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The modern Japanese writing system is composed of three scripts:

  1. HIragana Hiragana - 48 syllables (kana) - see the pronunciation section. This script is used for grammatical words and endings and for words which be written in kanji.
  2. Katakana - 48 syllables used for writing foreign words, onomatopeia, etc.
  3. Kanji - characters borrowed Chinese. 1,136 of these are designated by the Japanese Ministry of Education as Jouyou Kanji ("characters in regular use").


  • Each kana and kanji has a correct stroke order (usually up to down, left to right). It may not be the same as is used in Chinese for the same character.
  • Do not try to learn too many - aim at about three a day, but revise everything you already know.
  • Use every opportunity to write the kana and kanji you have learnt.
  • About 75% of kanji consist of a radical on the left indicating the general area of meaning (tree, fish, 石 stone, etc.) and a phonetic element on the right that gives you a rough idea of the Sino-Japanese reading (on'yomi). There is a basic system - make the most of it.