Basic Japanese Grammar: I Think…

Basic Japanese Grammar: I Think…

Our Nihongo Master Podcast has a language series called Study Saturday, where a Japanese grammar point is introduced in a fun, easy, and bite-sized way. In Season 2 Episode 8, we looked at how to express our opinions with the phrase “I think”.

This grammar point is part of basic Japanese and is used pretty frequently in everyday conversation. It makes your sentence a bit less serious as well. The best part about this grammar point is that it’s so easy to learn! There’s only one phrase in Japanese that is used to express your opinion. 

In the podcast episode, not only did we discuss a bit about the grammar point, but we also had a few roleplaying scenarios using the new grammar to get listeners accustomed to it. The roleplaying scenarios are not in this recap, so you’ve got to tune in to listen! 

Grammar Point

Expressing opinions is crucial in any language. In Japanese, it’s also used to make the tone of the sentence lighter. The grammar to use to say this is pretty simple: you basically just add “to omou” (と思う) or “to omoimasu” (と思います) for the polite form, to the end of any sentence. And viola, that’s it! 

Quick and easy, right?

と思う for i-adjectives and verbs

Let’s have an example. Say you saw someone and thought he was cool: “I thought he was cool”. “Cool” in Japanese is kakkoii (かっこいい). We could say “kakkoii to omou” (かっこいいと思う), but that translates to “I think he is cool”. To make it so it means “I thought he was cool”, we have to change the grammar point we just learned to the past tense. “to omou” ends with an u, so it conjugates to “to omotta” (と思った) for the casual form. For the polite form, simply change the “masu” (ます) to past tense to get “to omoimashita” (と思いました). 

Now put it all together and we get: “kare ha kakkoii to omotta”(彼はかっこいいと思った). For the polite form, it’s “kare ha kakkoii to omoimashita” (彼はかっこいいと思いました). 

Kakkoii is an i-adjective, so there’s no change whatsoever when attaching the grammar phrase at the end. It’s the same when the word that comes before the phrase is a verb, like the sentence “I think we went to a cafe”. “Went” in Japanese is “itta” (行った), the past tense of the word “iku” (行く). All you have to do is have all the pieces and just add the grammar at the end: “kafe ni itta to omou” (カフェに行ったと思う). For the polite form, it’s “kafe ni itta to omoimasu” (カフェに行ったと思います).

だと思う for na-adjectives and nouns

The time you do need to add something on is when the word before is either a noun or a na- adjective. In the sentence “He thought I was beautiful”, the word that comes right before the grammar phrase is “beautiful”, and that’s the na-adjective “kireina” (綺麗な) in Japanese. We can’t say “kireina to omou”, but instead we take the na out and switch it to da, the casual form of desu: “kare ha watashi ga kirei da to omotta” (彼は私が綺麗だと思った). For the polite form, it’s “kare ha watashi ga kirei da to omoimashita” (彼は私が綺麗だと思いました). Remember, that sentence was in the past tense.

Let’s have an example for a noun. Since there is no “na” to switch out, we just add da in between the noun and “to omou”. For example, if you want to say “I think he’s Japanese”, you can say it as “kare ha nihonjin da to omou” (彼は日本人だと思う). The polite form of the sentence is “kare ha nihonjin da to omoimasu” (彼は日本人だと思います).

Negation

In the case where you want to have a na-adjective or a noun in the negative form, like “I think he’s not Japanese” or “I think she’s not beautiful”, their negative form “janai” (じゃない) then acts like an i- adjective, so you don’t need to have a “da” in between: “nihonjin janai to omou” (日本人じゃないと思う), “kirei janai to omou” (綺麗じゃないと思う).

One last thing: if you want to say “i don’t think”, all you have to do is say the negation of “to omou”, which is “to omowanai” (と思わない) or “to omoimasen” (と思いません). So let’s switch “I think he’s not Japanese” to “I don’t think he’s Japanese” — we take the noun as it is and add the negation of the grammar to make, “nihonjin da to omowanai” (日本人だと思わない), or the polite form “nihonjin da to omoimasen” (日本人だと思いません).

Vocab Recap

As always, let’s have a quick vocab recap to wrap it up: 

Kakkoii (かっこいい) — cool

Kireina (綺麗な) — beautiful or pretty

Isha (医者) — doctor

Shokugyō (職業) — occupation

Gaka (画家) — painter

Machigainai (間違いない) — undoubtedly or no doubt 

Ginkõ (銀行) — bank

Hataraiteiru (働いている) — to be working 

Kaku (書く) — to write or draw

Shou ga nai (しょうがない) — it can’t be helped 

Muzukashii (難しい) — difficult

Mirai (未来) — future

Hiraku (開く) — to open 

Sasuga (さすが) — as expected 

Hazukashii (恥ずかしい) — shy 

Shinyū (親友) — best friend 

Kareshi (彼氏) — boyfriend 

Urayamashii (羨ましい) — jealous 

Zettai (絶対) — definitely

Conclusion

And that’s the recap of this episode of Study Saturday, and that means you might already be an expert at expressing your opinions in Japanese. I, for one, have a lot of opinions on a lot of things, so rest assured I’ve been using this every day — if not every hour. Since this article is a recap, head over to the original episode to listen to the full thing now!

If you’re interested in similar bite-sized grammar pointers, head over to the Nihongo Master Podcast for more. The Study Saturday language series comes out every Saturday with a new grammar point with examples and role playing scenarios. Click here for your fill of basic Japanese grammar! 

Basic Japanese Grammar!

Basic Japanese Grammar!

Learning a new language can be tough, especially if you don’t know where to start. One of the key things to any language is the grammar. For the Japanese language, grammar is crucial. For those of us who are learning it in English, like me, it can be a bit confusing at the start since Japanese sentence structure is the complete opposite of the English language’s!

What’s more, in Japanese language, it’s different when it comes to formality. There’s not really any rules for that in English, whereas in Japanese, it’s very strict! The conjugations play a part in the formality rules too!

Now I’m not trying to scare you off from learning Japanese. In fact, I’m trying to do the opposite. Before you dive headfirst into the scary world of Japanese grammar, let’s try to make it not as scary by having a rundown of the basics of Japanese grammar with this article!

Japanese Sentence Structure

Basic Structure

In both Japanese and English, the basic sentence structure is: subject – object.

“This is a pen.”

Kore ha pen.

これはペン。

Action Sentences

The most important thing about basic Japanese grammar is the sentence structure. In English, we usually have our sentences structured like this: subject – verb – object. For example: I eat cake. “I” is the subject, “eat” is the verb” and “cake” is the object or noun.

