese phonetic signs.

The resulting syllabic scripts are summarized under the term Kana and can be divided into the so-called Hiragana and Katakana due to certain differences in the typeface as well as in the creation and use .

See also: derivation table of the kana signs


Development of the Hiragana from Man'yōgana
The hiragana symbol for the syllable mu

Hiragana ( ひ ら が な or 平 仮 名 ) were developed in the 9th century and were first used mainly by aristocratic women, as both the study of the Chinese language and learning the Kanji were considered inappropriate for women. Hiragana are polished italic forms of the Man'yōgana described above, so they appear relatively simple and rounded. Over the years, a single character for every possible Japanese syllable prevailed. This was arranged in an alphabet that was systematically built up on the model of the Siddham script of the Sanskrit of that time , the only alphabetic script that was known to some scholars in Japan through Buddhism . This alphabet, the fifty-sound table , is still used today in Japan for alphabetical order, for example in dictionaries; Words written in Kanji or Katakana are classified according to their hiragana transcription. In addition, there have historically continued to be written variants of the hiragana, which are known as hentaigana (deviant kana).

Japanese children read and write everything first in hiragana, which is already learned in preschool, before they gradually and gradually move on to learning the kanji from the first grade onwards (example: ひ ら が な means hiragana written in hiragana and 平 仮 名 means hiragana written in kanji). In adult texts, hiragana is mainly used for prefixes and suffixes, for grammatical particles ( okurigana ) and for those Japanese words for which there is no kanji or for which the kanji is so rare that one should use it with consideration for the reader don't want to use. Many hiragana are also used in private letters, as it is considered impolite to try to impress the recipient with your own education.

When using little-known or not yet learned Kanji (e.g. in school books) as well as irregular pronunciation, the correct pronunciation is written in the form of small hiragana over (with vertical spelling to the right of) the corresponding character. Such hiragana are called furigana ( ふ り が な ).

Commons : Hiragana  - album with pictures, videos and audio files


The katakana symbol for the syllable mu

Katakana ( カ タ カ ナ or 片 仮 名 ) were developed by Buddhist monks , especially the Shingon sect, and initially served as a reading aid for Chinese religious texts as well as a kind of shorthand that was used to take notes in religious lectures. They are mostly created from individual elements of complicated Kanji and are particularly simply shaped and angular. Due to their futuristic appearance, they are sometimes used outside of Japan for design effects or even for science fiction films (e.g. the green character cascades that run across the screen in the films of the Matrix trilogy consist of numbers and mirror-inverted characters Katakana).

Today katakana are mainly used for emphasis, similar to the italic letters in German. Advertisements , manga, and consumer goods labels use a corresponding number of katakana.

They are also used for loan words and names from other languages ​​for which there are no Chinese characters. In recent years, artist and place names from Korean and Chinese have also been predominantly represented with katakana in order to follow the original when pronouncing them. For people of political life and history who are mostly significant in written use, the adoption of the Chinese (Kanji) characters remains common - for example, Máo Zédōng ( Chinese  毛澤東  /  毛泽东 , W.-G. Máo Tsê-tung ) is called "Mō Takutō" in Japan ( Japanese 毛 沢 東 も う た く と う ), corresponding to the Japanese pronunciation of the Kanji of his name. Here the name "Máo Zédōng" following the original high Chinese pronunciation in - Katakana マ オ ・ ツ ォ ー ト ン , Hiragana ま お ・ つ ぉ ー と ん , after Shinjitai - Kanji 毛 沢 東 , each mao-tsō-ton .

When using Katakana, on the other hand, the foreign-language word is not converted using the original spelling, but only according to the pronunciation, so that, for example, from Toys “R” Us into Katakana ト イ ザ ラ ス ( to-i-za-ra-su , toi-za-rasu ) becomes.

Scientific names of animals and plants are also written with katakana, although there has been a certain trend back to Kanji notation in recent years. In language teaching, katakana indicate the on-reading of a kanji.

Commons : Katakana  - album with pictures, videos and audio files

See also: Gairaigo - Japanese transliteration or loan words from abroad


The Rōmaji ( ロ ー マ 字 , Roman (= Latin) characters ) is the Latin alphabet .

