Basic Map of Japan

The main form for writting and speaking Japanese:

  • Kigō

Written Japanese comprises of:

  • Hiragana (平仮名 or ひらがな or ヒラガナ)
  • Kanji (漢字)
  • Katakana (カタカナ or 片仮名)
  • Kokuji (国字)

Written Japanese

The Japanese writing system uses the phonetic character sets (idiograms), called Hiragana and Katakana, and the Chinese characters, called Kanji (Hanzi in Chinese).

In normal Japanese writing, Hiragana and Kanji are used, while Katakana is used for words borrowed from the non-Chinese foreign languages.

Japanese kanji and hiraganaRomaji, (Westernised writing), an unusual form of writing Japanese with the Latin alphabet.


These characters originate from Chinese and account for 50% of Japanese vocabulary.

Kanji are ideographs (borrowed from China). An educated person can read 10,000 of them and the government has published a list of 1,850 that it considers basic.

Hiragana (Furigana)


Japanese Characters

Each character has its own meaning (like a word), though many are used only in combination with other characters. So each character is equivalent to one word, although as you can see below, various characters can describe one word:

Chinese verbs and adjectives consist of one character but nouns consist of two or more characters.

There are no spaces between characters and the characters which make up multi-syllable words are not grouped together, so when reading Chinese, you not only have to work out what the characters mean and how to pronounce them, but also which characters belong together.

Simplified Chinese

Canadian FrenchCanadian French and Standard French differ little in the written form. It is dominant in Quebec where it is the dominant language (see map). Canadian French uses some verbs used in Standard French in 1700's as well as some anglicisms, a sign of the influence English has had. These differences are due to Quebec's isolation from France in terms of distance and commercial links since the 1700's. USA has always had strong commercial links.


Traditional Chinese

African FrenchFrench, although the most widely spoken of any language in Africa, is normally a second language, with the dominant language being the national native language. Although some classes (middle-upper) in Tunisia, Algeria and Morroco speak it as a first language or are bilingual (French/Arabic).

Direction of writing

Canadian FrenchJapanese is generally written vertically beginning on the right, but many texts today are written horizontally to permit the inclusion of English words, Arabic numerals, and mathematical and chemical formulas.

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Japanese Translation sample:


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)

Japanese Speaking countries



Difficulty in learning Jaoanese as a native English speaker

The Defense Language Institute categorizes Japanese as very difficult (level 4, of 4 levels)

Business Japanese phrases

  • Basics
  • Time
  • Telephone
  • Food

Japanese Business Etiquette

  • Meeting

Maintain a quiet and polite manner at all times.

A bow ("ojigi") can be a way of greeting someone, saying "I'm sorry" or even asking for a favour.

The depth of the bow depends on your counterpart status. When bowing to an individual who is of higher status than you do it a little lower than that person to display respect.

Pointing is considered rude.

Blowing one's nose in public is also regarded as impolite, as is sniffing.

Laughter will normally indicate embarrassment or distress, rather than amusement.

Expect to be asked extremely personal questions regarding your salary, education, and family life.

  • Offering Gifts

Offering gifts is a very important part of Japanese business protocol.

The emphasis in Japanese business culture is on the ritual of offering gifts rather than the content of the gift.

It is a serious mistake to offer the same gift to two or more Japanese of unequal rank.

In the presence of a group of people, offering a gift to one person and failing to do so to the others is also an offence.

Gifts are opened in private to avoid the "loss of face" of a poor choice.

Foreign, prestigious branded items, frozen steaks, pen and pencil sets or a simple commemorative photograph are good choices.

  • Eating

Slurping your noodles and tea is encouraged in Japan.

When finishing a meal, leave a small portion of food on your plate to indicate that you enjoyed it.

If you are invited to a karaoke bar, you will be expected to sing. It doesn't matter if you are out of tune.

  • Negotiation

Punctuality is essential. Japanese believe it is rude to be late.

Connections are very helpful in Japan but choose your contacts carefully. Pick someone of the same rank as the person with whom he or she will have dealings.

If your company is an older, venerable institution, this fact should be frequently mentioned.

Be respectful to your older Japanese counterparts: age means rank in Japanese business culture.

Negotiations generally have an atmosphere of deep seriousness. Anything you say will be taken LITERALLY. Remarks such as "This is killing me!" or "You are joking!" are to be avoided by obvious reasons.

Decisions are made only within the group. Foreigners must gain acceptance from the group before they can have influence in the decision-making process.

Japanese prefer verbal agreements to written ones, and shouldn't be pressured into signing documents.

The decision-making process is usually very slow, sometimes taking as long as one to three years.