The Japanese language is fundamentally different from Roman-based languages. Japanese words are made up of syllables – such as ro, ha, ni, and so on – instead of letters. There are two Japanese syllabaries, Hiragana and Katakana. Hiragana is mainly used for Japanese words, while Katakana is used for scientific terms and foreign words. Many English and European words have been adopted into the Japanese language. In addition, the Japanese utilize Chinese characters (kanji), consisting of small brush drawings to represent ideas.
Japanese is considered a difficult language to learn because of its complex writing system. However, Japanese calligraphy is extremely beautiful. Japanese students have to practice very hard for many years to learn how to write several thousand kanji characters. The Japanese style of writing goes in vertical columns from the right to the left side of the page. The Western style of writing is also used, with horizontal rows going from the top to the bottom of a page.
Basic Japanese grammar is relatively simple. For example, nouns always appear in the same form, there are no complicated conjugation rules for verbs, no distinctions between plural and singular, no gender-based articles, and almost no exceptions to the rule as there are in English. Japanese vowels are pronounced like A as in father, E as in yes, I as in machine, O as in go, U as in put. Long vowels are usually indicated by double vowels (ii). Consonants are generally pronounced as in English.
The main difficulty in learning to speak Japanese is the fact that there are different levels of speech depending on one’s social status and surroundings. For example, different words and expressions are used when addressing a stranger or a superior, as opposed to when talking to a child, relative, or close friend. The most polite, honorific language level is used in formal situations.
Did You Know…? Following Japanese usage, a person’s family name precedes their given name.
Counting Numbers and Months
To count from one to twelve in Japanese, say: Ichi, Ni, San, Shi, Go, Roku, Shichi, Hachi, Kyuu, Juu, Juuichi, Juuni. In Japan, each month (“gatsu”) is named in order after a number. January is Ichi-gatsu, February is Ni-gatsu, March is San-gatsu, and so on. The Japanese school year starts in April (Shi-gatsu).
Japanized English and Japanese English
Many English words were adopted by the Japanese in katakana form, particularly those that were difficult to translate using Japanese vocabulary. Can you guess what the following words are? Kurisumasu, mubi, keh-ki, koh-hi, takushi, konpyuta, terebijon, pittsa, yunibashiti, tabako, baiku, sandoicchi, donatsu, rimokon, intaanetto, marason, chokoreeto, kauboi.
(Answers: Christmas, movie, cake, coffee, taxi, computer, television, pizza, university, tobacco, motorcycle, sandwich, doughnut, remote control, internet, marathon, chocolate, cowboy.)
The English language has also borrowed many words from the Japanese. Examples include: bonsai, futon, haiku, honcho, kamikaze, karaoke, kimono, origami, shiitake, soy, sushi, tofu, tsunami, tycoon.
A funny thing is, the Japanese took the English word “animation,” changed it to “animeshiyon,” and shortened it to “anime.” Then the word “anime” was borrowed back into English, referring to animation in the Japanese style.
Glossary of Martial Arts
The Japanese are masters of the arts of combat and self-defense. Many of our martial arts terms come from Japan.
Aikido - a self-defense technique ("the way of harmony of the spirit") utilizing an opponent's own momentum to work against him.
Dojo - a school for training in various arts of self-defense.
Judo – a sport developed from jujitsu ("the gentle way") that emphasizes the use of quick movement and leverage to throw an opponent.
Karate – a self-defense technique ("the way of the empty hand") using hand strikes and kicks.
Kendo - Japanese sport of fencing ("the way of the sword") with bamboo or hardwood swords.
Kyudo - Japanese archery ("the way of the bow").
Ninja - a person trained in Japanese martial arts and employed especially for espionage, assassinations, and explosions.
Samurai – a warrior of the aristocracy.
Sensei – a teacher of martial arts.
Shogun – a great general; one of a line of military governors ruling Japan until the revolution of 1867-68.
Sumo - a wrestling match between two gigantic men.
The Most Useful Japanese Word - If you only learn one word in Japanese, it should be “Domo.” This word literally means “very,” but it can also mean hello, thank you, I beg your pardon, and goodbye. Japanese people use this word all the time, letting the meaning be implied from the context. So if you have a chance to talk with a Japanese person, saying domo is an easy way to communicate even if you don’t know any other Japanese words. It can be used when greeting a Japanese person after a long time away, meeting someone for the first time, saying goodbye, thank you, etc.
www.travelblog.org/World/japanese-language.html (Japanese language information.)
www.learn-hiragana-katakana.com/ (Online games for learning Japanese.)
www.freejapaneselessons.com (Free Japanese lessons. It’s recommended that you view this site with Internet Explorer in order to see the Japanese characters properly.)
http://hobby_elec.piclist.com/e_japanese.htm (Japanese language classroom.)
http://web-japan.org/kidsweb/language/index.html (Japanese Language Lessons for kids.)
http://home.threeweb.ad.jp/english/jpncntrl/bgnr_hp.html (Beginner Level Japanese Course.)
http://www2.tokai.or.jp/yuki/japanese_words_and_phrases.htm (Japanese words and phrases for Christmas, colors, days of the week, family, seasons, numbers, pronouns, students and teacher, greetings, expressions, replies, situational phrases.)
www.learn-japanese.info (A free, easy way to learn Japanese online. Covers sentence structure and has lots of vocabulary.)
www.coscom.co.jp (Learn Japanese on the Web. Practical Japanese, conversation, expressions, and Kanji with audio. Textbooks and CD-ROMs also for sale.)
www.thejapanesepage.com/news.php (Learn Japanese while having fun. Grammar, kanji, culture and a little bit of everything Japanese for free.)
www.japanese-online.com (Learn about Japanese language and culture through the experiences of an American high school senior and his family in Tokyo.)
http://www.drkazu.com/english-japanese-3.htm (50 basic Japanese phonograms.)
http://japanesetranslator.co.uk/your-name-in-japanese/ (Write your name in Japanese!)
www.geocities.com/Tokyo/Shrine/7047/ (Japanese Writing Tutor.)
www.yale.edu/anime/glossary.html (A crash course in Japanese for anime fans.) This page is gone, bummer! If you find it somewhere else, please e-mail .
http://www.chinatownconnection.com/japanese-alphabet.htm (The Japanese alphabet in Hiragana and Katakana.)
http://ninomiya.net/kanji/words.html (Japanese words and Kanji characters.)
www.timwerx.net/language/modjp (Interesting facts about the modern Japanese language.)
http://japanese.about.com/library/weekly (Lessons in Japanese grammar, expressions, and culture.)
www.sabotenweb.com/bookmarks/language.html (Japanese language learning tools on the web.)
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