The Japanese writing system is a mixture of Kanji and Kana. In modern Japanese, Kanji is used to write certain parts of the language, such as nouns, adjective stems and verb stems. Kana is made up of two closely related syllabic scripts: Hiragana and Katakana. These are character sets used to write grammatical elements by their phonetic values. Hiragana is used to write inflected verb and adjective endings (okurigana), particles, and words where the Kanji is too difficult to read or remember. Conversely, Katakana is used for representing onomatopoeia and foreign words. Japanese texts may also include rōmaji (Latin letters).
Rōmaji is the standard way of transliterating Japanese into the Latin alphabet. Using the transliterated input, you are supposed to be aware of the proper transliteration of the hieroglyph you want to find.
The Hepburn system is the most widely used romanization system. See the following tables to find a transliteration of a hieroglyph. Read in vertical columns running from top to bottom and from right to left, the first column is hiragana, the second is katakana and the third is rōmaji (Hepburn System), and so on.
Hiragana are characters that represent sounds, specifically syllables. A syllable is generally composed of a consonant plus a vowel — sometimes a single vowel will do. In Japanese, there are five vowels: a, i, u, e, and o; and fourteen basic consonants: k, s, t, n, h, m, y, r, w, g, z, d, b, and p. It is important to understand that Hiragana is a syllabary, not an alphabet — you cannot decompose a Hiragana character into a part that represents the vowel and a part that represents the consonant. Hiragana (and Katakana, covered in the next section) is one of the only true syllabaries still in common use today. Table 1 illustrates a matrix containing the basic and extended Hiragana syllabary.
The following are some notes to accompany Table 1:
· Several Hiragana have smaller versions, and are as follows (in parentheses you will find the standard version): ぁ(あ), ぃ(い), ぅ(う), ぇ(え), ぉ(お), っ(つ), ゃ(や), ゅ(ゆ), ょ(よ), and ゎ(わ)
· Two Hiragana, ゐ and ゑ, are no longer commonly used
· The Hiragana を is read as o, not wo
· The Hiragana ん is considered an independent syllable, and is pronounced approximately ng
Notice that some cells do not contain any characters. These sounds are no longer used in Japanese, and thus no longer need a character to represent them. Also, the first block of characters is set in a 5x10 matrix. This is sometimes referred to as the 50 Sounds Table (gojuon hyo), so named because it has a capacity of 50 cells (see Hiragana keyboard). The other blocks of characters are the same as those in the first block, but with diacritic marks.
In Japanese there are two diacritic marks: dakuten (also called nigori) and handakuten (also called maru).
The dakuten appears as two short strokes (゛) in the upper-right corner of some Kana characters. The dakuten sers veto voice the consonant portion of the Kana character to which it is attached. Examples of voiceless consonants include k, s, and t. Their voiced counterparts are g, z, and d, respectively. Hiragana ka becomes ga (が) with the addition of the dakuten. The b sound is a special voiced version of a voiced h in Japanese.
The handakuten (゜) appears as a small open circle O in the upper-right corner of Kana characters that begin with the h consonant. It transforms this h sound into a p sound.
Table 1: The Hiragana Syllabary
Katakana, like Hiragana, is a syllabary, and with minor exceptions, they represent the same set of sounds as Hiragana. Their usage, however, differs from Hiragana. Where Hiragana are used to write native Japanese words, Katakana are primarily used to write words of foreign origin, called gairaigo, to write onomatopoeic words (words that serve to describe a sound, such as buzz or hiss in English), and for emphasis — similar to the use of italics to represent foreign words and to express emphasis in English. For example, the Japanese word for bread is written ノ and read pan. It was borrowed from the Portuguese word pao, which is read sort of like pawn. Katakana are also used to write foreign names. Table 2 illustrates the basic and extended Katakana syllabary.
The following are some notes to accompany Table 2:
· Several Katakana have smaller versions, and are as follows (in parentheses you will find the standard version): ァ (ア), ィ (イ), ゥ (ウ), ェ (エ), ォ (オ), ッ (ツ), ャ (ヤ), ュ (ユ), ョ (ヨ) and ヮ (ワ)
· Two Katakana, ヰ and ヱ, are no longer commonly used
· The Katakana ヲ is read as o, not wo
· The Katakana ん is considered an independent syllable, and is pronounced approximately ng
Katakana were derived by extracting a single portion of a whole Kanji, and, like Hiragana, no longer carry the meaning of the Kanji from which they were derived. If you compare several of these characters to some Kanji, you may recognize common shapes.
Table 2: The Katakana Syllabary
Kanji hieroglyphs consist of radical and non-radical strokes. There are 214 radicals each one consists of from one to seventeen strokes.
In Kanji there are characters that have different meanings, and characters that have identical meanings but are written differently, there are also characters peculiar to Japanese known as kokuji
A Kanji character may have several (in rare cases ten or more) possible pronunciations, depending on its context, intended meaning, use in compounds, and location in the sentence. These pronunciations, or readings, are typically categorized as either on’yomi or kun’yomi (often abbreviated on and kun).