In Japanese, the verb goes at the end! So the sentence structure goes: subject – object – verb. 

So the same sentence is said like this in Japanese: watashi ha kēki wo taberu. (私はケーキを食べる。) “Watashi” is the subject, “kēki” Is the object and “taberu” is the verb. You must have noticed the particles – we’ll get into that later. 

It might get confusing when you add more parts to the sentence, but it’s actually quite flexible. When you want to add the time, location or preposition, they can basically go anywhere in the sentence. The most important thing is the particles which indicate what is what. 

Oh, and usually, you can omit the subject. Sometimes, it’s more natural to do so.

The handy thing is, every other part of the Japanese sentence is flexible. If you add a location, a time, a preposition, etc., they can go anywhere in the sentence. As long as you mark them with the correct particle and the verb goes at the end, you’re good to go. So, the key to remember here is: the verb always goes at the end.

You can also omit the subject usually, and it sounds more natural to do so.

Describing Existence

Let’s look at another simple grammar pattern, which is describing existence, like saying “there is a cat”.

In Japanese, the format includes “ga iru” (がいる) or “ga aru” (がある). The former describes living things and the latter describes non living things. The structure is: subject – “ga iru/aru”.

If you want to say “there is a cat” in Japanese, it’s “neko ga iru” (猫がいる).

If you want to say “there is a pen” in Japanese, it’s “pen ga aru” (ペンがある).

If you want to say there isn’t something, instead of “ga iru” or “ga aru”, you change it to “ga inai” (がいない) or “ga nai” (がない). This is the negative form of the above phrases.

If you want to say “there isn’t a cat” in Japanese, it’s “neko ga iru” (猫がいない).

If you want to say “there isn’t a pen” in Japanese, it’s “pen ga aru” (ペンがない).

Formal & Informal Speech

As mentioned earlier, the Japanese language has formal and informal speeches. This affects the grammar. To make it simple, it’s the ending of a sentence that varies whether it’s formal or informal.

For example, “neko ga iru” (猫がいる) is informal as it ends with “iru”, the dictionary and plain form of the verb. To make this sentence formal, you have to change “iru” to “imasen” (いません). This is the polite version of the verb.

That’s for verbs, but there’s also for other sentences that end with nouns or adjectives. The simplest way to make a sentence more polite is to add “desu” (です). 

For example, to say “this is a pen” in the polite form, you have to add “desu”: kore ha pen desu (これはペンです).

The same goes for adjectives: “this is pretty” is “kore ha kirei desu” (これは綺麗です).

Japanese Particles

As mentioned earlier, particles are extremely important in Japanese grammar. They indicate intonation, connectors like “and”, provide possessive forms and provide the means to ask questions. 

We have a very in-depth article on Japanese particles here. But here’s a quick summary of the various types of common Japanese particles:

は (wa/ha) – follows the topic of the sentence, making this particle the topic marking particle

が (ga) – to emphasise something or to distinguish it from the rest. It’s also used when you’re first introducing the subject

を (wo) – used to signal the object of the sentence. Most of the time, it follows a noun or a noun phrase

に (ni) – indicates a place or the direction something is moving towards. The particle often follows a moving verb only. It can also be used when you’re talking about the direction of something, like receiving something from others. In that case, it means “from”

で (de) – emphasises location rather than direction

と (to) – “and” 

の (no) – indicates possession

か (ka) – question indicator

Japanese Verbs

Japanese verbs can be quite confusing in the beginning, as the tenses and conjugation are very different from other languages. Let’s take a look at the basic tenses and conjugation of Japanese verbs!

Verb Tenses

Tenses in English can be confusing – there are past, present and future tenses, but there are also continuous, perfect, etc. Don’t worry, in Japanese, it’s pretty simple. There are only the past and present tenses

In English, there are three basic verb tenses: past, present, and future. But in Japanese, there’s only present tense and past tense. And they don’t change based on who is performing the action unlike some languages. They stay the same. 

The present tense of a verb is the dictionary form. For example: taberu (食べる).

The past tense of a verb involves a bit of conjugation. For example: taberu becomes tabeta (食べた).

BONUS: If you want to talk about the future tense, you usually add a time to the sentence. For example: “I’ll eat now” is said as “ima taberu” (今食べる).

Basic Verb Conjugations

Here comes the tricky part. But don’t worry, we’ll make it painless. Japanese verbs split into three types of verbs and they have their conjugations:

る-verbs

う-verbs

Irregular verbs

Depending on the category, the conjugation is different. Here are some common verbs in each category, and how to conjugate them: 

る-verbs – drop the “る” and add “ます”

食べる becomes 食べます, 寝る becomes 寝ます, 見る becomes 見ます

う-verbs – drop the ending “う” sound and add “います”

言う becomes 言います, 飲む becomes 飲みます, 聞く becomes 聞きます

Irregular verbs – they’re irregular so their conjugation has no formula

するbecomes します, 来る becomes 来ます

From there, to make the negation, it’s simple. ます then becomes ません. For example, 食べます becomes 食べません and 言います becomes 言いません.

Stay tuned for a more in-depth article on Japanese verb conjugations!

Ace that Japanese grammar!

Of course, there is more to Japanese grammar than what is listed in this article, but hopefully, this gives you a brief idea of what to expect when learning Japanese grammar. It’s not at all difficult once you get the hang of it. Us at Nihongo Master believe you can do it!

How to Learn Japanese the Fast & Easy Way!

How to Learn Japanese the Fast & Easy Way!

If you want to learn Japanese, you’ve come to the right place! We at Nihongo Master are dedicated to providing you with the best Japanese language learning content on all our various media platforms. Learning a new language is tough, and most of us would want to find ways to do it quickly.

While I personally feel like there are no shortcuts to learning a new language, there are tips and tricks that can help you to learn faster and easier. Of course, these all depend on the individual and what one’s study method is. But generally, if you stick to these 7 tips, you might be able to skip a bit of time out of your language learning journey.

1. Don’t skip the writing systems

The first one I think is the most important tip of all is: do not skip the writing systems. In Japanese, there are three writing systems: hiragana, katakana and kanji. Each of them are used for their own purposes and knowing all three of them is essential if you want to reach a good level of fluency.

Hiragana and katakana are pretty easy to pick up. You can master them casually in a week. They are the Japanese alphabet that represents a syllable. 

As for kanji, they are Chinese characters that are used in Japanese writing. I’d say there are around 2,000 essential kanji characters that you would need to take time to learn. One way to learn kanji is through vocabulary. When you learn new words, look at what the kanji characters for them are. Most conversational words use essential kanji characters. Have yourself be exposed to kanji characters on a daily basis. The more you see them, the more you’re able to recognise them.

