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JPLearn! - Volume I
Introduction to Japanese
Introduction to Japanese
Introduction to Japan and Japanese

Japanese is a diverse system of spoken and written language that was originally and is still being composed of what many will call "loan words". To date, the written language has evolved into three unique forms -- Kanji (Chinese characters), Hiragana and Katakana; forms of language which have been molded over time through specific practices heavy with Japanese cultural influence. The Japanese language is spoken by over 125-million people in the world (2010 World census) and in dozens of different dialects.

Japan's Surrounding Geography

Taking a quick look at the geography of Japan and surrounding areas, Korea (now split between north and south) is directly west of Japan and that northern Korea runs right into the heart of China. It is suspected that the Chinese script had been imported through travel and trade between Japan and Korea. Before 4th Century AD Japan did not have a writing system of its own and later adopted Chinese script to represent the syllables of the Japanese native tongue. Along with this new means for communicating came a rich culture exchange that is still evident today.

Although much of the Japanese script is composed of official Chinese characters, Japanese actually has no real relation to the Chinese language! It is easy to see upon hearing the two languages side by side that no two syllables are the same. The use of Chinese characters to represent Japanese syllables is known as Manyogana, which could be confusing when using the traditional Chinese usage. In order to make this clear and differentiate between languages the Japanese created their earliest forms of original script -- Hiragana and later Katakana.

Brief History of Hiragana

Hiragana developed from the very elegant, flowing style of "sosho" or Chinese calligraphy. It was also referred to as onnade or "woman's hand" because women were often restricted to writing in Kanji. Men wrote in Kanji or Katakana, the more angular of the two.

Katakana derived from abbreviated Chinese characters and was originally used to represent Kanji for men. Like Hiragana, Katakana was also alternatively labeled otokode or "men's hand". Katakana is also used by the Ainu people of Northern Japan and Hokkaido.

Expansion on Writing Styles

Kanji, originally Chinese characters, are still used today in conjunction with Hiragana and sometimes Katakana. Collectively, these sets of characters are called Kana. So now we have Kanji for Chinese characters and Kana for their Japanese representation.

However, what would explain the pronunciation of a particular kanji? Furigana is a Japanese reading aid consisting of miniature Kana placed above or to the right of Kanji to indicate proper pronunciation, which in turn can also lead one to the proper meaning of a word. Furigana can help learn new Kanji and will become a good aid for advanced Japanese lessons.


Don’t fret over learning thousands of characters at once because the accumulation of new knowledge on a daily basis will be significant within days, months, and years. Remember that if you’re not learning, you’re losing potential knowledge. We do recommend at least 5 Kanji characters per day on average because if 1,945 Kanji is learned one day at a time, it will take approximately 5-years to learn them. Learn 5 each day and it should only take a year. Learn 10 and it becomes 6 months and so on…

Please refrain from the excitement of learning Kanji until the more advanced lessons. We've got much to learn already and we have amazing techniques to speed up learning Kanji that isn't even taught in Japanese public schools very much.

Your First Assignment

Throughout these lessons you will be given special instructions on how to study certain types of material which will boost your learning speed. Every article has a commentary system where any member can ask questions relating to the lessons or even provide lesson tips. After all, it’s far better to learn Japanese with someone helping you and possibly even learning with you.

You may like to consider joining a study group to find others whom will study with you.
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