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Three Alphabets, One Language: Hiragana, Katakana & Kanji

June 19, 2017

Japanese employs the use of three different alphabets- Hiragana, Katakana & Kanji. These are distinguished by their use and what they look like.

What is Kanji? 


Kanji is considered to be the main alphabet of the Japanese language. It consists of over 8,000 characters that each denote a word, name, or abstract concept. You can combine kanji characters to create a sentence similar to what English speakers would say.

Watch out though, kanji characters can have several different meanings and pronunciations. Be sure to look out for context!

What is Hiragana & Katakana? 


Both of these alphabet systems are a phonetic way of spelling and are collectively referred to as kana. Each character will represent a syllable-thankfully they have the same syllables in both hiragana and katakana. So these characters don't have any connotation on their own but are used to create words phonetically.

What is the difference between the two? 

Gosh you're impatient!

When is Hiragana used?

Hiragana is used when Japanese words are not written in kanji. It is also used to represent different grammatical functions and features, like conjugations and participles.

When is Katakana used? 

Katakana is used for phonetically spelling loan words and foreign words. Many of these words do not have a kanji character.

kanji hiragana katakana

Want more on Japanese? Head over to the LanguageHaus and check out some downloads!

Basic Japanese for Travelers

More on Japan?

Exploring the Otagi-Nenbutsu-ji Temple in Kyoto

Culture Shock in Japan

Siggi Einarson

My name is Siggi-dubbed by my American friends because of the Icelandic yogurt-I am a writer, polyglot, and aspiring expat, not a cup of yogurt (unfortunately).

My love for travelling began with a trip to Iceland and Sweden to visit my family when I was just 15 years old. I spent so long dreaming of the possibilities of life abroad but I always figured these dreams were too far reached. Flash forward almost 10 years, here I am again, both cursing and thanking this damn travel bug.

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