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漢字 (Kanji) 101

Japanese is a pretty complicated language with three sets of alphabets. Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji. Hiragana appears the most in the standard form of Japanese writing. Hiragana is used on its own or in conjunction with other Kanji to form words. One of Katakana’s usage is to indicate to the reader that it’s a loan word. We call Hiragana and Katakana, Kana.

Hiragana and Katakana both have exactly 46 characters. Kanji on the other hand, has over 2,136 to remember in order to read a newspaper. 

If the idea of learning Japanese is exciting, then taking Japanese classes at Silver Creek may be for you.The classes span from level 1 to level 3, taught by Ms. Ramona Hutchinson. 

Photo Courtesy of pumashoeme
Photo Courtesy of pumashoeme

Kanji are characters that represent whole words, concepts, ideas, feelings, the list goes on. Anyway, Kanji can stand alone, or combine with other Kanji or Kana to create more words, ideas, or turn a noun Kanji into a verb Kanji. The pronunciation and readings of a Kanji can vary a lot, based on what other Kanji or Kana they’re connected with. 

A chart of some of the most important kanji to learn to be able to read fluently. From White Rabbit Press.

The idea can be hard to remember and grasp. But even if a person doesn’t know all the pronunciations of a Kanji, if they’re able to recognize its meaning, they’re able to get an idea of the sentence it’s in.

For example the Kanji for “water” is 水. In Japanese, its pronunciation is usually みず (mizu) or すい (sui). When 水 combines with 着 (the kanji for “to wear” or “clothing”), it becomes 水着 (mizugi), which literally means water clothes, or swimsuits. 

But for the Japanese word for Wednesday, 水曜日, we use its other reading, and it becomes suiyoubi

So what is Kanji? Kanji essentially means “Chinese characters.” Along time ago, Japan took Chinese’s alphabet sometime around the 5th century and integrated it into their own written language. Basically, Kanji are Chinese characters that are used in Japanese writing. 

According to Japanese history, a scholar from Korea by the name of Wani, introduced Japan to Confucianism and Kanji. Before that, Japan had no writing system to call its own, so they started to use Kanji. However, integrating an alphabet that’s meant for Chinese, into a different language with its own sets of rules and grammar can be difficult. So a new system of writing was made to easily adapt Kanji into Japanese, Hiragana.

Kanji may seem difficult and complex at first, but they’re essential to the written language to understand sentences properly. There are no spaces in Japanese to separate words, this means if a Japanese sentence only has kana, words get jumbled up into basically a long stream of symbols. 

Here’s an example:

来週の土曜日には友達に会うつもりです。 

らいしゅうのどようびにはともだちにあうつもりです。

Both sentences mean and read exactly the same. But one contains Kanji and the other pertains only Kana. They both mean “I’m going to meet my friend next Saturday.” But it’s a lot easier to read when the meaning of the Kanji is understood.

来週 (next week) の 土曜日 (Saturday) には 友達 (friend) に 会う (meet) つもりです。

Furthermore, many words are pronounced the same but have different Kanji. The word “kanji” could mean “Chinese characters” (漢字) or “feelings/emotions” (感じ). Same pronunciation, different meanings, different Kanji.

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