Skip the stroke order for now. I would recommend foregoing this unless you’re doing it for school. If you’re here for the fast fluency, you can afford to not know the order of the strokes. 

2. Use language learning hacks

As I mentioned earlier, different people have different styles of learning. Depending on your style, pick up language learning hacks to help you learn Japanese faster and easier. 

One of the most popular methods of learning Japanese fast is using a spaced repetition system (SRS). This is often the use of flash cards. There’s a 80/30 rule that says you get 80% of your results from 20% of your efforts. So you focus on 20% of the language you use most to yield 80% of your speaking abilities. 

Another way is by using mnemonics. A lot of people find this language learning hack pretty useful. When you have mnemonic devices linked to Japanese language learning, you’ll be able to retain them in your brain faster and easier. 

And while some people often binge study, it may not help all. Some people actually study and retain knowledge better when studying in small chunks of time. This helps you to focus and not push yourself too much. Whatever you learn in that 15 minutes a day, be sure to repeat them and lock them in memory. This will definitely help you to learn Japanese faster.

And last but not least, consistency is key. You’ve got to be a bit responsible for your language learning journey. Stay committed, keep studying regularly, and you’ll be able to reach your language goals as early as 90 days! 

3. Think and explain in Japanese

One of the most important ways to improve your Japanese language skills is by training your brain to think in that foreign language. For this one, you would have to really put in the effort to do this, especially if you’re not already bilingual. 

By doing this technique, you’re going to be able to lock those new words and grammar into your brain even faster. Reading the meaning to a word or an explanation to a grammar point won’t guarantee that you can recall it when you need it. When you actively use these words and grammar, you’ll be able to store them in your brain easier!

The easiest way to start doing this is by reacting in Japanese. If you see a cute dog coming your way, you might start to think in English “it’s cute”. Try to think in Japanese: “あの犬は可愛い” (“that dog is cute”). 

You can also practice this technique by describing your surroundings. You don’t have to do that all the time. You can even do it on your way home from school or work. Describe the area around you. What do you see? What are the people doing? What’s the weather like? 

This last way of practicing this technique is one that I often do, and that’s translating my own conversations. After having a conversation with someone, try to translate that conversation into Japanese at your own pace. Say you ordered something in a restaurant. How would you do that in Japanese?

4. Find language exchange partners early

The best part about the previous technique is that you don’t have to be afraid of making mistakes with someone else. However, that doesn’t give you the opportunity to learn from your mistakes. On top of that, you will also start to fear speaking in Japanese. Trust me, I was at that stage once too. 

So, to do that, you should definitely find a language exchange partner early on so you can start using your language skills ASAP.

There are so many ways you can find one. Sometimes, in your city or country, there’s a community of Japanese language learners like yourself. This is the best way to find one. Otherwise, go online and on apps like italki or HelloTalk. These are also great platforms to learn from others just like you! 

5. Immerse yourself in Japanese 

A lot of people say immersion is key. It’s pretty true, but you don’t have to be in Japan to be fully immersed. You can also just surround yourself with the language, through various means that you can control. One of the easiest ways is to constantly play Japanese media like games, TV shows, movies and anime (in Japanese language, of course).

I personally used to listen to Japanese podcasts as well to expose myself to the Japanese language. This method is also a way of passive learning, which kids use to learn when they’re younger and developing. 

If you have a Japanese town in your city, that’s perfect! You can find Japanese speakers around you to practice with in real life too! All these exposure will definitely help you to learn Japanese faster and easier!

6. Practice your Japanese speaking skills

I cannot emphasise this enough, but definitely work on your speaking skills from early on. Learning a language from a textbook and actually using the skill in real life is so so different. You realise there are so many other challenges that you face when you start speaking. You might not be able to recall what you learned, you realise you have a fear of speaking to overcome. Anything can happen. 

Whether it’s practicing in front of the mirror or with a language exchange partner or friend, start early! As soon as you learn your first grammar point, I suggest going straight into practicing your speaking skills!

7. Don’t be afraid to fail

And last but not least, don’t be afraid to fail. In fact, if you don’t fail at some point, you’re not human! All of us are learning. Even natives have things they need to learn. Failing is actually part of your Japanese language learning journey, so don’t avoid it. Instead, embrace it!

Learn Japanese Fast & Easy!

I hope that with these 7 techniques, you’ll be able to learn Japanese fast and easy! One of the best ways you can learn Japanese grammar points and new useful vocabulary words is by tuning in to our Nihongo Master Podcast! We have a language series in the podcast that breaks down grammar points just like our online learning system, and have roleplaying scenarios using the new grammar point. Hey, that’s the 8th technique to learning Japanese fast and easy!

How to Say “Do You Know” in Japanese — わかる and 知っている

How to Say “Do You Know” in Japanese — わかる and 知っている

(NM Podcast Recap! S2E6)

One of the most commonly used phrases in any language is “do you know…?” This phrase is without a doubt an essential one for not only daily conversations but also at work. Remember asking your friend if they knew of a specific person, or your colleague if they knew how to use the copy machine? 

The question is: do you know how to ask “do you know” in Japanese?

If you don’t, then you should tune in to our podcast’s language series, Study Saturday. In our Season 2 Episode 6, we looked at two ways on how to say this phrase in Japanese! 

In the podcast episode, we broke down the grammar points and looked at the proper usage with a few role playing scenarios and useful vocabulary words. This article is a recap of the grammar and vocabulary we used — while you get the gist and general idea of the grammar in this article, we highly recommend tuning in to the episode for exemplary usage!

Grammar Point

Compared to English grammar, where “do you know” is at the start of the sentence, the Japanese grammar for that attaches itself to the end, just like most other

grammar points. In Japanese, the sentence structure is basically the opposite of English.

Shitteiru (知っている)

So for this one, we have “shitteiru” (知っている) or “shitteimasu” (知っています) to mean “to know”. The phrase comes from the word “shiru” (知る), which means “to find out” or “to get to know”. I won’t confuse you with the details, but long story short the difference is that “shiru” is an action, while “shitteiru” is a state, and the former is rarely used.

So in question form, we have it as “shitteiru” (知っている) or “shitteimasuka” (知っていますか). For example, “do you know John?” Can be translated in Japanese as “Jon wo shitteiru?” (ジョンを知っている?) or “Jon wo shitteimasuka?” (ジョンを知っていますか?) We use the particle “wo” (を) for this grammar most of the time.

A を 知っていますか?

A wo shitteimasuka?

