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 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
The English vowels,
a,e,i,o & u represented in hiragana
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.
The English vowels,
a,e,i,o & u represented in katakana
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.
These kanji mean
' Inner Strength' and are pronounced "Kokoro
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