The Latin characters came mainly by Portuguese Jesuit missionaries to Japan, which shortly after the landing of the first Europeans in the year 1544 traveled to the country in order to spread their faith . In 1590 the first printing press was brought from Portugal to Japan. These and other established presses produced kirishitanban (Christian prints) for twenty years , which were written in Latin, Portuguese, or Romanized Japanese.

After that, the Rōmaji disappeared almost completely from Japan due to the political climate and only regained importance after the country opened up . The American doctor and missionary Dr. James Curtis Hepburn wrote the first Japanese-English dictionary in 1867 , the waei gorin shūsei ( 和 英語 林集成 ), and developed a Latin transcription system for it, the Hepburn system named after him .

Rōmaji are used today for marketing purposes, because the Japanese written in Rōmaji is supposed to have a particularly modern and international effect, and are used to transcribe Japanese signs so that foreigners can find their way around better. Since all students in Japan also learn English, so do all of them learn Rōmaji. There are three recognized systems of transcription of Japanese scripts according to Rōmaji: In addition to the Hepburn system , which is most widely used in practice, there is also the Nippon system and the Kunrei system . The Nippon system is a modified form of the Hepburn system and standardized according to ISO 3602 Strict . The Kunrei system is in turn a modified form of the Nippon system and standardized according to ISO 3602 . There are also a few other transcription systems that are less important, e.g. B. JSL . Since these are usually derived from one of the recognized systems, they can be read by those familiar with another system without major problems.

Vowels with expansion symbols (ā, ī, ū, ē, ō) have only been able to be represented on computers without problems since the spread of Unicode . Most of the character sets previously used, such as ISO 8859-1 , did not contain them. Likewise, most computer systems do not support native input of these characters, which is why they are practically not used in the non-professional field. A spelling has therefore been established on the Internet that is based on Hepburn, but instead consistently uses vowel doubling instead of vowels with stretch marks. In this way, phonetic unambiguous assignment of the words remains possible, which would no longer exist if the expansion symbols were simply omitted.

Differences between the Japanese Romanization Systems
to transcribe Hepburn ISO 3602 JSL wāpuro
original modified Strict: Nihon Loose: Kunrei
-a + a aa ā (aa) * - â aa aa
-i + i ii ii ī î ii ii
-u + u ū (uu) ** ū (uu) ** ū û uu uu
-e + i ( Japanese ) egg egg egg egg egg egg
-e + i ( sino-jap. ) egg egg ē ê egg egg
-e + e ee ē (ee) * ē ê ee ee
-o + u ō (ou) ** ō (ou) ** O O ou / oo ou
-o + o ō (oo) * ō (oo) * O O oo oo
Expansion symbol ー ¯ ¯ ¯ ^ Vowel doubling -
さ, サ sa sa sa sa sa sa
ざ, ザ za za za za za za
し, シ shi shi si si si shi, si
ち, チ chi chi ti ti ti chi, ti
ず, ズ to to to to to to
つ, ツ tsu tsu do do do tsu, do
ふ, フ fu fu hu hu hu fu, hu
づ, ヅ to to you to you you
じ, ジ ji ji zi zi zi ji, zi
ぢ, ヂ ji ji di zi di di
ら, ラ ra ra ra ra ra ra
わ, ワ wa wa wa wa wa wa
を, ヲ O O Where o / where Where Where
や, ヤ ya ya ya ya ya ya
ん, ン before m *, b *, p * m n n n n
ん, ン before a, i, u, e, o, y *, n * n / n- n '(n at n *) n ' n ' n ' nn, n '
Darning sound (っ, ッ) (First) consonant doubling, but cch → tch (First) consonant doubling
Particle は wa wa Ha wa wa Ha
Particle へ e e hey e e hey
Noun big No No may may No may
Emphasis No No No No ´, `, ^ No
* When there is a word boundary between the two letters.
** If there is a word boundary between the two letters or the combination is the end of a verb in the final form.

Rōmaji have become the standard method for computer input for the Japanese , as almost all computers in Japan have English keyboards. To write in Japanese on a Japanese computer, the individual syllables are usually spelled in Rōmaji, which initially appear on the screen as kana. This romanization is called wāpuro rōmaji (from English word processor ). Essentially, both Hepburn and Kunrei and Nippon Romanizations are accepted. Special features of this system are that long vowels are entered with two vowel characters according to their kana notation and that small kana can be entered with a preceding x .