If you know, you reply as: shitteiru (知っている) or shitteimasu (知っています)

If you don’t, you reply as: shiranai (知らない) or shirimasen (知りません)

Another way to use this phrase is like this question: “do you know where he lives?”. For this type of sentence, it’s said a different way — that’s because we’re connecting two parts into a sentence:

1. ”Where he lives” = “kare ga doko ni sundeiru” (彼がどこに住んでいる)

We replace the wo (を) particle which we would usually use, with ga (が)

To attach the two sentences together, we have to use the question particle which is ka (か). Then the second part:

2. ”Do you know” = “shitteiru” (知っている)

Put it all together, and you get: “kare ga doko ni sundeiru ka shitteiru” (彼がどこに住んでいるか知っている?) “kare ga doko ni sundeiru ka shitteimasuka?” (彼がどこに住んでいるか知っていますか?)

Here’s another example: “do you know if he’s going to the party tonight?” 

In Japanese, it’s: “konban no pātī ni iku dou ka shitteiru?” (今晩のパーティーに行くどうか知っている?)

BONUS:

Sometimes, you can use shitta (知った) in specific situations. For example, “dou yatte shitta?” (どうやって知った?) This means “how did you know?”.

There’s also a common saying, that is: “hajimete shitta” (初めて知った) to mean “that’s the first I’ve heard”.

Wakaru (分かる)

It’s quite common to confuse shitteiru with wakaru (分かる) or wakarimasu (分かります) for the polite form. The clearest way of explaining the difference is that, “shitteiru” as a question implies that you don’t expect the person to know, and as an answer implies that you already knew. “Wakaru” as a question has a nuance of

“do you remember/understand”, implying that the person should already know because it was brought up before, and as an answer implies that you remember/understand.

If you want to ask someone if they know Japanese, you usually would say “nihongo wakaru?” (日本語分かる?) or “nihongo wakarimasuka?” (日本語分かりますか?). This means “do you understand Japanese?” 

If you ask it as “nihongo shitteiru?” (日本語知っている?) or “nihongo shitteimasuka?” (日本語知っていますか?), it’s kind of like saying “have you heard of the Japanese

language?” 

If you do know Japanese — and understand it — reply with a “wakaru” or “wakarimasu”. If you don’t know, a simple “wakaranai” (分からない) or “wakarimasen” (分かりません) does the trick.

Vocab Recap

At the end of our Study Saturday episodes, we have a quick vocab recap of the words we used in the episode. Here’s a list for reference:

Doko (どこ) — where

Sundeiru (住んでいる) — to be living, it comes from the root form “sumu” — to live

Konban (今晩) — tonight

Dou ka (どうか) — …or not

Saigo (最後) — last

Atta (会った) — met. The root word is “au”, to mean “to meet”

Otetsudai wo suru (お手伝いをする) — the polite version of “tetsudau” to mean “to help”

Honjitsu (本日つ) — a polite version of saying “today”

Hatarakasete (働かせて) — the root form is “hataraku” to mean “to work”

Tsukai kata (使い方) — how to use. 

Tsukau (使う)  —to use

Kata (方) — way of

Fūni (風に) — this way

Yaru (やる) — to do

Tonari (隣) — next to

Aiteiru (空いている) — to be open, coming from the word “aku” which means “to open”

Conclusion

Now you have the general gist of how to say “do you know” and “i know” in Japanese! You’ll be surprised at how often you’ll be using it day to day. As mentioned before, this is just a recap and summary of what we discussed about in our language series episode. Check out the full episode over at Nihongo Master Podcast

Basic Japanese Words and Phrases for Holiday Celebrations!

Basic Japanese Words and Phrases for Holiday Celebrations!

Holidays are just around the corner. Who’s excited? I know I am! But the holidays shouldn’t stop us from keeping up with our Japanese language learning journey. So instead, we should incorporate some holiday into it! 

Do you know any Japanese words and phrases for the holiday celebrations? If not, you’ve come to the right place! Just like in English, there are certain words and phrases we use to wish people for the holidays and to describe the holiday season. It may not always be in the first few chapters of your Japanese textbook, but we’ve compiled the top 10 words and phrases you can use for this upcoming festive season! 

Keep reading to find out!

1. Omedetou (おめでとう)

The first one has definitely got to be omedetou (おめでとう). You can say this for a lot of different things. It’s so versatile. This word actually translates to “congratulations”, but it’s also used in the Japanese way to say “happy new year”, and that’s “akemashite omedetou” (あけましておめでとう). It actually comes from the word “akeru” (開ける) to mean “to open”, so you’re kind of welcoming the opening of the new year. 

You can also say “akeome” (あけおめ) with your friends. This is a casual and slangy way to say it.

You can also attach “omedetou” to other types of holidays like Hanukkah: Hanu-ka omedetou” (ハヌーカおめでとう). Or even Kwanzaa: “Kuwanza omedetou” (クワンザおめでとう).

2. Yoi Otoshi Wo (良いお年を)

One of my favourite phrases to say when the New Year approaches is “yoi otoshi wo” (良いお年を). This translates to “have a happy New Year” and it’s a very common phrase used by Japanese people.

Bear in mind that this phrase is used before the clock strikes midnight on January 1st. When you want to wish someone a happy new year after that, use the phrase before this.

3. Yasumi (休み)

The next basic Japanese word great for the holidays is yasumi (休み). That’s because this word translates to “holiday” or “off day”. You can say to someone to enjoy their holidays by saying “yasumi tanoshinde” (楽しんで). Although it’s perfect for the holiday celebrations, this word can also be used all year round to talk about days you’re not working or school holidays, too. 

4. Mata rainen (また来年)

I find this next phrase pretty cute, because it’s a bit quirky and pretty similar to English. Usually, you’d say to someone “see you later”, but when it’s the new year period, I like to say “see you next year” as a quirky saying. I bet a lot of people do, too.

In Japanese, that’s “mata rainen” (また来年). “Mata” (また) actually means “again” but in colloquial Japanese, you can also just say “mata” to mean “later” or “see you”. “Mata ashita” (また明日) means “see you tomorrow”.

5. Kyuuka (休暇)

While we already have the word for holiday before, this is another basic Japanese word for “holiday”: “kyuuka” (休暇). This is a more formal version than “yasumi” but it’s often combined with other words like “Christmas holidays” or “summer holidays”.

“Christmas holidays” is “kurisumasu kyuuka” (クリスマス休暇) and “summer holiday” is “kaki kyuuka” (夏季休暇).

6. Tanoshinde (楽しんで)

This next basic Japanese phrase for the holidays is “tanoshinde” (楽しんで), which means “have fun”. You can attach this to another word to make sentences like “have a fun Christmas party”, or you can just say it on its own.

