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There are over 8000 Kanji. An average adult Japanese speaker must know at least 2000 off by heart.

Japanese Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji

The Japanese language consists of not one, but three different alphabets. Each is used in a slightly different way as described below.

Hiragana

Hiragana is a syllabic alphabet. In other words, each character represents a sound. There are 46 different characters each of which represent a different sound. Hiragana is used to represent native Japanese words. You will often see small Hiragana characters above or below Kanji to indicate how the Kanji should be pronounced. When used in this role, Hiragana are known as 'Furigana'.

(a)(e)(i)(o)(u)

The English vowels, a,e,i,o & u represented in hiragana

Katakana

Katakana is also a syllabic alphabet. There are 46 different Katakana. It is no coincidence that there are the same number of characters in both the Hiragana and Katakana alphabets as they both represent exactly the same sounds (some of them even look quite similar).

So why are there two alphabets which sound identical and have some characters which look similar? The answer is simple. Katakana is used to represent foreign words whereas Hiragana is used to represent native Japanese words. If you see a word written in Katakana you know that it is one which has been imported from a foreign language.

(a)(e)(i)(o)(u)

The English vowels, a,e,i,o & u represented in katakana

Kanji

The big one. There are over 8000 Kanji. Kanji are not syllabic and are used to represent abstract concepts as well as names and everyday words.  An average adult Japanese speaker must know at least 2000 off by heart. Most Kanji are combined with other Kanji to form the equivalent of our 'phrases'. Again, these must be memorised.

One characteristic of Kanji which can make translating Japanese more difficult is that most Kanji have several meanings and pronunciations. It is not always obvious (even to a native Japanese speaker), which meaning or pronunciation the author intended. Sometimes Furigana are used for clarification but in their absence, only the context and the reader's experience can provide clues.

Inner Strength

These kanji mean ' Inner Strength' and are pronounced "Kokoro ga tsuyoi."

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