For the entered syllables, the computer offers a list of possible Kanji or Kanji combinations from which you can choose the correct term. After confirmation, the syllables will be replaced with the selected term.

Fifty Lute Chalkboard

The alphabetical order of the syllables, as used in Japanese telephone books or encyclopedias, follows the lines of the " 50-sound table ", which is called gojūon in Japanese and which in turn is based on the arrangement of the sounds in Sanskrit and Brahmi script going back.

Both Hiragana and Katakana do not have exactly 50, but 46 basic kana (even sounds) . Up to 1945 there were 48 each; since an initial w- was no longer articulated except in the syllable wa , the characters for wi and we ( and or and ) were abolished and replaced by the vowels i and e ( and or and ) replaced. Only the where ( or ) remained in spite of the same pronunciation as the vowel o , but only in its function as a particle for the accusative object, since it provides a valuable service for quickly grasping the structure of sentences; since this particle is always written in hiragana ( ), the katakana wo ( ) has also been abolished in practice, it appears practically only in katakana tables. All other uses of where have been replaced by o .

The characters that have not been used since 1945 are placed in round brackets in the following table. The bracketed (w) indicate that an (English) w was spoken there earlier, but no longer in today's Japanese.

50-lute table (even lute)
K. Transcription ( Hepburn ) Hiragana Katakana
- a i u e O
K ka ki ku ke ko
S. sa shi see below se so
T ta chi tsu te to
N n / A ni nu no no
H Ha Hi fu hey ho
M. ma mi must me mo
Y ya yu yo
R. ra ri ru re ro
W. wa (w) i (w) e (Where ( ) ( ) ( ) ( )
Ń n


Two accented characters and smaller attached vowel letters have been used systematically since around 1945, previously only in cases of doubt and at the scribe's whim. In alphabetical order, they are assigned to the corresponding unaccented characters.

Voicing - opacity

Some kana can be changed by adding two small dashes ( ) - dakuten 濁 点 or nigori , ugs. Ten ten - or a small circle ( ) - handakuten 半 濁 点 or maru - in the pronunciation to add more syllables receive. Dakuten (Nigori) makes the sound voiced or "clouded". Handakuten (Maru) transforms h ( f ) into p and is therefore only used with characters from the h series. Thus, by means of Dakuten, kg , s ( ts ) → z ¹, td , h ( f ) → b and ch ( sh ) → j . With hand acute (Maru), on the other hand, h ( f ) becomes p in the h series .

  • Using Dakuten (Nigori) from kg - example: = = ka = = ga , for example in "hira ga na" - ひ ら が な - 平 仮 名 ( German  Hiragana - Japanese Moral script )
  • Using Dakuten (Nigori) from h ( f ) → b - example: = = hu ( fu ) → = = bu , for example in "kon bu " - こ ん ぶ - 昆布 ( German  Konbu - edible seaweed )
  • Using Dakuten (Nigori) from h ( f ) → b - example: = = ho = = bo , for example in "san bo " - さ ん ぼ う - 三宝 ( German  three treasures - of Buddhism )
  • Using hand acute (Maru) from h ( f ) → p - example: = = hu ( fu ) → = = pu , for example in "on pu " - お ん ぷ - 音符 ( German  music note )
  • Using hand acute (Maru) from h ( f ) → p - example: = = ho = = po , for example in "ho ip po " - ほ ・ い っ ぽ - 歩 一 歩 ( German  step by step - adverb )
  • Using Dakuten (Nigori) from s ( ts ) → z ¹– Example: = = su = = zu , for example in "su zu me" - す ず め - ( German  sparrow )
  • Using Dakuten (Nigori) from td - example: = = ta = = da , for example in "hane da " - は ね だ - 羽 田 ( German  Haneda - district in Tokyo district Ōta )
  • Using Dakuten (Nigori) from ch ( sh ) → j - example: = = si (shi) = = ji ( di , zi ), for example in "kyū ji " - き ゅ う じ - 給 仕 ( German  servant - waiter , Errand boy , office assistant )
¹ S - like the s in A s t and Z - like the s spoken in S aft
Clouded and semi-clouded sounds
K. Transcription ( Hepburn ) Hiragana Katakana
G ga gi gu ge go
Z za ji to ze zo
D. there ji to de do
B. ba bi bu be bo
P pa pi pu pe po

