How to Learn Japanese Writing?

Concept of Kanji Stroke Order - EDOPEN Japan

In learning Japanese, writing skills are definitely very important.

Not only being able to write by hand, how to properly type a job application letter, report, how to make a presentation and many other administrative matters requires you to be able to understand the Japanese writing system.

For those of you who are looking for a guide on how to learn how to write in Japanese correctly.

And also for those of you who want to master how to write Japanese precisely and easily.

This article on how to write in Japanese is the perfect answer for you!

In this article, we will discuss the concept of Japanese writing in a very comprehensive way, in-depth understanding of the 3 Japanese writing systems, how to master Kanji writing and tips on how to do it.

Okay, let’s get right into it!

1. Is it easy to learn Japanese writing?

Sorry, the answer is no. Japanese has been considered as one of the most difficult languages to learn. Of course, one of the reasons is mainly due to the complexity of the writing system.

There are 3 main systems of Japanese writing, hiragana, katakana and kanji. Plus the usual Arabic numerals and the Roman alphabet for additional information on places in public areas.

However, hiragana and katakana have always managed to be a welcome breath of fresh air as they are still relatively easy to learn. And mastering both is enough to master JLPT N5 & N4. And to learn Kanji.

Then, if you are able to consistently apply a good learning system, keep practicing consistently, mastering the Japanese writing system will not be too difficult and on the contrary, you will find that writing every component of kanji and also other Japanese writing systems will be a very pleasant activity.

2. How can I learn to write in Japanese?

Start by mastering how to write hiragana. Master and understand the all characters of hiragana. Remember them as quickly and as clearly as you remember the alphabet or script of your native language. Next, move on to katakana. Grasp the all characters of katakana.

The similar number and pronunciation between hiragana and katakana will make it very much easier for you to master these 2 main Japanese writing systems.

Mastering hiragana and katakana will give you a decent foundation for learning Japanese.

However, if you are unable to master hiragana and katakana, then mastering Kanji will only be just a dream.

3. Japanese Three Writing Systems

In understanding the Japanese writing system, you need to master three main systems: hiragana, katakana and kanji.

Hiragana is the phonetic letter that represents each syllable in Japanese. Hiragana literally means “flowing” or “simple”.

Hiragana is used to write okurigana and furigana. Okurigana is the kana that follows behind the kanji. Furigana, on the other hand, are hiragana letters written above the kanji to help with the pronunciation of the kanji.

The functions of hiragana include:
Writing okurigana for verbs, adjectives and particles in a sentence.
Writing vocabulary for informal writing.
Writing furigana to help with the pronunciation of difficult kanji.

Then, Katakana is also the same as hiragana pronunciation, but the letters are different. The usage is also different. Katakana is specifically used for transcription of foreign words into Japanese.

The function of Katakana is for:
Writing transcription of foreign words, writing an emphasis, representing onomatopoeia, writing technical and scientific terms, writing names of animals, plants and even Japanese company names to give emphasis and special characters.

Hiragana and katakana are very easy to learn. In just 1 month, if you study them intensely, you can master them.

In my first month of learning Japanese at JASSO-Tokyo, hiragana and katakana comprehension drills were a mandatory early stage of the learning process. How to pronounce and write them quickly, precisely and beautifully (bonus) became the target we had to achieve in 2 months.

Furthermore, learning kanji becomes much easier when hiragana has been mastered.

4. Japanese Writing Steps

Please remember that you can write Japanese both vertically and horizontally. Vertical writing can be found in novels, Japanese newspapers and various other media.

However, most common public publications are usually written horizontally, just like the alphabet. If the writing is done vertically, the text will be written from top to bottom with columns of text adding up from right to left.

And if the writing is done horizontally, the text will be written from left to right with some lines adding downward like the standard English text that we often find everyday. What are the steps to mastering the Japanese writing system? Have a look at the following steps:

(1) Start writing Hiragana

There are 48 basic hiragana syllable characters with the following specifications:

  1. 5 Single vowels: あ (a), い (i), う (u), え (e) and お (o)
  2. 42 combined consonant and vowel syllables with exceptions:
    へ which is pronounced “e” only without h when used as a particle
    を which is pronounced “o” only without w when used as a particle and certain vocabulary.
    ゐ (wi) and ゑ (we) which are only used for some special names. They are pronounced as “i” only and “e” only respectively without the consonant letter w in front of them. These two characters are also rarely introduced for beginners.
  3. 1 single consonant letter ん pronounced “n” or “ng”

In hiragana writing, you can use the hiragana guide table, just follow the numbers that show the stroke order and the arrows that show the stroke direction.

(2) Writing Katakana

Currently, there are 46 katakanas used in Japanese.

