Post Reply Why Japan uses a mix of Hiragana, Katakana or Kanji
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19 / M / Australia
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Posted 11/21/14
Just Curious and sorry if its been posted before. Just starting to learn
Have learnt all of Hiragana and Katakana then I saw how many Kanji symbols there are and Im about to give up now haha
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Posted 11/21/14
lol it's to confuse the foreigners!
Posted 11/21/14 , edited 11/21/14
if i remember correctly they mix it up because they want to use hiragana and use it, but sometimes it may be to long, so they make it into kanji. Japan also mixes in katakana because their may be foreign words. remeber that hiragana is native, katakana is foreign, and kanji is shorten versions of hiragana. sorry thats confusing.
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28 / M / New Jersey
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Posted 11/21/14
Also keep in mind when written out, Japanese doesn't use spaces between words. I can't remember the exact example of what my old Japanese teacher used to show this, but the sentence in Japanese when written out in hiragana pretty much looked like "hahahaha.....". It was actually trying to say something along the lines of "Mother was...." but because it was the same hiragana written several times in a row it made the sentence hard to understand. Using kanji made the sentence much easier to read.
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Posted 11/21/14 , edited 11/21/14
hiragana = local and native words
Katakana = foreign words
Kanji = often used so the the reader doesn't get mixed up as there are no spaces in japanese. This makes it easier to tell each word apart from one another
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29 / M / Norway
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Posted 11/22/14
The Japanese adopted the Chinese alphabet and gave it a few original twists, from that was born the hiragana alphabet. Much later they invented katakana for foreign loan words. It probably was to create a unique Japanese culture in order to keep better control of the Japanese peasants. Same reason they adopted shinto to counter buddhism and why they fought off Christianity.

To learn kanji it helps to know the kanji radicals, smaller building blocks, which together form more complicated kanji characters. There are 214 I believe. Think of it as learning to speak before you write. Quick example would be the character 海 (sea, ocean), the radical 氵is associated with water so when you see that one in a kanji character you can expect it to have something to do with water. So when I try to remember the kanji for "to sink" (沈) at least I can guess it has the water 氵radical in it! If you are a systematic learner, knowing the radicals will make kanji characters seem less "randomly generated".
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19 / M / Australia
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Posted 11/23/14
Thank you everyone for the quick replies that helped out a lot!!
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49 / M / KC
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Posted 11/24/14
The Japanese written language has a rich and complicated history, which I've terribly butchered to create this summary. Hopefully, you'll get the gist of how all 3 writing systems came about.

Originally, Japan had no written language of its own. Starting about the 4th century, Japan "imported" kanji from Korea. The kanji kept much of the same meanings, but they got adapted to the Japanese oral language. This is the major reason why there are two readings for most Japanese kanji: the on'yomi for the "Chinese" reading and the kun'yomi for the Japanese reading. Over the centuries, there were several waves of kanji importation from both Korea and China. This also explains why some kanji have many on'yomi.

To complicate things further, there was also a gender split in the development of hiragana and katakana. Scholars--almost entirely men--were devoted to studying kanji and pursuing scholarly activities. The blocky katakana might have originated with Buddhist scholars, but ended up being developed and used by men for commentaries, dictionaries, etc. Women, on the other hand, didn't have the same pursuits but still needed a simplified writing system. Hiragana developed as a cursive syllabary that women and eventually the common people used. So, by the 7th or 8th century there were 3 developed writing systems in Japan. Eventually, all of them merged into the system we know today.

But, if you really want to learn Japanese, you have to learn all 3. Kanji is absolutely essential for understanding written Japanese.
Posted 11/24/14
Hiragana is cute and childish, katakana is cool until you're in 8th grade, and kanji is for the adults.
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Posted 12/1/14 , edited 12/1/14

deadpanditto wrote:

The Japanese written language has a rich and complicated history, which I've terribly butchered to create this summary. Hopefully, you'll get the gist of how all 3 writing systems came about.

Originally, Japan had no written language of its own. Starting about the 4th century, Japan "imported" kanji from Korea. The kanji kept much of the same meanings, but they got adapted to the Japanese oral language. This is the major reason why there are two readings for most Japanese kanji: the on'yomi for the "Chinese" reading and the kun'yomi for the Japanese reading. Over the centuries, there were several waves of kanji importation from both Korea and China. This also explains why some kanji have many on'yomi.

To complicate things further, there was also a gender split in the development of hiragana and katakana. Scholars--almost entirely men--were devoted to studying kanji and pursuing scholarly activities. The blocky katakana might have originated with Buddhist scholars, but ended up being developed and used by men for commentaries, dictionaries, etc. Women, on the other hand, didn't have the same pursuits but still needed a simplified writing system. Hiragana developed as a cursive syllabary that women and eventually the common people used. So, by the 7th or 8th century there were 3 developed writing systems in Japan. Eventually, all of them merged into the system we know today.

But, if you really want to learn Japanese, you have to learn all 3. Kanji is absolutely essential for understanding written Japanese.


This is the best answer in the thread, except switch Hiragana and Katakana in the scholarly stuff.

Katakana was earlier known as onna-de, which translates literally as "woman's hand". Women weren't taught how to write, so they just made their own. It only became used specifically for foreign words much later.

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33 / M / Sydney, Australia
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Posted 12/1/14

Iggdrassil wrote:

they adopted shinto to counter buddhism and why they fought off Christianity.



Actually, Shinto is the native religion. It was there long before the Japanese people as we know them today even existed. Buddhism was adopted from China and the native Ainu now mostly practice Buddhism with some weird Shinto things thrown in. Christianity was definitely fought off, though. The ruling elite were terrified of the Portuguese bringing in Christianity, thinking that they were trying to conquer the nation by stealth. Turns out they were totally right and shutting down the borders preserved their Buddhist majority.

They went so far as to round up all the foreigners living in Japan at the time and forcing them to move to an island just for foreigners, where they were forced to wear stupid looking yellow hats to show that they weren't Japanese.
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49 / M / KC
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Posted 12/1/14

KurisuSensei wrote:

Katakana was earlier known as onna-de, which translates literally as "woman's hand". Women weren't taught how to write, so they just made their own. It only became used specifically for foreign words much later.



Pretty sure I had it right. :)
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/266740/hiragana

It's easy to get them confused.
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33 / M / Sydney, Australia
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Posted 12/1/14
Well, shit. I goofed.
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Posted 9/27/15
Actually, Shinto would pre-date Buddhism. It's linneage is found in Shamanistic practices. The codification came later, yes, but the practice is quite ancient.
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