Palatalization - refraction ( ligature )

In the case of the palatal or so-called broken sounds ( digraphs or yōon ) - they occur when rendering Chinese loanwords - a syllable ending in i ( i kō , second column) is followed by a (reduced) beginning with y ( ya dan , eighth line). Together they form a common syllable, so that either only a single j sound is spoken or this is omitted entirely: pi and lowercase yu ( ぴ ゅ / ピ ュ ) become pyu , an s (h) i followed by lowercase yo ( し ょ / シ ョ ) a German would write “scho”.

Broken sounds
K. Transcription ( Hepburn ) Hiragana Katakana
- ya yu yo
K (i) kya kyu kyo き ゃ き ゅ き ょ キ ャ キ ュ キ ョ
S (i) sha shu sho し ゃ し ゅ し ょ シ ャ シ ュ シ ョ
T (i) cha chu cho ち ゃ ち ゅ ち ょ チ ャ チ ュ チ ョ
N (i) nya nyu nyo に ゃ に ゅ に ょ ニ ャ ニ ュ ニ ョ
Hi) hya hyu hyo ひ ゃ ひ ゅ ひ ょ ヒ ャ ヒ ュ ヒ ョ
M (i) mya myu myo み ゃ み ゅ み ょ ミ ャ ミ ュ ミ ョ
R (i) rya ryu ryo り ゃ り ゅ り ょ リ ャ リ ュ リ ョ
G (i) gya gyu gyo ぎ ゃ ぎ ゅ ぎ ょ ギ ャ ギ ュ ギ ョ
Z (i) Yes ju jo じ ゃ じ ゅ じ ょ ジ ャ ジ ュ ジ ョ
Bi) bya byu byo び ゃ び ゅ び ょ ビ ャ ビ ュ ビ ョ
Pi) pya pyu pyo ぴ ゃ ぴ ゅ ぴ ょ ピ ャ ピ ュ ピ ョ

Katakana also offers other options for foreign words to map syllables that do not occur in Japanese by combining syllables on other vowels with small versions of the vowels ( , , , , ). The ( wi ) and ( we ), which were dropped in 1945, can be replaced by ( u ) plus vowels ( ウ ィ and ウ ェ ) if the sounds occur in another language; in addition, in ウ ォ, in contrast to ヲ, the w is pronounced. With Nigori, the vowel finally becomes a consonant syllable: = vu ( Eng . Wu ), which in turn can be combined with the other vowels, e.g. B. ヴ ィ = vi . From su and to ( , ) plus i becomes si and zi . Sche / she / še , - / je / že and tsche / che / če are derived from the syllables on i ( = s (h) i , = z (h) i / ji , = ti / chi ) with a lowercase e ( ) formed. For t and d , on the one hand the syllables on e ( , ) with lower case i are connected to ti or di , on the other hand those on o ( , ) with lower case u ( ) are connected to tu and du . The syllables ( tsu , dt. To ) and ( fu / hu ) can finally with a , i , e and o are combined so that the u eliminated. The latter can also be followed by the small yu : フ ュ ( fyu ).

Extended katakana
K. Hepburn Katakana
- a i u e O
I. ye イ ェ
U wi we Where ウ ィ ウ ェ ウ ォ
V (u) va vi vu ve vo ヴ ァ ヴ ィ ヴ ェ ヴ ォ
S (u) si ス ィ
To) zi ズ ィ
S (i) she シ ェ
Z (i) ever ジ ェ
T (i) che チ ェ
T (e) / T (o) ti do テ ィ ト ゥ
D (e) / D (o) di you デ ィ ド ゥ
T (u) tsa tsi tse tso ツ ァ ツ ィ ツ ェ ツ ォ
H (u) fa fi fe fo フ ァ フ ィ フ ェ フ ォ
S (y) syu ス ュ
Z (y) zyu ズ ュ
T (y) tyu テ ュ
D (y) dyu デ ュ
F (y) fyu fyo フ ュ フ ョ


