A Complete Guide on How to Learn Japanese Writing

By OptiLingo • 12 minutes read

Japanese is one of the most interesting languages to learn and speak. However, writing in Japanese is arguably the hardest part of learning. In some cases, most students opt to write in romaji instead of the real Japanese scripts. Romaji, which is the using roman character to write in Japanese, is relatively simple but there is a fulfillment when you use the actual characters in Japanese. This case also applies to reading in Japanese and identifying real characters. Your ultimate goal should be how to learn Japanese writing and more importantly learn how to read Japanese scripts. In this piece, you will learn tips on how to read and write in Japanese in the shortest time possible.

Components of Japanese texts and the importance of each set of characters

Japanese is the only language that has two different systems and three different scripts. However, unlike Chinese, it is simpler in terms of characters and sentences structures. The nature of this language, therefore, makes it simpler to read and write. In any Japanese text, there are three different scripts and this nature of this language makes it the most interesting language to master.

Conversely, unlike Chinese, this language is full of both complex and simpler characters. In some cases, some characters are from the Chinese language, and this is the reason why Japanese is diverse. Take any Japanese script, and you will notice the way the language represents the two languages without losing its authenticity. Language pundits have pointed out that this bright contrast of the two languages gives the Japanese language a character.

Traditional Japanese vs. Chinese-Borrowed Writing

In order to master Japanese, it’s important to understand which part of the text is Chinese-borrowed and which is organically Japanese. The complex characters in this language are KANJI while the other characters are KANA. Understanding how each of these characters interacts within the texts is one-step to better reading and writing in Japanese.

How do you learn Japanese writing considering it has both complicated and more straightforward characters? The answer is practicing by reading as many texts in Japanese as possible. The more your interaction with KANJI characters for example, the more you understand their pronunciation. Unlike in English, each symbol in KANJI is unique and has a single articulation. This uniqueness means that you cannot understand the real pronunciation if you are meeting the symbol for the first time. Practice and more reading, in this case, is advisable. Language pundits point out that the best way to interacts with as many as KANJI characters as possible is reading many Japanese texts.

KATAKANA and HIRAGANA are also part of the Japanese scripts, and although they are unique characters, they are more straightforward and easy to master. Unlike the other set of symbols in Japanese texts, the two types of characters have different pronunciation, and their usage may vary depending on the text. The importance of these set of symbols is to give the Japanese language a character and authenticity as a language. Since the two set of symbols in this language have many similarities, they are classified as KANA.

Characteristics of KANA

As discussed above, KANA is a collection of the simple Japanese text symbols. However, HIRAGANA and KATAKANA are unique and different in the following ways.

First, these symbols have the same number of characters, each containing 46 different characters. Unlike in other languages, they have only nine consonants but have the universal five vowels. Even though they have the same number of consonants and vowels, they have different functions in Japanese texts.


HIRAGANAS are arguably the most important symbols in the Japanese language. The easiest way to identify them is by checking the round shaped characters in the Japanese texts. Unlike the other type of characters in Japanese, they have three different functions in a language. First, they represent all the Japanese words that are not represented in other scripts. Second, HIRAGANAS are the most important symbols in changing the meaning of words in Japanese. Thirdly, they are ideal for indicating the correct grammatical function of a word in Japanese. These three reasons make HIRAGANA one of the most important component of this language.


On the other hand, KATAKANA is a collection of symbols that are unique in Japanese texts because they are straight lines characters with beautiful corners. Unlike HIRAGANA, these symbols are important because they give the Japanese language an international taste. In most cases, KATAKANAS are ideal for representing borrowed names from other languages. In some other cases, they help the Japanese speaker to transcribe foreign names and make them sound and look Japanese. It means therefore that KATAKANAS are the bridge between Japanese and other languages in the world. The main reason why KATAKANA are present in the Japanese language is that, unlike in English, the language does not have italics.

Characteristics of KANJI

KANJI is arguably one of the most laborious collections of symbols each Japanese learner finds challenging to master. How to learn Japanese writing with the complexity of KANJI characters is a widely asked question but mastering these complex symbols is not farfetched. First, it is important to understand the features of these symbols. Unlike other types of symbols, they are definite and represented by a block symbol. This means that although KANJI is a collection of specific symbols with a particular pronunciation, they are not automatically a representation of a singular word.

For a better understanding of KANJI, it is important to understand how different Japanese authors use radical symbols and other simpler symbols to give the Japanese word a meaning. This feature of KANJI has a lot of borrowing from the Chinese language, but more studying helps you as a learner to understand how the original symbol has been modified to create a new word.

How to Quickly Learn How to Write in Japanese

The golden rule in learning this language is to study radicals as the basis of this language on a regular basis. There are many learning materials as opposed to one decade ago where finding materials were hard. In addition, understanding all the basic symbols are the best place to start in your journey of mastering this language. Many language pundits point out that the basis of Japanese, as a language, is understanding how different radical symbols change to represent different words in different contexts. Even though the language has a similarity with Chinese, it is important to know that words creation in Japanese is different and therefore rules in Chinese are inapplicable.

