Fundamental of Japanese Alphabet: Hiragana, Katakana and Furigana

by ebazaar 14 October 2009 No Comment

Today, we’re going to talk about the Japanese writing system. One drawback when you’re visiting Japan is the lack of English directions and help menu, especially in much less busy places outside the big cities. However, you’ll still find foreigners-friendly areas in major big cities like Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka as well as Yokosuka since there are a lot of foreigners and expatriates working at these places.

Is not impossible to learn and understand the basic Japanese writing. The first thing is that you have to know the fundamentals of Japanese writing and memorized the alphabets, characters and pronunciations.

The Japanese writing system

The Japanese writing system uses Chinese characters known as Kanji in combination with two separate forms of the phonetics syllabic script known as Kana: hiragana and katakana. Some words are written entirely in Kana, others entirely in Chinese characters, and others in a combination of the two. This combination of both Kana and Kanji is due to the fact that the Japanese language is made up of two readings; that are On and Kun readings. I’ll talk more about this in other post, because the main focus in this article is entirely on Kana – Hiragana and Katakana.

Kana is generally a term for a number of syllabic writing systems developed in Japan, all based on Chinese characters (Kanji), which is used to express the sounds of Japanese language rather than the meanings of individual words. However, since Kana can express all kinds of sounds in Japanese, the languages can be written entirely in Kana, though it is more common to use the mixture of both Chinese characters and Kana. I’d say that Kana is the part of the Japanese language that really represents the Japanese trademark in language. Once you recognized Kana, it will be easier for you to detect whether the text or signs are in Japanese or not.

There are two types of Japanese alphabetKana:

Hiragana, a system of 48 syllabic writing units that’s in cursive form that looks a little roundish and commonly used for native words and words of Chinese that are not written in Kanji characters. The characters are listed in the table below:

Japanese alphabet - Hiragana

Japanese alphabet - Hiragana

Katakana, a noncursive form, that looks rather squarish if you ask me. You’ll sometimes detect it’s presence in between hiragana and kanji. Katakana can be used in place of hiragana but it is usually for the loanwords from foreign languages such as English words and country names for example. It’s also used to emphasize something or to point out certain meanings or important nouns and objects in a writing. Below are the characters of katakana:

Japanese alphabet - Katakana

Japanese alphabet - Katakana

What is Furigana in Japanese writing system?

Furigana is just a term in the Japanese language as an aid of pronouncing a certain Japanese word which is written in Kanji to help a person by telling how to say it in Japanese. It can be both in Hiragana and Katakana. Therefore, Furigana is not a type of Kana or another form of writing units but only a support context in the Japanese reading system rather than in the writing system.You’ll usually find furigana in dictionaries, certain books, and comics especially.

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