Before the 4th century AD, the Japanese had no writing system of their own. During the 5th century they began to import and adapt the Chinese script, along with many other aspects of Chinese culture, probably via Korea. However the Japanese were aware of Chinese writing from about the 1st century AD from the characters that appeared on imported Chinese goods.
At first the Japanese wrote in Classical Chinese or in a Japanese-Chinese hybrid style. An example of the hybrid style is the kojiki (Records of Antiquity) written in 712 AD. They then started to use Chinese characters to write Japanese in a style known as man’yōgana. literarly Ten Thousand leaf syllabic script, which used the characters for their phonetic values.
Over time a writing system emerged in which Chinese characters were used to write either words borrowed from Chinese or Japanese words with the same or similar meanings. Chinese characters were also used for their phonetic values to write grammatical elements and these characters were simplified and eventually became two syllabic scripts, hiragana and katakana.
Japanese literature reached a high point during the 11th century with the Genji Monogatari (Tale of Genji) by Lady Murasaki Shikibu. Many other Japanese literary works were also written by women.
Modern Japanese is written with a mixture of hiragana and katakana. plus kanji. Modern Japanese texts may also include rōmaji. (Roman letters), the standard way of writing Japanese with the Latin alphabet, non-Japanese words written in their own script and various symbols known as kigō.
- Type of writing system: mixed (kana syllabaries + semanto-phonetic kanji)
- Direction of writing: right to left in vertical columns or left to right in horizontal lines. Horizontal writing was first used during the Meiji Period (1868-1912) in Western language dictionaries of Japanese. Today both orientations are used.
- Used to write: Japanese (日本語) – a modified version of katakana is also used to write Ainu
Sample text in Japanese
Subete no ningen wa, umarenagara ni shite jiyū de ari, katsu, songen to kenri to ni tsuite byōdō de aru. Ningen wa, risei to ryōshin to o sazukerarete ori, tagai ni dōhō no seishinn o motte kōdō shinakereba naranai.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)
Japonic / Japanese-Ryukyuan languages
Semanto-phonetic writing systems