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James Heisig
Kanji Writing
and Meaning

James Heisig
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Read and Write Japanese
Almost everyone can read and write Japanese but, we thought it might be nice to put something up for those who may want to learn a little about it, anyway. Some folks can't see anything humorous in the preceding statement. We can't explain it.
Kana Writing and Pronunciation System
Children in Japan begin with the easiest writing system first and so shall we. Kana is a system of writing and pronunciation for the Japanese language which is similar to the alphabet systems of the european languages. Linguists have devised ways of categorizing language. There are two kinds of units of sound in a language. Phonemes are the smallest units which have distinctive meaning. Syllables are the segmental units of spoken words which are sequences of one or more phonemes. For Japanese some linguists have defined a third unit of sound, the mora. The mora represents a sequence of sounds that are percieved as being of equal length by the native speaker and are a unit of sound somewhere between a phoneme and a syllable. Due to the way in which the sounds of the Japanese language are patterned, consonants are, with a single exception, always expressed in combination with vowels, such that the vowel antecedes the consonant. One exception is the "n", which is sometimes also pronounced as an "m". From our point of view, doubled s, t, and k simply represent phonemical variants of the non-doubled consonants. There are three kinds of morae, should one be inclined to call a syllable, however peculiarly constituted, a mora. Morae can be vowels. Morae can be consonants. Morae can be a consonant and a vowel. Actually, one needn't be concerned with such linguistic hairsplitting. Suffice it to say for now that syllables in Japanese have a simple structure and it is possible to list them all in a single chart. Observing the chart carefully will reveal certain characteristic patterns.

You can see all two hundred and fourteen of the hiragana and katakana symbols and combinations in the form of a syllabary chart. It shows a standard phonemical arrangement derived, for the most part, from native Sanskrit grammar. It is about 130 Kbytes.

Click here for the five most used kanji and their pronunciations.
Kana examples
Ohayo
This is the polite form of, "Good Morning," in hiragana letters.
Octavio
"Octavio Osorio" in katakana letters
12,300
12,300 in hiragana letters. "one ten thousand, two thousand, three hundred"
1999 year
1999 followed by the Kanji for year.

Konnichiwa
A shortened form of, "Konnichi wa (do desu ka?)" Literally, "How is today?" Said between the hours of 10am to about 5pm, it means simply, "Hello."
Hiragana and Katakana are the two alphabets which are used by the Japanese to write identical sounds. Katakana symbols are used most notably for spelling out foreign words. Hiragana is more generally used to represent sounds which must be added to the reading of Kanji characters in order to complete their pronunciation. In certain instances, such as in children's books, or text written for the benefit of older persons or the semi-literate, for advertisements, comic books, or for the text displayed in television programming, hiragana may also be used to spell out words, phrases and sentences in their entirety without the use of kanji at all.
Which is which? Hiragana is derived from further simplification of the cursive style of kanji characters. That accounts for its comparatively rounded appearance. Katakana in contradistinction, owes its derivation to the extraction of usually only two or three strokes of one part of selected non-cursive kanji characters, carrying a desired pronunciation, which accounts for its comparatively linear appearance.
The use of kanji preceded the use of kana as established convention by several hundred years. Kanji was brought from China to Japan about the 5th century when Japanese was still an unwritten language. By the 9th century, Japan had the two kana syllabaries, which had been made necessary for Japanese since the syntactical structure of Chinese and Japanese were different. The syntax of the Chinese language is such that isolated kanji characters can be used. The Japanese language requires additional endings which are not required and do not exist in Chinese. Therefore in modern Japanese, kana, particularly hiragana is used typically for inflectional, postpositional and other endings. Kanji are usually used for nouns, verb stems, and other trunk words.

Kanji examples
horse, etc
tame, for

Kyo Ryu
dinosaur, kyo ryu

ecology
ecology, sei taigaku

minamoto
source, minamoto


fire
fire, hi

kori, ice
ice, kori

fire King, etc

More 3D kanji and animations rendered with Xara 3D.
Kanji and vocabulary of Space
Kanji and vocabulary of animals and ecology

How many kanji are there?

Of the main kanji characters, there are about 1850 standardized, officially recognized characters and an additional 150 or so semi-common characters. You may click to see about 2,000 in total, as four jpeg images. The kanji have been arranged in order of their incidence of usage in the Japanese language. For example, the most frequently used kanji are in part one while the kanji in part four are used with a relatively lesser frequency.

part one part two part three part four

What do they mean? How are they read and sounded? How are they written? Well, it's our intention to present that, too when we get a round2it. Since we have been so slow in completing this section, some people have sent us an email asking us to write various things in Japanese. If this notion should strike the fancy of our viewer, we would ask that you relax, count to ten, and the ask yourself if you really need to know how to write, for example, "abdominal snowman" in Japanese or "ninja turtle," or some of the other stumpers we've recieved

JABLI
Not studying Japanese? Get started now!! JABLI uses the Image Lesson Method, a system that is currently being used in over 20 countries. JABLI offers lessons from Basic to Level I on the Japanese Proficiency Test. No entrance or materials fees!
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If you have some favorite Japanese onomatopoetic words and their simple meanings, we would like to display them for you here quasi-alphabetically. Don't forget to include the meaning.
Japanese English Japanese English
giri giri by a small margin waku waku easy
ara ara Oh my god pica pica shining brightly, flashing;
or brand spanking new
bara bara disorganized pari pari crisp
boro boro falling apart,
or a tired person
katsu katsu struggling financially
beta beta wet, sticky;
two lovers stuck on each other
mecha mecha messy
buru buru shivering with cold or excitement kara kara dry, empty
biri biri tear paper, feel static electricity kera kera laugh loudly
pasa pasa dried and stale kari kari dry pieces of food, bacon;
sound of mouse knawing a hole
betsu betsu separate kiri kiri frustrated, nervous people
bari bari shattering or splattering sound koro koro rolling along
bori bori hard scratching kura kura feeling dizzy, have a headache feverish, and or can not stand straight
dan dan little by little kuru kuru turning round and round
dara dara something which is too long or slow kusu kusu giggling
dere dere love struck appearance kira kira shining, glistening, sparkle, attractive person
pori pori light scratching goso goso make a rustling noise
goro goro rumbling sound of thunder, empty stomach, lazy person lolling, something misplaced suka suka almost empty
goshi goshi scrub, rub hard pyon pyon jumping like a rabbit
bochi bochiso, somochi mochisoft like a baby's face
hadaka no osama
Click here to enlarge.
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How is the usage of kanji different for Japanese and Chinese? This may give some idea.
Japanese students learning Chinese have an advantage in that they can write the kanji and know the meaning. For example, good-bye. Such students can write the kanji for which the Japanese pronunciation is sai gen. The pronunciation is similar linguistically. The particular kanji combination finds no expression in Japanese. Literally, the two characters mean, again see. See (you) again. So, they have the same meaning, but different reading and usage.


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