“Have a fun Christmas party” is “kurisumasu pa-ti wo tanoshinde!” (クリスマスパーティを楽しんで!) .

7. Oshougatsu (お正月)

The next basic Japanese word you should know for the holidays is “oshougatsu”, which translates to “Japanese New Year”. This is a more common word to describe the first of January, but there’s also another word: ganjitsu (元日). While both are acceptable to use, the first one is more popular.

8. Purezento (プレゼント)

If you’ve mastered your katakana, you already know what this word means: presents! Purezento (プレゼント) is the katakana form of the English word “present”, and what’s the holidays without a gift or two, am I right? 

9. Meri Kurisumasu (メリークリスマス)

We have a few ways to talk about the holidays and New Years, but not so much on how to say “Merry Christmas”. It’s pretty simple, which is why I saved it for the last few. “Merry Christmas” is just the katakana form: meri kurisumasu (メリークリスマス).

10. Shinnen ga yoi toshi de arimasu you ni (新年が良い年でありますように)

This is a pretty long one, but also a good basic Japanese phrase to learn for the holidays. You’re wishing someone the best wishes for the next year. Kind of like the shorter phrase above “yoi otoshi wo”. However, this is a more formal and genuine wish.

You can also use parts of this phrase to say other things like “I hope you have a good day”. Just use the “de arimasu you ni” and attach it to another wish like “a good day”, which is “yoi hi” (良い日): “yoi hi de arimasu you ni” (良い日でありますように). Just attach this phrase to any good wish you want to give!

Have a happy holiday season! 

And that wraps up the top 10 basic Japanese words and phrases for the holiday celebrations. I hope you learn them just in time for the festive season. They’re super easy and super useful. Try it out with your family and friends! Have a wonderful holiday season, everyone! よいお年を!

10 Best Polite Words to Have Handy in Japanese

10 Best Polite Words to Have Handy in Japanese

Learning a new language can be tough. While the Japanese language is a beautiful one, it can be difficult to pick up in the beginning. But what you should take note of even before learning the language is that it’s a polite language. There are so many aspects of the Japanese language that are based on politeness.

To get you started, here are the top 10 polite words in Japanese that will definitely come in handy – regardless of whether you’re just starting out or you’re travelling to Japan soon. This is one of the best ways to learn Japanese fast and easy!

1. Sumimasen (すみません)

This word is one that’s super commonly used. “Sumimasen” (すみません) has a few different meanings and can use in a few different situations. Check out our podcast episode, Season 1 Episode 1, for a full rundown of how to use this phrase. 

In summary, you can use this phrase to apologise for inconveniencing someone, kind of like “pardon me”. You can also use this phrase to say “excuse me” – for example, you’re getting off the train and there are people blocking your way. Say “sumimasen” to let them know you need to get through.

2. Gomennasai (ごめんなさい)

Another polite word to have handy is “gomennasai” (ごめんなさい). When you learn Japanese, this is one of the first things you’ll learn. Gomennasai translates to “I’m sorry” and it’s used as an apology. It’s similar to the first one, but this word can’t be used to say “excuse me”. Our Season 1 Episode 1 podcast episode also talks about this phrase!

3. Onegaishimasu (お願いします)

Also part of our Season 1 Episode 1 podcast episode is “onegaishimasu” (お願いします). This phrase can also be used in a lot of situations. It essentially means “please” when asking for help. 

For example, the konbini (コンビニ) cashier might ask you if you want to heat up your food. You reply with “hai onegaishimasu” (はい、お願いします) to mean “yes please”. For more examples and situations, check our podcast episode!

4. Otsukaresama (お疲れ様)

The next word is “otsukaresama” (お疲れ様). I like this word a lot, because it has such a heartwarming tone. This word can translate to “thanks for all your hard work” and is often said to other coworkers after work or groups of people/friends after an event. You can use the longer form “otsukaresama deshita” (お疲れ様でした) or even cut it short with people who you are familiar with, to “otsukare” (お疲れ)

5. Itadakimasu (いただきます)

If you’ve watched anime (アニメ) before, you would probably have heard this phrase. Before eating a meal, you should say “itadakimasu” (いただきます) which can be translated to “thank you for the meal” or “I’m digging in!” Either way, it’s showing appreciation for the meal presented to you.

6. Gochisou sama deshita (ご馳走様でした)

After your amazing meal, don’t forget to show appreciation too. To do so, say “gochisou sama deshita” (ご馳走様でした) which is also saying “thank you for the meal”. Note that this phrase can only be used after a meal, and the previous word is used only before a meal. Don’t mix them up! This is a good pair of Japanese words to learn fast and easy! 

7. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu (よろしくお願いします)

I’m sure you recognised half of this phrase – see, you’re already learning Japanese! “Yoroshiku onegaishimasu” (よろしくお願いします) can have a few different translations. Oftentimes, this phrase is used after a greeting with someone new. In this case, it’s translated to “nice to meet you” or “please take care of me” or even “I look forward to working with you”.

Sometimes, you can use this when requesting someone to do something for you. In that case, this translates to “please fulfill my request”. You’ll see it quite often at the end of emails.

I would say the best English equivalent would be something like “thank you in advance”. It’s commonly used in formal situations. You can also cut it short to “yoroshiku” (よろしく), but it then becomes quite informal.

8. Shitsurei shimasu (失礼します)

Another common polite word or phrase in Japanese that you should learn is “shitsurei shimasu” (失礼します). This translates to “pardon my rudeness” most of the time. You can say this when you’re interrupting a conversation or basically anything. If you are walking through a group of people and they’re talking, you can say this as you walk through them.

You can use this phrase in the past tense too, to make “shitsurei shimashita” (失礼しました). This is often said after the ‘rude act’, and it somewhat translates to “sorry for being rude earlier”. It’s a pretty handy Japanese word to know and have, I think.

9.  Ojama shimasu (お邪魔します)

Another phrase similar to the one before is “ojama shimasu” (お邪魔します). This one translates more to “I’m going to get in your way” or “I will disturb you”. Most of the time, this is used when you’re entering someone’s house. In my opinion, it sounds slightly harsher – or at least, the ‘act of rudeness’ is slightly harsher.

10. Ki wo tsukete kudasai (気をつけてください)

Last but not least, a polite word or phrase to have handy in Japanese is “ki wo tsukete kudasai” (気をつけてください). I personally have this as a personal favourite, because it shows so much kindness and warmth. This translates to “please take care”, and can be said to anyone. 

When I get my food delivered by a delivery man, I often say this phrase to them. When parting ways with friends, we often say this to each other.I It’s just a nice sendoff for anyone.