In addition to the fifty-lute table, the iroha-jun ( い ろ は 順 ) is occasionally used to determine an order . It is an "alphabet" from the 2nd half of the 10th century in the form of a song in which every possible syllable occurs exactly once ( 伊呂波 歌 iroha-uta ):

(without Dakuten)
and Kana
イ ロ ハ ニ ホ ヘ ト
チ リ ヌ ル ヲ
ワ カ ヨ タ レ ソ
ツ ネ ナ ラ ム
ウ ヰ ノ オ ク ヤ マ
ケ フ コ エ テ
ア サ キ ユ メ ミ シ
ヱ ヒ モ セ ス
i ro ha ni high to
chi ri nu ru where
wa ka yo ta re so
tsu ne na ra mu
u wi no o ku ya ma
ke fu ko e te
a sa ki yu me mi shi
we hi mo se su
色 は 匂 へ と
散 り ぬ る を
我 が 世 誰 そ
常 な ら む
有為 の 奥 山
今日 越 え て
浅 き 夢見 し
酔 ひ も せ す
Even when flowers smell
but they wither.
In our world
everything does not last forever.
The deep mountains of arising and passing away
I want to overcome today
(in the world of enlightenment) don't dream empty dreams,
don't get drunk on the illusion.

The katakana given reflect the original pronunciation of that time, in today's Japanese some of the words sound a little different. The character n is missing because it was introduced relatively recently as an independent character; in the past one wrote for a spoken n as a makeshift mu , which is also the case in this poem. Instead, there are the two characters wi and ften we that were abolished after 1945 .

Reform thought

Over the centuries, the Japanese script has developed into what is probably the most complex writing system in the world. Many Kanji can have more than five different, rarely up to almost a dozen, different readings. In addition, a spoken word can be written both with different Kanji and with different Okurigana variants (Kana for the "endings" of a word) without there being any general rules . Finally, there are also words that can be composed of various Kanji like a rebus: For example, the word tabako (cigarette, tobacco) , which was adopted from Portuguese, was reproduced with the Kanji for smoke and grass , but not pronounced as these Kanji are normally read . This development reached its peak in the Meiji period , although it was more common then than now to add the Kanji Furigana (small kana next to or above the Kanji for pronunciation instructions) in order to keep the writing legible.

Since the Meiji era, there have been several considerations in Japan to radically reform the Japanese script. The suggestions range from a restriction to the syllabary scripts (such as in Korean ) with extensive renunciation of Kanji to a complete conversion to the Latin script (similar to what happened in Turkish, for example ).

So far, this has failed due to numerous factors:

  • Unlike Turkey, where illiteracy was the norm until the end of the Ottoman Empire and the Latin script was the first script they learned for most Turks, Japan has had extensive literacy for several centuries, which is why the Japanese script is deeply rooted in the culture. Japan was even the most literate country in the world for a while in the 19th century.
  • The large libraries and the thousands of years of extensive written culture would only be accessible to a few scholars and / or would all have to be transferred to a new system. In the event of a change there would also be the risk that subsequent generations could no longer read the old writing system.
  • For example, when writing with Kana only, a text would become longer.
  • The Japanese language has an unusually large number of homonyms , especially when it comes to the words adopted from Chinese , which can no longer be distinguished in Latin script or in Cana. With only a little more than 100 different possible syllables, the Japanese language is relatively "poor" in sounds - in contrast to e.g. B. to Chinese, which knows about 400 different syllables. This is why the context of a word is often important in Japanese to determine its meaning.
  • Some peculiarities of Japanese culture would also be lost. For example, there are several different spellings for many first names, from which the parents usually choose one based on aesthetic considerations: For example, the Japanese first name Akira can be あ き ら in Hiragana , ア キ ラ in Katakana and , , , , in Kanji , 日 明 , , , , 明朗 , , or 亜 喜 良 can be written. While this name is an extreme example, most names have at least two or three different spellings. (Compare e.g. in German the different spellings Maier, Mair, Mayer, Mayr, Meier, Meir, Meyer and Meyr.)

In 1945 , as part of a script reform, the number of " everyday Kanji " was reduced to 1850 (95 were added again in 1981), the spelling of many Kanji was simplified, the number of readings of a Kanji was significantly reduced and new rules for the use of Hiragana, Katakana, Okurigana and Furigana set up. A new Jōyō Kanji list with 2136 characters has been in force since 2010, adding 196 Kanji and removing five from the old list.

