Getting to Know the Japanese Language

The Japanese language is known as Nihongo (日本語). Chinese documents record the existence of some Japanese words as early as the 3rd century, and texts clearly appear during the 8th century. The Chinese language had a significant influence on the phonology and vocabulary of Old Japanese during the Heian period (794-1185). Changes to the language from around 1185-1600 included some European loan words. The early 17th century in Japan saw the change of the standard dialect from the Kansai region to Edo (modern day Tokyo).  By the end of Sakoku, Japan’s self-imposed isolation in 1853, there was a noticeable proliferation in loan words from English and European languages that made the Japanese language quite similar to the Nihongo of today.


The spoken and written forms of Japanese may not be as difficult to learn as some may think.  Here are some basic facts to keep in mind about the Japanese language.

There are three sets of characters in written Japanese—Kanji, Hiragana, and Katakana. It may sound intimidating at first but kanji (with about 2,000 characters), once mastered, will allow you to understand most of the words in Japanese. Hiragana consists of a mere 46 compared to Kanji.

Hiragana. | Lezer

The characters are very simple two to three strokes of a pen. Katakana is mainly used for foreign loan words and also has 46 characters, very similar to Hiragana. Once you master Hiragana, Katakana will be remarkably simple to learn.

The Japanese language has neither a future tense nor a past tense. This allows you to completely rethink the grammar rule of tenses. This may seem quite confusing, but when learning a new language, it can be a blessing.  Without past or future tense, the Japanese language is a lot more straightforward than other languages. By omitting this one rule, the context of what the speaker is implying comes out clear.


Spoken Japanese is intensely tonal. Changing your stress of pitch does not change the meaning of a word.  It also has only about 46 phonetic characters with a single possible pronunciation.

Katakana. | Pmx

This makes Nihongo fairly easy to speak compared to English. Even if it only has 26 letters, the various letter combinations give so many options for pronunciation to words that speaking it is more complex.

Japanese language studies is an advantage for numerous reasons. Japan is one of the top countries with the largest economies, and knowing how to communicate in Japanese opens doors for business and career opportunities and helps build stronger rapport.  Learning the Japanese language is also a possible gateway for you to understand other Asian countries, whether for business purposes or getting to know their cultures.