Conclusion 

And that wraps up our list of polite Japanese words and phrases to have in handy. This list is a fun and easy way to learn Japanese fast, because everything on this list is used almost on a daily basis! There are so many polite words in the Japanese language, but knowing this is a good start. Good luck! 

How to Be Polite in Japanese?

How to Be Polite in Japanese?

One of the first few things we notice about the Japanese language when we start learning is that there are various levels of politeness. In fact, the basic Japanese that we all learn at the start is in fact one of the polite speech styles!

But that doesn’t mean that it’s the most polite. Politeness is a huge factor in Japanese culture and manners. Depending on who you talk to and what social situation you’re in, you adjust your polite speech style to accommodate it. How, you might ask?

You’ve come to the right place. Everything you need to know about the level of politeness, what affects it and how to be polite in basic Japanese is just a scroll away!

What affects politeness?

There are a few things that affect the way you speak to another person in terms of politeness. While it’s important in English as well, it’s even more important in the Japanese language.

First of all, how familiar you are with another person affects this politeness level. When you’re more familiar with another, you tend to speak more casually. For example, you speak in informal terms with family and close friends. Sometimes, slang is introduced in informal situations. With people you aren’t close to and strangers, you’re more on formal terms. 

This goes into the second factor, and that is social hierarchy. This is extremely significant in Japanese culture. Where you stand in that social ladder affects your level of politeness. Here’s a basic breakdown of rank:

Higher rank: Teacher, employer, guest, customer, senior in terms of age

Lower rank: Student, employee, host, salesman, junior in terms of age

The combination of familiarity and social hierarchy basically determines the level of politeness in speech. 

Levels of politeness in the Japanese language 

Let’s take a look at the levels of politeness in the Japanese language. In the English language, politeness is often achievable through the words and phrases used, and tone. Sometimes, even in business situations, you might not even need to be all that polite. In the Japanese language, politeness is crucial. 

In basic Japanese, politeness is achieved through its grammar primarily. While the words and tone used are also important, grammar is the ultimate way of achieving various levels of politeness. And how many levels are there?

Teineigo (丁寧語)

Teineigo (丁寧語) literally means “polite language”. When we first learn Japanese, this is the form we learn, and sometimes it’s referred to as “formal” speech. It’s the default form when two strangers talk to each other. This is also used when speaking to someone higher in rank.

In teineigo, you use the polite copula “desu” (です) at the end of nouns and adjectives, and the polite verb suffix “-masu” (〜ます).  You often don’t cut out anything in the sentence and use full sentences when speaking. Prefixes such as “o” (お) and “go” (ご) are also used.

Keigo (敬語)

When we get into a deeper understanding of the language, we learn that there are special forms for politeness in the Japanese language, and that’s known as keigo (敬語). This is a step up above teineigo and is an umbrella term that covers humble and honorific forms of speech.

Now that might be a whole lot to process, but let’s break that down. Keigo is used when talking to people significantly above you in rank by either exalting the superior or by humbling yourself. The basics of keigo when it comes to politeness is passiveness and indirectness. 

One form of keigo is the sonkeigo (尊敬語), also known as the honorific language. This is used when talking to a superior and exalting them and their actions. If you talk to your boss or teacher and are referring to them and their actions, the honorific form is used. We teach how to use this form in our Nihongo Master podcast in our Nihongo Master Podcast Season 6 Episode 6!

Another form of keigo is the kenjougo (謙譲語). This is the humble language. As you can tell, it’s a form of humble speech. When you talk to a superior but you’re referring to yourself, you use the humble form. We teach how to use this form in our Nihongo Master Podcast Season 6 Episode 9!

Honorifics in polite speech

One of the most important things to note is the usage of honorifics in polite speech. That’s the basics of politeness in the Japanese language.

The simplest way to add a touch of politeness to your speech is by adding a “san” (さん) to someone’s name. It’s like the equivalent of “Mr” or “Mrs” in the English language. This is the most basic honorific that you’ll learn in Japanese.

Sometimes, you can refer to one as “sama” (様). For example, when a staff member approaches a customer, they would refer to them as “okyakusama” (お客様) as the utmost level of politeness.

Different positions in Japanese society can have various honorifics. A teacher has “sensei” (先生) attached to their name, like Tanaka-sensei.

You’re always starting off with referring to someone with “San” until you’re told otherwise. Often times, your friends would tell you to drop the honorific, and maybe change to the more familial honorifics like “chan” (ちゃん) or “kun” (くん). However, with your superiors, continue using it unless told otherwise!

Add a dash of politeness to your Japanese!

We now know that there are more than a few ways to be polite in your Japanese speech. And this all depends on how familiar you are with the other party, and where in the social hierarchy you both rank. It never hurts to be polite, so add a little bit of politeness in your speech! Check out our other blog posts and also our podcast to learn Japanese the fun and easy way! 

Why You Should Take the JLPT

Why You Should Take the JLPT

When starting to learn a new language, you’re going to want to set some goals. At least, if you’re like me, you would want to aim for something. In terms of language, that aim is taking an exam. For the Japanese language, that’s the JLPT.

If you’ve read our previous articles on JLPT, you’d know what the JLPT is and how to study for it. One can’t really dive into this proficiency test if they don’t know if they want to take it in the first place. Some wonder why one would go through all the trouble and pain of drills, flash cards and tests. And that’s what this article is about.

We’re going to take a look at why you should take the JLPT test – the advantages and disadvantages of the JLPT and the various levels that are worth taking. Hopefully, by the end of the article, you will have a better understanding of the benefits of the JLPT as well as if you’re going to sign up for the next test date!

What is JLPT?

First and foremost, we have to look at what the test actually is. We have a whole article on that already, but let’s have a brief summary at it here regardless.

JLPT stands for Japanese Language Proficiency Test. This is the only test that is standardised to evaluate the level of Japanese language proficiency one has. There are five levels for the JLPT: 1 to 5. JLPT N5 is the lowest but easiest to pass of them all, and JLPT N1 is the highest level and as close to a native you can get. 

The JLPT tests cover both written and listening comprehension. However, they do not cover speaking or writing. So that means it quizzes on your understanding of the language rather than pronounciation or handwriting. 

Here at Nihongo Master, we have practices for all the various mediums. Start learning Japanese with a free trial here!

You can take the JLPT tests twice a year in over 60 countries worldwide. You have to register online in advance and it takes up to three months to get your results. This is important to know, especially if you’re using the results to apply for a job or university in Japan. Check this list for a testing center near you. 

Advantages of the JLPT

So now you know what the JLPT is, you might be thinking why you need it. There are a few advantages to taking the JLPT, especially since it’s the only standardised test of Japanese language proficiency.

