The Origins of Japanese Kanji

If you enjoy Japanese restaurants, you might be interested in learning about the culture. The Japanese language is still rather enigmatic to professional linguists, and there are multiple theories as to the origin of the spoken language. The primary system of written characters is called kanji. These characters are notoriously complicated, and require intensive study to master. Individuals who do choose to study kanji are rewarded by the artistic beauty and poetic nature of the brush strokes.

The Early Written Japanese Language

Centuries ago, the Japanese people relied solely on spoken language. It is thought that they had no written language of their own until Chinese immigrants settled in Japan and brought their own language with them. Archaeologists have dated the earliest known writings to the 5 th and 6 th centuries B.C.E. These writings are found on a sword and a mirror, and they use Chinese characters to indicate proper names. A few centuries later, the Japanese people had become accustomed to using Chinese characters for their own spoken language.

The Evolution of Japanese Kanji

The problem with borrowing Chinese characters for Japanese words is that the two languages are vastly different in syntax and phonology. Over time, the Japanese began modifying the characters to fit their own language better.

The Meaning of Kanji

To a Westerner, the intricate characters look impossibly detailed, and it can seem unimaginable to memorize thousands of them. There are at least 8,000 kanji used in Japan today, but most people get by knowing about 2,000 of them. Although the system is intimidating to Westerners, it’s actually easier than it seems, because characters are combined together in a logical fashion. For example, one would write “train” by combining the characters for “car” and “electricity.”

The Other Language Systems

Japanese kanji is actually just one system of three. The other two systems are hiragana and katakana, which are both collectively referred to as kana. It’s possible to write a sentence that has all three systems.

Immerse yourself in the culture and food of Japan with a visit to House of Genji. Our cocktail lounge and hibachi grill are conveniently located in San Jose. Get in touch at (408) 453-8120 to inquire about reservations.

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