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Japanese symbols JAPANESE SYMBOLS

Japanese Letters :

    Japanese did not have letters until chinese introduced their letters in second or third century. After then the japanese started using chinese letters. Of course ancient japanese used these letters for learning chinese progressed culture. As you know, chinese letters are basically ideograms that were originally pictograph and every single letter has its own meaning.
    For example, the letter for turtle is 亀. This letter is simplified one as compared to original one but still the shape of turtle is obvious. I do not know how many chinese letters are there, probably more than hundred thousands. Roughly saying, average japanese can read letters of 5,000 or more but can write down 2,000 or less. At elementary school and junior high school, 1,800 of letters are taught.
    Chinese letters are used of course in China and in Japan and also in Korea. Chinese use chinese letters only. In Japan, as we are doing nowadays too, the chinese invented letters were arranged otherwise to form a group of letters expressing sounds. Therefore, japanese have ideograms and phonograms. The phonogram letters were contrived in eighth century. Before that time, ancient people used a group of chinese letters as phonograms very hard to read.
    The way of making phonograms was to deform the chinese letters that has similar sound with japanese basic sounds. Here is a example of making "a" sound letter".
The top most letter is print style and the bottom letter is the letter for "a" sound. Another three letters show the trend.
The letter is a synthesis of two parts. means a house and means woman. The original pictograph for woman is kneeling obediently. When woman is in the house, she is at ease and safe. Therefore the meaning of is "ease" and "safe".
    Forty eight letters were thus made. two letters are now rarely used because of similarity of sounds. Ancient people discerned these sounds but people of nowadays are hardly able to discern these sounds. This group of phonograms is called hiragana.
The table below shows the hiraganas with their pronunciation and original letter.

    

pro-
nun-
cia-
tion
origin
and
hira-
gana
pro-
nun-
cia-
tion
origin
and
hira-
gana
pro-
nun-
cia-
tion
origin
and
hira-
gana
pro-
nun-
cia-
tion
origin
and
hira-
gana
pro-
nun-
cia-
tion
origin
and
hira-
gana
"a" "sa" "na" "ma" "ra"
"i" "shi" "ni" "mi" "ri"
"u" "su" "nu" "mu" "ru"
"e" "se" "ne" "me" "re"
"o" "so" "no" "mo" "ro"
"ka" "ta" "ha" "ya" "wa"
"ki" "chi" "hi" - "wi"
"ku" "tsu" "fu" "yu" "n"
"ke" "te" "he" - "we"
"ko" "to" "ho" "yo" "o"

  &nb sp; There are 48 letters. But the pronunciation "Wi" and "we" are lost nowadays. Therefore and are used only in classic style of literature. In older time, had the pronunciation of "wo" but it is now pronounced as "O". So there are two letters for "o". is given a special role in grammar and discriminated in written sentences. One other irregularity, is given special role in the grammer. Sometimes it should be pronounced as "wa" in cases where it indicate that the previous word is the subject word.
    There is another group of phonograms. It is called katakana. In contrast to hiraganas which were made simplifying by deforming the whole of original letters, katakanas were made simplifying by rather taking a part of original letters.

pro-
nun-
cia-
tion
origin
and
kata-
kana
pro-
nun-
cia-
tion
origin
and
kata-
kana
pro-
nun-
cia-
tion
origin
and
kata-
kana
pro-
nun-
cia-
tion
origin
and
kata-
kana
pro-
nun-
cia-
tion
origin
and
kata-
kana
"a" "sa" "na" "ma" "ra"
"i" "shi" "ni" "mi" "ri"
"u" "su" "nu" "mu" "ru"
"e" "se" "ne" "me" "re"
"o" "so" "no" "mo" "ro"
"ka" "ta" "ha" "ya" "wa"
"ki" "chi" "hi" - "wi"
"ku" "tsu" "fu" "yu" "n"
"ke" "te" "he" - "we"
"ko" "to" "ho" "yo" "o"
     These two groups of phonograms are made almost in the same period. The hiragana has soft and smooth line and mostly used by women in older time. The katakana has rather sharp and hard line and mostly used for academic people to learn chinese sciences in older time. Usually today, hiraganas are used for expressing japanese orientated words, katakanas are used for expressing europe oriented words and chinese letters for chinese orientated words. Anything can be expressed using either one of hiragana or katakana. But sentences are better understood by mixing these three groups of letters.
    You may noticed there are not letters having consonants "b", "d", "g", "j", "p" and "z". "ba" sound is expressed adding to forming ="ba". Like as this, adding to , , , then ="de", ="ga", ="zu" are formed. How about "p" sound? "p" sound is made by adding to "h" sound letters like ="pi".

    Korean invented more rational phonograms called "hangul" or called "onmun" in older time. These letters are consisted of 14 consonant letters and 10 vowel letters and any sound are created by the combination of these 24 letters. The combined letters are somewhat similar to chinese letters. Seemingly Koreans are now trying to use only "hangul". Official literatures are written only by "hangul". At public places chinese letters which were helpful for japanese travelers, are now hardly seen. However, it seems chinese letters are favoured to express personal name.


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