Basic Writing in Japanese

Do you remember the time we taught you some basic words and sentences in Japanese back in January of 2011?

This time we’ll teach you how to write them. Well, not exactly the same words and sentences but we’d share an overview of what we studied today for our October Creativity Workshop.

For starters, the Japanese have three ways of writing. There is the Kanji, the Hiragana and the Katakana. Of the three kinds of writing mentioned, two of them – Katakana and Hiragana – are syllabaries composed of characters representing a syllable usually formed by combining a consonant and a vowel, while one – Kanji – is composed of symbols that represent a whole variety of things.

Let’s take a look at these examples:

Image source:

The symbols that you can see at the first and second rows are the Kanji characters. Kanji characters are of Chinese origins and are used for words that trace its roots to the Chinese language.

Say for example the word love, both Chinese and Japanese Kanji writes it as .

The same goes for strength which is written in Chinese and Japanese as .

They have different ways of pronouncing them though, so you might want to consider the context of the word or sentence they were used in when reading.

The cursive characters that you can see on the third row, on the other hand, are Hiragana characters and they are used for native Japanese words. Say for example, you want to write Konnichiwa which means Hello in Japanese, you can write it like this  or if you want to say Ogenki desu ka which means How are you, you can write it like .

Lastly, the angular characters that you can see under the Hiragana table are the Katakana characters. They are commonly used for words that have been borrowed from other languages. However, please note that loan words are written the way they are pronounced in Japanese and not the way they are spelled in their original language. Take the word soccer for instance. In Japanese it is pronounced sakka* so it is written as .

This is similar with the word basketball which is pronounced as basuketboru** in Japanese and written as .

Those are pretty much the basics. Of course the language is much more complex than that, but if you just want something to scribble on your notes, use as a design on your shirt, or use as a nametag to mark your lockers like we did with ours below,  learning those can be a good start.

You can learn more of the Japanese language and Japanese writing systems by checking out these resources:

Hiragana – contains some background information and basic rules on writing Hiragana

Katakana – contains some background information and basic rules on writing Katakana

Basic Kanji – contains a compilation of basic Kanji characters that you will need to learn to write more complicated Kanji later

Kanji-Hiragana-Romaji Converter – features a handy tool that converts Kanji and Hiragana into Romaji (Japanese words written using the English alphabet)

Japanese-English Dictionary – features an online Japanese-English/English-Japanese dictionary that provides translation for both languages as well as illustrations on how to write them.

Japanese Pronunciation – provides a brief overview of Japanese pronunciation

Japanese Loan Words – provides helpful tips in pronouncing Japanese loan words as well as some common examples



*There is no ‘er’ sound in Japanese, so it is replaced with an “a” sound instead. This is true for words like gemu oba (game over), pasokon (short for personal computer), and nightmare (naitomea).

** The letter L is non-existent in Japanese so it is substituted by the ra, re, ri, ro, or ru characters instead. Samples of these are the words tabureto (tablet), misairu (missile), and garasu (glass).