Thursday, 22 March 2012

Japanese Kanji ( 漢字) Origins

The forms of wrtings

Japanese has 3 forms of wrtings which is still used in today. They are namely , Hiragana ( ひらがな ) , Katakana (カタカナ ) and lastly Kanji ( 漢字). The english way of writing and reading Japanese which includes western ways of writing number and occacional usuage of Latin alphabet is known as Rōmaji.


Kanji itself literally means Han Characters. Concerning the origins of Japanese written language, it all begins with Kanji !

Japanese people were once illiterate who can only speak and listen but cannot read and write as they initially do not even have their own form of writing except their own verbal language. Kanji was first introduced into Japan by some Chinese or perhaps Korean to the imperial court.


This person who introduced the writing system of Kanji into Japan was Wani (王仁) who was a Scholar. He was bilingual or perhaps even trilingual. The nationality of this person is still very much debated and argued by historians today. Some say he is Korean others say he is Chinese. However, to many Japanese of today the existence of this person is being denied. 

As Japanese had much business ,political, and cultural dealings with China the most throughout history, Kanji was quickly and easily accepted as a national form of writing nationwide in Japan.

Since then, record and writings were all used in Kanji. However, the Japanese had discover that there was some difficulty to have Japanese spoken language written in Kanji as some word were not easily translated into Kanji due to their own language.

Evolution of Kanji to Hiragana Writngs

It is something like you cannot be using English words to write out the direct spoken Japanese or Chinese or other languages that laterally, directly and exactly.

Hence the Japanese decided to modify and invent out their own versions of writing which is derived out from Kanji and this came to be known as Hiragana.

Developement of Katakana & Romanji

However ever since western influence step and conquered Japan , which had her forced to open her doors to the west and which Japan eventually took the step out to modernize and westernize, they had discovered that Hiragana and Kanji cannot totally write and speak everything out !

This hence brough into the creation of Katakana which is actually all about borrowed words which is not originally and traditionally Japanese. To write and read Japanese using english , Romaji was used.

Today in Japan writings

Today in Japan, all forms of writing are still in used. In their written form of writings today, Everything will first be used in Hiragan to write and if there are words which is not culturally, traditionally or historically Japanese, Katakana words will be use.

Finally as certain word can still bring miscommunication or perhaps the full meanning cannot be better expressed, Kanji will be used. Hence , you really need to know how blend and mix these various forms of writings all put together.



Please refer to the Charts below which explains all the forms of writing with more details.

Hiragana Characters

Started somewhere from 800 AD till present

The table below shows the 48 Hiragana syllables:



Katakana Characters

Katakana came into existance somewhere in the 1850s till present

Katakana are most often used for transcription of words in foreign languages. used to represent sounds, technical and scientific terms.

Katakana's main feature is short straight strokes and angular corners, that’s why Katakana is considered the simplest of the Japanese scripts.

For a modern Katakana there was a necessity to add some sounds, below is a list of additions to the katakana, used mainly to represent sounds from other languages:


Kanji Characters

Kanji are used together with three other systems to write modern Japanese, Kanji which is a Japanese system of writing based on borrowed or slightly modified Chinese characters is used to write parts of the language such as nouns, adjective stems and verb stems. For Kanji characters refers to the Chinese characters.


Orgins and Formations of Kanji and Harigana

The history of Kanji form of writing in Japan begins somewhere around 5th Century AD or perhaps even earlier till present , and Kanji orgins itself comes in 6 formations which are :
  1. Pictographs - "Shokei moji"
  2. Simple Ideographs
  3. Compound Ideographs - "Kaii moji"
  4. Phoenetic-Ideographic Characters - "Keisei moji"
  5. Derivative characters - " Tenchu moji"
  6. Phonetic loans - "Kashaku moji"

At the same time , the hardwrting style comes with a history of 7 types over the years which are :
  1. Tortoise-shell writing
  2. Bronze inscription
  3. Seal style
  4. Ancient square style
  5. Square style  ( common style today)
  6. Semi-cursive style ( This style is also more common today)
  7. Cursive style ( Grass style )


However till present, much of the Origins of Kanji which is Originated from China by a Korea is still but some Urban Myth and legends to most Japanese whom they cannot agree to it. Perhaps just but a few agrees. Is this origin of Japanese Kanji a Myth/Legend or a Historical fact, it still lies in a debate even till today.

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