Work Opportunities 

The first advantage of taking the JLPT test is that it is necessary for some jobs in Japan. Employers might look at Japanese language proficiency when hiring new employees. The first thing they will look at is your JLPT level. A lot of the time, you will need at least N2 level, but I know a few friends who got jobs with N3 levels. It might be the case of how fluent you are at speaking during the interview – they check speech fluency too, sometimes.

If you have an N2 level of Japanese fluency, your job opportunities widen. If you have an N1 level of Japanese fluency, it widens up even more by 30 to 50 percent. 

These are levels you would need for a job in Japan that requires you to converse and communicate in Japanese. JLPT N4 and N5 levels can land you jobs with a Japanese company outside of Japan, though. 

School

Another advantage of taking the JLPT is for school. Sometimes, the JLPT test is needed for getting into universities. Back in the day, this was compulsory. Now, it has been replaced with an easier test. 

Although, there are still schools which look at JLPT proficiencies like private conversation schools. JLPT levels are benchmarks for them. Some classes would require you to pass the level before to get into the higher levels. 

However, JLPT is not a requirement to get into university nowadays. 

When not to take the JLPT

So now that you know the advantages of the JLPT tests, when do you know not to take it? 

Basically, if your school or workplace says you don’t need a certificate that says you have a level of Japanese ability, there’s not much reason for you to take the test. The JLPT test is merely a certified piece of paper that companies and institutions need to submit your application through. That might be all.

Studying for higher levels of the JLPT like N1 and N2 can take up a lot of time. Some say that they don’t even use the knowledge they learned other than for the test. Preparation and practice are time consuming. And they only test on comprehension in terms of listening and reading.

If you’re looking to learn Japanese to communicate in speech, then the JLPT might not be a useful test for you, since it doesn’t test you on that. Even passing JLPT N1 doesn’t make you super fluent. It just means you can read the Japanese local newspaper. 

Don’t get me wrong. These tests are great for teaching you the correct grammar and sentence structure. However, if not paired with speech practice, it might not be as worthwhile as you think.

JLPT levels that are worthwhile 

Speaking of worthwhile, since there are five levels of the JLPT, are all of them worth taking? Let’s take a look at the different levels. 

JLPT N5 is the most basic level of proficiency. While there is no practical reason to take this level, it’s a good way to gauge your basic understanding of the language. Same goes for JLPT N4. JLPT N3 introduces a bit more business language into the test. While this is a step up from the previous two levels, this level still isn’t much use.

Once you head up to JLPT N2 or N1, that’s when it matters. Jobs and schools look for these levels, and you might even have a higher starting pay or waiver if you can prove your proficiency level. 

Should I take the JLPT?

It can be a tough decision to make, but at the end of the day it’s up to intention. Do you want to take the JLPT for work and school, or is it to challenge yourself? I personally took it for myself, but a lot of my friends took it for work. We’re all on different paths in life, so it balls down to every individual. Good luck!

What is the JLPT & how to take this Japanese proficiency test!

What is the JLPT & how to take this Japanese proficiency test!

If you’re interested in learning the Japanese language, or have already started studying it, you probably have heard about the JLPT. It’s the best way to measure one’s level of Japanese proficiency. Most languages have this type of standardized test. Japanese is no different.

While it may not be compulsory for one to take the JLPT test, it’s something most Japanese language learners should consider. Before you stress yourself out about it, you’ve come to the right place to know all you need to about this test. Everything from advantages and disadvantages to what the test contains is all just a scroll down away!

What is the JLPT?

Of course, the first question is: what is the JLPT? This stands for Japanese Language Proficiency Test. It’s organised by the Japan Educational Exchanges and Services (JEES), which is a semi governmental organisation. 

In the test, your reading and listening skills are tested, focusing on grammar and vocabulary. There are MCQ questions as well as listening comprehension. Depending on your level, the test gets harder. In total, there are 5 levels: JLPT N1 to N5. N5 is the lowest proficiency level of them all, with N1 being the highest. Japanese language learners start off by taking the JLPT N5 test.

A lot of Japanese language learners use these tests to gauge their level of proficiency and figure out their weak points. In N5 and N4, the most common and conversational grammar and vocabulary are tested, but as you get to N2, almost all the grammar points are tested.

Levels of the JLPT

As we mentioned earlier, there are 5 levels of JLPT. Let’s take a look at what you need to know for each level.

JLPT N5 

In JLPT N5, which is the easiest level, this proficiency level is a good first step. There are 600 vocabulary words covered, 100 kanji (漢字) characters and 100 grammar points. At this level, you should also be able to read hiragana (ひらがな) and katakana (カタカナ). Grammar points include particles, which is the basics of any Japanese sentence. 

This level of JLPT is a great level to show your achievement and interest in the language. While you can definitely put this on your resume, it probably won’t score you any big jobs. Lots of language learners study for the test but never actually take it. They do so just to know their level and also save a few bucks. 

JLPT N4

I personally skipped to the JLPT N4 and didn’t take the JLPT N5 test. This level covers most of the grammar that you need to speak conversational Japanese. Once you cover all of JLPT N4 and N5 material, you can get around Japan without many problems. 

In JLPT N4, you’re looking at 2,000 vocabulary words and 300 kanji characters. While it won’t get you reading newspapers without issue, you can understand the gist of the text enough.

JLPT N4 is a good level to stop at if you don’t plan on working in Japan or your job doesn’t require Japanese for work. This is because this level gives you good enough comprehension skills and grammar to survive most conversations. 

JLPT N3

From this level onwards, you’re going to want to be more focused. There’s a slightly big jump from N4 to N3 as you need to speed up reading and comprehending. At JLPT N3, you’re required to learn 5,000 vocabulary words and 600 kanji characters.

Phrases and grammar points in this level are more advanced than N4 and N5. This level bridges the gap between N4 and N2 – N4 looks at common grammar, whereas N2 looks at less common ones. 

At this level, you can use this for a job, maybe outside of Japan, to reply to non real-time comprehension like email. 

JLPT N2

If you’re planning to work in Japan, the JLPT N2 is what you should aim for. This gives you the most grammar and vocabulary you would need to understand most of written and spoken Japanese. You’re required to learn 10,000 vocabulary words and 1,000 kanji characters.

When you pass N2, you can land yourself a lot of jobs in Japan as it proves your comprehension of the language.

JLPT N1

Last but not least, we have the JLPT N1. This is the highest level of all and proves your utmost fluency in the language. When you have this level, you’re qualified for any job in Japan. It’s pretty close to native fluency at this point.

