The uniqueness of the Japanese writing system - Waku Waku

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The uniqueness of the Japanese writing system


The uniqueness of the Japanese writing system

Irasshaimase! Let me take you on a tour to the magnificence of one of the most special languages in this universe - Japanese. What makes it so intriguing?



Published on 15 Sep 2020, 12:00

The fascinating beauty of Japan not only comes from its multiple aspects in living styles, sophisticated cuisines, or cultures but also lies in the language itself. Let’s take a deeper look into these basic writing methods to see why there are such varieties in only one language.


New Japanese language learners always have in their minds that they need to learn is Hiragana first. Same for me!

When I learned Japanese, I was very excited about hiragana. It was easy to remember and write. All the soft, fluffy strokes, together with the simplicity of each letter made it easy to master, so I thought "Well, that’s quite a simple step to ace Japanese".

The uniqueness of the Japanese writing system

However, later I acknowledged that hiragana was not the first thing to appear in Japan's ancient times.

In the past, people used kanji - which was adopted from China, to serve their daily tasks but only the noble and elites were allowed to learn and use kanji.

When hiragana was developed, it was not accepted publicly. Nonetheless, women became interested in hiragana and started using it for their creations and writings. Since, thanks to the convenience and indigenous of hiragana, it became the official basic writing method of Japan!

Hiragana is used to write most endings for adjectives and verbs as well as various function words, including grammatical particles and postpositions. It also represents miscellaneous words which lack a kanji rendition, or whose kanji is obscure or too difficult to understand.


Katakana might be the second alphabet we have to learn in the process of mastering Japanese. Hiragana is so easy, so I think Katakana would be easy, too. They have the same number of letters in the alphabet. But I was mistaken!

The strokes were much sharper and some letters looked quite identical, so it was a real challenge trying to read them!

I also asked my friends and they said they encountered the same problem. Tough though, but it was only the issue of remembering things, so I tried to learn them by my heart.

Hiragana with soft, fluffy strokes(top) and Katakana (bottom) with sharp strokes
Hiragana with soft, fluffy strokes(top) and Katakana (bottom) with sharp strokes

It is rare to have 2 alphabets in a language so I was curious and decided to read more about Japanese history.

Looking back, katakana was developed during the early Heian period and was used exclusively for official text. Their strokes are considered angular and sharp like swords in comparison to the cursive and softness of hiragana, so people often regard it as male writing symbols, while hiragana belongs to women.

Katakana is mostly used for foreign words, such as コンピュータ (computer); names of animals and plants, such as ト バラ ( rose), and other technical and scientific terms or miscellaneous objects.


When finishing hiragana and katakana, you would encounter kanji.

But why do Japanese people need to learn Kanji when have already had Hiragana and Katakana?

Dated back hundreds of years ago, Japanese people did not have an official writing system. Kanji was adopted and gradually formed a part of Japanese life. However, due to its complexity, people invented other writing methods, which were the kana-alphabets, including hiragana and katakana as we know these days.

 Kanji is a part of Japanese culture and history
Kanji is a part of Japanese culture and history

Kanji is used to demonstrate nouns, adjective stems, verb stems, etc.

People use kanji because it is short and clearer than plain hiragana as there are many words pronounced the same but different in meaning.

For example, 生く (to live) and 行く (to go) which are both read "iku". Thus, learning kanji is an indispensable and crucial step for learners.

Kanji is a real challenge to me, maybe to all Japanese learners as well. But we should not be scared of it. Each kanji carries a beautiful story within.

I once told my teacher that looking at all the kanji labels and brands on the streets made my heart "flutter" because I couldn’t understand anything at all.

The uniqueness of the Japanese writing system

So she encouraged me to practice more and just take my time to learn it. Kanji is a part of Japanese culture and history. And learning about a culture through its alphabets is a truly intriguing way.

All these writing systems form the flesh and soul of Japanese, making it one of the most unique and fascinating languages of all time.

To overcome the issue of having to remember a bunch of new words, I love learning them by listening to Japanese folktales. Not only can we see new aspects of the culture, but we also improve other linguistic skills!

Just try it and you won’t be disappointed.



Hakuna Matata - there is nothing to worry about :)


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