Here’s Everything You Need to Know About Hiragana, Katakana, Kanji, and Romaji
All the characters you need to learn to be proficient in the Japanese language.
The Japanese language is very special and unique. First, there are four different types of characters that are used in daily life: hiragana, katakana, kanji, and romaji (Roman characters or the alphabet). When one—including Japanese people—first studies the Japanese language, he or she starts with the first two: hiragana and katakana. Later on, he or she studies kanji characters. For a person who is living in Tokyo, it is important to know the basics so that it’s easier to communicate with others.
A typical street in Tokyo. As you can see, the signage of shops and stores show the four types of Japanese characters.
Hiragana and Katakana
Japanese words are formed not by letters but by sounds and syllables. There are 46 sounds each in hiragana and katakana. While the sounds and syllables for hiragana and katakana are the same, they look different. Hiragana characters look more rounded and curved while katakana characters have more edges and straight lines. Here are a few examples:
Kanji characters are mostly Chinese characters adapted into the Japanese language. There are easy to write kanji and there are those that require many strokes. Every kanji character has its own meaning, and often there are different pronunciations depending on the usage of kanji.
Japanese Language Proficiency Test
If you are interested in gauging your Japanese language proficiency, there are many tests available and one of them is the Nihongo Nouryoku Shiken or the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT). Having a certification in this test helps in expanding career options and in some visas for working in Japan, this is a requirement.
Whether you are studying or working in Japan, or simply a big fan of anime, manga, and Japanese culture like the rest of us, we highly recommend you learn the language as well. It is a beautiful language and it can be a lot of fun to learn.
(21 June 2019)