There are 2 pairs of characters that are very similar in katakana. They are シ (shi) and ツ (tsu) and ソ (so) and ン (n).

The difference in the direction and slope of each character should be noted and not reversed. More practice will make it easier for you to master these 4 characters.

(3) Writing Kanji

There are a total of 2,136 Jōyō Kanji (常用漢字) required to reach the level of fluency in Japanese language and literature.

In Japan, junior high school students are usually expected to have mastered all of these kanji.

You can practice writing kanji with a variety of methods that have been highly developed today, including:

  1. Repetitive writing
  2. Using the picture mnemonic method
  3. Using character etymology

and also a variety of other methods.

5. Why does Japan use kanji?

For those of you who might be wondering (myself included, when I first started learning Japanese), why doesn’t Japan just use simple romaji?

Kanji make Japanese sentences more effective, concise and quick to read. Without kanji, sentences would be very long, ambiguous and confusing.

Kanji also provide visual cues that reinforce the meaning of the vocabulary appearing in the sentence.

The use of kanji also does not require any spaces in each word to make it easier to read sentences in Japanese. Especially if it is coupled with hiragana, then Japanese sentences become very beautiful, easy and fast to read.

6. Why You Should Learn Kanji?

There are at least 3 main reasons why you should master Kanji writing if you really want to master Japanese as a whole.

Firstly, mastering kanji will really help you understand Japanese sentences quickly and effectively. In practice, kanji are made up of complicated strokes. So, if you have grasped the meaning of the kanji used, then the subsequent screening of hiragana and katakana will be very light because the strokes of hiragana and katakana are fewer and simpler than kanji.

Secondly, it avoids misunderstandings in interpreting characters with the same pronunciation and hiragana syllables. Due to the limited homophones in Japanese, there are often words that have the same pronunciation but different kanji. Such as 話す (to speak) and 離す (to let go or separate) and many other characters.

Thirdly, being able to write kanji will save you a lot in writing anything in Japanese. Everything related to administrative matters will feel lighter if you master kanji writing. Imagine if you had to write your address in hiragana, then how many columns would you have to spend? It would be a nightmare.

Have another opinion? Please share in the comment section!

7. Concept of Kanji Stroke Order

There are a few key rules that you need to remember about kanji strokes, including:

  1. Kanji strokes start from top to bottom and from left to right.
  2. When there are horizontal and vertical strokes that cross, the horizontal strokes are written first. Then the vertical strokes follow.
  3. The center vertical stroke is written before the outer symmetrical part.
  4. Kanji that have a square shape consist of only 3 strokes, namely 1 leftmost stroke and the second stroke for the upper and right sides that are connected, and 1 bottom stroke.
  5. Always start each stroke vertically, horizontally or diagonally from the top to the bottom or left to right first.

Any additions? Please do share what you have thought.

8. The 5 Simple Tips to Master Kanji

Here are 5 simple tips that you can do to master the Kanji writing system. Your consistency and practice will then be the key to your success.

What are the 5 simple tips? They are:

  1. Understand the Kanji Radical or Kanji Stroke. Slowly, start to understand Kanji radicals. This will help you to understand Kanji faster.
    However, if it is difficult, you can also try to understand the strokes and practice writing them as much as possible to be able to remember them.
  2. Use Dictionary. Use a dictionary. You can use an online dictionary or a manual dictionary.
    Reading the definitions of each kanji written in the dictionary with Japanese explanations will enrich your knowledge and vocabulary.
  3. Do the Kanji Drills.
  4. Read Articles and Write Each Kanji. After understanding the strokes, radicals and definitions of kanji. The next task is how to find the use of these Kanji.
    You can do this by reading articles and writing down example sentences and vocabulary that use these Kanji.
  5. Set Goals. Define your goals! This will help you to stay on track and stay motivated in the whole process!

Conclusion

Last but not least, I would like to ask you to share your thoughts on this article.

Please share your experience in learning and understanding Japanese writing.

See you in the next article. And don’t forget to stay updated with informative articles in our media. Click the link below to read our latest articles!

ABOUTこの記事をかいた人

Hi, I’m Eka. I’m one of the awardees of the 2016 MEXT College to College Recommendation Scholarship. I completed the one-year JASSO-Tokyo Japanese course (2016-2017) and won second place in the Japanese speech competition held internally at JASSO at that time. After that, I continued my education at NIT. Akashi College and earned a Bachelor of Engineering degree after 2 years of study. I love teaching children English and Japanese, writing blogs, designing graphics, and creating digital content. I hope you enjoy the knowledge I share here based on the experience I gained in Japan for over 5 years. Thanks!