In addition to paying attention to radical symbols and their usage in texts, reading Japanese texts is irreplaceable. Although reading can be hard sometimes, interacting with texts helps in identifying how different Japanese authors use symbols in sentences. According to pundits, this is one-step to perfecting your writing ability as a Japanese learner.


If you want to know how to learn Japanese writing quickly there are some tips and techniques to follow. the Japanese characters are graceful and beautiful but learning them can prove to be pretty overwhelming. There are more than 50,000 kanji characters in the Japanese language. The good thing, though, is that you don’t need to learn anywhere near that amount. Even native Japanese people know only about 6,000 of these characters as well as two phonetic scripts.

If you prioritize your learning when it comes to reading Japanese you can actually learn it pretty fast. If you dedicate time each day to it you can start to feel pretty comfortable about reading basic Japanese in about three months. There are some guidelines to follow that will make this process much easier and smoother than it would otherwise be.

Find books in Japanese

The first thing to do is find books in Japanese that have been written for children. One really helpful thing to do is find books that you already are familiar with in English to help you along. This can include books that cover Disney characters, Dr. Suess books, or classics such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar. This helps you compare and contrast to English and see how the sentences in Japanese are constructed.

Learn Hiragana

Try to learn hiragana, one of the phonetic scripts, by finding books by the author Mari Takabayashi. She writes all of her children’s books in hiragana so you can focus on just that way of reading. As you become more advanced there are some popular series of children’s books you can turn to such as Guri and Gura. Later on, once you’re more comfortable, you can move on to reading manga for more advanced types of reading material.

One reason why Japanese can be confusing to new readers is that they don’t put any spaces between the characters. The sentence structure is also different from English. In English, a proper sentence structure is subject-verb-object while in Japanese it is instead subject-object-verb. An example of this is if you say, “I’m running a race” in English in Japanese it would be “I’m race running”.

Choose an initial subject

In order to decide how to learn Japanese writing quickly, you should pick an initial subject you enjoy and then stick to it until completion. The first page of the book will be hardest as you learn all of the characters. However, by sticking with this one book you will begin to see the same characters and phrases get used later on in it. This makes subsequent pages easier to parse as you are already familiar with a number of the characters.

If all you want to do is learn how to read Japanese then you shouldn’t spend any of your time or effort learning the spoken language as well. It’s better to dedicate all of your study time to just learning to read and write the language. If you’re also listening to audiobooks in Japanese you are unnecessarily slowing yourself down. Since each character in kanji represents a meaning it doesn’t really matter that you don’t know how to pronounce it. You just need to know what it stands for and how to properly use it in a sentence.

Immerse yourself

A great way to submerse yourself in written Japanese and learn it quickly is to find some tv shows and movies in this language. You should then turn the subtitles on so you can increase your vocabulary and how fast you can read the kanji characters. At first, you will find it hard to keep up but by paying attention to what’s going on in the show you can pick up the context and what you are reading.

A great study aid is the Jōyō Kanji. A lot of the kanji characters were actually borrowed from China. The Jōyō Kanji is a list put together by the Japanese government that spells out the most common 2136 of these characters. It is designed to show foreign learners of written Japanese what the most useful characters to learn are. Another good idea is to keep a list of the words you have learned so that you can go back to it from time to time to refresh your memory.

Learning hiragana, the phonetic script, will speed up the learning process. This script incorporates every sound used in Japanese so everything can be written out. This script has 46 characters with five of them representing vowels and the rest the consonants. Creating flashcards of all of the hiragana characters will aid your learning process. Put the hiragana character on one side of the card and the phonetic sound it represents on the other side.

Learn Katakana

There are two phonetic scripts for Japanese. Katakana is used for foreign words that made their way to Japan. This script also has 46 characters and is used to write about things like the United States, Christmas, or the internet. If you dedicate a few hours a day to it you can pick up both katakana and hiragana scripts with two to three weeks.

It’s good to learn handwritten Japanese characters in addition to the ones that appear on things like a tv or computer screen. The characters can have subtle differences when handwritten versus being a computer font. This will help if you’re corresponding with someone in written Japanese and have some trouble deciphering their handwriting.

Learn Kanji

Not even Japanese people write in kanji except when they need to. It’s a quick way of writing versus hiragana and katakana but learning and recognizing 6,000 or so characters is a lot to learn. You can mix and match, though, using the kanji symbols you do know while using hiragana to write out words that you only know phonetically.

When handwriting Japanese characters you should learn the proper stroke order to follow. This is important information to know because different stroke orders can result in different characters, especially when it comes to kanji. Some examples of what to know include writing all of your characters from left to right and top to bottom. All of your horizontal strokes should be made before you do your vertical strokes. Any dots or small strokes should be the last thing you do to complete a word.

Learning how to write Japanese can take years but the basics can be learned pretty quickly. By dedicating time to your learning each day you will make great progress and be able to read simple Japanese texts before too much time has passed. As you go on an advance your learning you will find the process of learning new words to become much easier and quicker.


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