KANJI are symbolic characters (originally Chinese) that represent meaning rather than sound; the characters are the most complicated looking; knowledge of approximately 3,000 characters is necessary to finish high school; one kanji character has two different phonetic sounds (Japanese and Chinese); one must see the context in which the character is written to be able to pronounce the character correctly.


HIRAGANA characters are phonetic and number 46 in total; used for particles and verb endings.


KATAKANA characters are also phonetic and number 46 in total; katakana and hiragana characters sound the same when read out loud; katakana is used for the many foreign words that have been borrowed into the Japanese language such as basu for bus or kohii for coffee; katakana characters appear to be a simplified version of hiragana characters.


PRONUNCIATION Japanese is quite phonetic and when spelled with the English alphabet, pronunciation is not a problem if you look at the word carefully and pronounce all the letters. Some vowels are held longer than others and you should be careful because the meanings of the words change. For example OBASAN means aunt and OBAASAN means grandmother. Also, mostJapanese words have equal emphasis stressed on each syllable. For example, HI-RO-SHI-MA is pronounced with equal emphasis on each of the four syllables; not HI-ro-SHI-ma.

The pronunciation of vowels is as follows:

U......"OO" AS IN JUNE
E......"EH" AS IN SET
O......"OH" AS IN GO


Although children begin learning English in elementary school, generally, the Japanese have a difficult time with the English language and pronunciation. At times, teachers have been faulted for poor pronunciation or for forcing students to learn strictly "by the book." In the Japanese language, there is no "L" and so the Japanese have a very difficult time with any English words containing the letter L. The Japanese "R" is the closest and this is why you might hear rabu for the English word, love. The sound "b" also replaces the English sound for "v".

English is used widely in advertising in the promotion of an elite or "in" item, much in the way that North Americans have sometimes used the French language. Much of this Japanese/ English does not make sense but it is an indication of the Japanese admiration for anything English or North American.