During the test, you’re going to have to take down notes ast and can skim and read fast, too. These are skills that are important for working. With this proficiency level, you might even qualify for special visas that have more perks than the permanent residency. 

Some say it takes the same amount of time to go from N2 to N1 as it does to go from 0 to N2.

Benefits of the JLPT

There are a lot of benefits to taking the JLPT tests, regardless of level. Even though it’s fairly easy to get an English teaching job in Japan, you can’t really do much without some sort of Japanese language comprehension.

So you’re definitely increasing your chances of getting other employment opportunities. Although, a lot of jobs require at least an N3 or N2 proficiency level, but you shouldn’t let that stop you from taking N5 and N4.

With a better understanding of the Japanese language, you might even be able to get a pay raise at your job. Especially if you can negotiate for it in Japanese.

Disadvantages of the JLPT

I think the biggest downside of the JLPT tests is that it doesn’t test speaking ability. The tests focus a lot on reading and listening, but there isn’t a section for speaking.

While this can easily be practiced when you immerse yourself in the country and its people, you can get away much more with grammar when talking to people casually. A lot of Japanese language learners are still constantly improving their grammar when speaking because the JLPT test doesn’t have a section to correct speech.

What level of the JLPT do I need?

Now, this depends on what you want to use Japanese for. If it’s to gauge your understanding of the language, N4 and N5 can do that. 

N3 can get you a couple of job positions. I have tons of friends who are at N3 level and have landed jobs in Japan with it.

To be fully certain you can get more job opportunities, N2 is the way to go.

N1 is only needed for more advanced positions.

Which JLPT test are you going to take?

So, which level are you going to take? Remember that you should always take your time and go at your own pace when learning Japanese. You are on your own path and no one else’s! Good luck!

Basic Japanese: Hiragana & Katakana – What you need to know about Japan’s two alphabets!

Basic Japanese: Hiragana & Katakana – What you need to know about Japan’s two alphabets!

One of the first few things you’d notice about the Japanese language when you start learning it is the various alphabets. I mean, who wouldn’t? In English, we only have one. In Japanese, there are two! Not to mention kanji! Those who know this and still are motivated to learn are the strong-hearted ones!

Whether or not you already know the alphabets, have you ever questioned why there are two of them? I guess you have, if not, you wouldn’t be here! We’re here to clear your doubts and answer some of your questions regarding the matter. Read on for clarifications on hiragana, katakana, and their usages!

What is hiragana? 

Hiragana (ひらがな) is one of the two phonetic lettering system in the Japanese language. The word actually translates to mean “ordinary” or “simple”. Originally, hiragana was called 女手 (おんなで), and women were the main group of people using it. 

Back in the late Nara to early Heian period, around the 8th century, the ancient writing system 万葉仮名 (まんようがな) was used for unofficial texts, written in the cursive style of 草書体 (そうしょうたい). The women in the imperial courts developed hiragana because it was easier to use compared to the Chinese characters. Back in the day, only men were allowed to be educated in reading and writing kanji. These kanji are more picture-words than phonetic, which is why hiragana is created as it’s easier to read and write. Over time, men started using it too.

Officially, the Chinese characters were still used, and hiragana was used among non-governmental organizations and commoners, in poems and short stories. From the 16th century onwards, hiragana started to be called 平仮名 (ひらがな) – the kanji used 平 actually takes the meaning of “simplicity” or”general use”.

What is katakana?

The other Japanese alphabet, katakana (片仮名 or カタカナ), also originated from the 万葉仮名 (まんようがな) writing system. Instead of women creating the alphabet, the Buddhist monks were the ones that came to use this alphabet. It wasn’t also used separately from Chinese characters, but together with them. 

The Buddhist monks created katakana to be able to read difficult Buddhist scriptures. It’s used as a form of annotation as a supplement to kanji characters. Over time, katakana was used for official documents and for scholars. 

Katakana was often used by men, so it was sometimes referred to as 男手 (おとこで) to contrast with hiragana, as it was often used by women. 

The 片 kanji in the name of hiragana means “pieces” as the writing system took parts of the Chinese characters to make them. It was also implied that katakana was going to be only temporary, as it was a supplement of the Chinese characters, but now remained to write words of foreign origin. While there were a few variations of katakana, it was standardised in the 1900s. 

Why are there two alphabets in the Japanese language?

Now we’re going on to the big question: why is there still a need for two alphabets in the Japanese language? You might’ve guessed it already from the backstory of each writing system. The two alphabets were created for different purposes. Hiragana was used as a common language and separate from official writing. Katakana was a supplement to official writing. 

Sometimes, both writing systems were used. A text in 897 called 周易抄 (しゅうえき) used both hiragana and katakana – hiragana was used for annotation to do with meaning and more often used for poetry and letters, and katakana was used by scholars to aid with kanji. 

Nowadays, hiragana is used for grammatical purposes like particles. It’s also sometimes still used for phonetic reasons to sound out really difficult kanji characters. Onomatopoeias are written in hiragana too. 

Katakana, as we mentioned earlier, is used to represent new words that were imported from foreign languages. Even though they have the same sounds as hiragana, because there’s no kanji characters for foreign words, they’re written in katakana instead. 

What about kanji?

We speak a lot of kanji throughout the article, it raises the question: why is it still used in the Japanese language? Kanji is the oldest writing system from China. It’s a picture-based system that’s made up from logograms. That means they are characters that represent whole words.

Kanji is the first writing system used in Japan, introduced in the 4th to 5th century. Japan had a spoken language, but not a writing system to go along with it. The Japanese then took the kanji writing system and matched each character word with the same pronunciation in their spoken language. 

Sometimes, the original lChinese pronunciation is still used today, which is why we have onyomi (音読み), the Chinese way, and kunyomi (訓読み), the Japanese way, now. 

For example, the kanji for “mountain” is 山. In Japanese, this is pronounced as “やま”, but the Chinese pronunciation is “さん”. Both pronunciations are still used today, which is why Mt. Fuji is called both “Fuji-Yama” and “Fuji’san”.

Nowadays, all three writing systems are used together. Sometimes, you can see all of them in a single sentence. This is for readability reasons. Kanji characters create natural breaks in a sentence because they’re easier for the reader to separate nouns and verbs. A full sentence in hiragana is like an English sentence without spacing. Katakana is for foreign loan words, and it’s similar to our italics in English. 

Use all three writing systems in Japanese!

There’s always a way to simplify them even more, but the Japanese people are pretty content with using all three writing systems. And who are we to tell them not to? When in Rome, as they say. After all, once you get the hang of it, reading Japanese in their two alphabets plus kanji is not difficult at all!