Basic knowledge about 3 types of Japanese characters

We Japanese use 3 types of characters. They’re Kanji, Hiaragana and Katakana. Complicated, isn’t it? I myself often think Japanese is a difficult language. It’s true that even native Japanese feel it hard to use proper Japanese!

I think the structure of English is much simpler and more logical than that of Japanese. English indeed is the language for everyone. I guess I can’t even speak one phrase of Japanese sentence if I wasn’t born to be a native Japanese.


3 types of Japanese characters

  • Kanji characters are complex Japanese symbols. They’re originally from China and developed distinctively in Japan. The most notable feature of Kanji is that each character has its original meaning. They can have various different meanings even if the sound of the pronunciation is the same.

    It is said that there’re over 50,000 Kanji characters in the Japanese language. But of course it’s impossible to learn all of them! We study commonly used Kanji characters little by little at school. The number of Kanji characters Japanese people learn at school is about 2,000. 2,000 is still big but it’s better than 50,000.

  • Simple, round-shaped Japanese symbols developed by ancient Japanese women. Kanji characters were characters for men who’s in higher ranks. They’re too complicated to learn. So Japanese women customized them so that they could easily read and write them. It’s the origin of Hiragana.

    Hiragana is the most common and basic Japanese character. They’re the first character set Japanese kids learn. There’re 46 characters in Hiragana and these characters represent every sound in the Japanese language. Like English, each character provides only a sound and the characters themselves don’t have any meaning.

  • Simple, angular shaped Japanese symbols. Katakana is like Hiragana’s sibling. The number of Katakana characters is exactly same as that of Hiragana. Besides they make exactly the same sounds as Hiragana. Like Hiragana, Katakana characters represent only sounds and don’t have any original meaning.

    Katakana is generally used to write words and name imported from foreign languages. They aren’t used to write sentences. A sentence written in only Katakana is very hard to read for Japanese!