For the study effort in school lessons, see School in Japan .

See also


  1. Müller-Yokota, Wolfram., Fujiwara, Michio .: Introduction to the Japanese language . 4. verb. Ed. O. Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 1990, ISBN 3-447-03042-9 .
  2. The literatures of the east in individual representations . Volume X History of Japanese Literature by Karl Florenz , Leipzig, CFAmelangs Verlag, second edition, 1909, p. 7.
  3. Volker Grassmuck : The Japanese writing and its digitization . In: Winfried Nöth, Karin Wenz (Ed.): Intervalle 2. Media theory and digital media . Kassel University Press, Kassel 1999., ISBN 3-933146-05-4 (chapter also online) ( Memento from January 6, 2007 in the Internet Archive ), accessed on April 23, 2019; Subsection “The Signs of the Han ”.
  4. Deviations from the Hepburn Convention at AniDB : Macron usage for long vowels Not accepted.
  5. Rōmaji Convention a Fansub group : Full names in romaji (Yoko, not Yoko; Ryuuzouji, not Ryuzoji etc).


  • Nanette Gottlieb: Kanji Politics. Language Policy and Japanese Script . Kegan Paul International, London 1996, ISBN 0-7103-0512-5 .
  • Yaeko Sato Habein: The History of the Japanese Written Language . University of Tokyo Press, Tokyo 1984, ISBN 0-86008-347-0 .
  • Wolfgang Hadamitzky: Kanji & Kana - The world of Japanese writing in one volume . Iudicium, Munich 2012, ISBN 978-3-86205-087-1 .
  • Wolfgang Hadamitzky among others: Langenscheidt's large dictionary Japanese-German. Character dictionary . Langenscheidt, Munich 1997, ISBN 3-468-02190-9 .
  • Wolfgang Hadamitzky among others: Japanese-German dictionary of symbols . Buske, Hamburg 2002, ISBN 3-87548-320-0 .
  • James W. Heisig, Klaus Gresbrand: Learn and keep the Kana . Frankfurt am Main 2006, ISBN 3-465-04008-2 .
  • James W. Heisig, Robert Rauther: Learning and keeping the Kanji. Meaning and spelling of the Japanese characters . Frankfurt am Main 2005, ISBN 3-465-03411-2 .
  • Wolfram Müller-Yokota: Writing and writing history . In: Bruno Lewin u. a. (Ed.): Language and writing of Japan . Brill, Leiden 1989, pp. 185 ff .
  • Christopher Seeley: A History of Writing in Japan . Brill Academic Publishers, Leiden 1991, ISBN 90-04-09081-9 .
  • Christopher Seeley: A History of Writing in Japan . University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu 2000, ISBN 0-8248-2217-X .
  • Christopher Seeley: The Japanese Script since 1900 . In: Visible Language . tape 18 , no. 3 , 1984, ISSN  0022-2224 , pp. 267-302 .
  • Harald Suppanschitsch, Jürgen Stalph: Japanese language and writing . IUDICIUM, Munich 2001, ISBN 3-89129-399-2 .
  • Jürgen Stalph: The Japanese writing system . In: Hartmut Günther, Otto Ludwig (Ed.): Writing and writing. An interdisciplinary handbook of international research. (=  Handbooks for language and communication studies ). tape 10.2 . de Gruyter, Berlin 1996, p. 1413-1427 .
  • Nanette Twine: Language and the Modern State. The Reform of Written Japanese . Routledge, London 1991, ISBN 0-415-00990-1 .
  • James Marshall Unger: Literacy and Script Reform in Occupation Japan. Reading Between the Lines . Oxford University Press, London 1996, ISBN 0-19-510166-9 ( excerpt ( September 29, 2013 memento in the Internet Archive )).
  • Viola Voss: Font typology and the Japanese writing system . Weissensee, Berlin 2003, ISBN 3-89998-017-4 .
  • Peter-Matthias Gaede (ed.): The imperial Japan (=  GEO era . No. 2 ). 2006.

Web links

Commons : Japanese characters  - collection of images
Wikibooks: Japanese  - Learning and Teaching Materials

Computer programs

This version was added to the list of excellent articles on August 27, 2005 .