Japanese language may be one of the mysterious things for foreign guests from the world. As you know, we, the Japanese are usually handling 3 different letters, “Hiragana”, “Katakana” and “Kanji (Chinese characters)” with not much difficulty, because we mastered these 3 letters unconsciously in a daily basis. Basically, this is almost the same logic when you learn your own language, I guess.
Japanese notation in 3 ways
I don’t clearly remember that how I learn these 3 letters in my life, however, we usually mastered “Hiragana (with 50 sounds) ” and “Katakana (with 50 sounds)” in our childhood around 5-6 years old and memorized many of Kanji characters at a primary school according to each grade. As for Kanji characters, in particular, students have to memorize each character and meaning one by one. It is also very tiring for even native Japanese to memorize so many Kanji characters. Nowadays, we no longer need to memorize so many Kanji thanks to PC and smartphones, because the machines automatically guess Kanji characters and provide us in advance. On the contrary to this, there are so many Japanese who cannot write down proper Kanji characters. I have also checked Kanji characters quite often by smartphone when I cannot recall in these days.
Kanji characters originally came from China in ancient times and they evolved uniquely in Japan for centuries. In modern times, we used the same character between China and Japan, we often have different pronunciation and meaning. For instance, we use the same character “湯” in Chinese and Japanese, and Chinese people pronounce it “tāng” with a meaning of “soup” but the Japanese pronounce it “yu” or “tou” with a meaning of “hot water”. Additionally, it is another feature that one character usually has several different pronunciations in Japanese Kanji. (You may imagine that Japanese and Chinese are similar languages, but it is totally different between them in terms of pronunciation and grammatical orders. We can sometimes guess the meaning of sentences from Chinese characters but cannot understand it completely. As for me, it seems easier to learn Chinese for English speakers than for Japanese speakers.)
By the way, “Hiragana” and “Katakana” were also created from Chinese characters around the same time in ancient eras because Chinese characters unable to express all the original Japanese language. So, ancient people invented an easier way of notations by changing the shapes of Chinese characters. in modern times, we tend to use “Katanaka” to express words originally came from a foreign language like “コンピュータ(=computer)” and “チョコレート(=Chocolate)”.
When we talk about Kanji Characters, you may come up with Japanese calligraphy as a typical eastern style of art. We usually use a writing brush and black ink to do that and it was a popular after-school lesson among kids to master beautiful handwriting and concentrations. I also had the lessons for years when I was a student and got the highest rank of certifications when I graduated from middle school.
Kanji characters and Japanese calligraphy seems exotic for foreign guests. I just found the online news with Top 10 popular Japanese Kanji characters among foreigners and the ranking is as follows according to the news.
- No.1: “美” (Bi) … Beauty
(No.1 request from women and men who want to give it to their girlfriends)
- No.2: “風” (Kaze/Fu) … Wind
(Men tend to like the letter from the reason of its unique shape)
- No.3: “道” (Michi/Do) … Street, Path, Road
(The letter seems it consists of some interesting parts.)
- No.4: “響” (Hibiki/Kyo) … Echo, Reverberation
(Upper part of the letter seems like making sounds and the meaning of the lower part of the letter is “Sound”. The complication of the Kanji character is also attractive for foreigners.)
- No.5: “夢” (Yume/Mu) … Dream
(Everyone likes the word and it is a world common!)
Other than these, “旅 (Journey, Trip) ”, “働(Work, Labor)”, “愛(Love)”, “花(Flowers)”, “進(Move on, proceed)” are in the ranking.
When you visit Japan, why don’t you try to have a lesson about Japanese calligraphy artwork by yourself or ask your friends/professionals to write letters which you like?
Tattoos in wrong Japanese!?
By the way, I would like to make you a caution, especially when you are thinking to have a tattoo in Japanese on your skin. Please check the meaning of the Kanji character before doing it! It became very famous news that a very popular US singer made a tattoo of Kanji characters with a wrong meaning/translation and she had to revise it because of that … (She wanted to have the Kanji tattoo with the meaning of “7 rings” in Japanese, but she put the word “七輪” on her palm, which actually means “charcoal brazier” in Japanese. She should have done with “七つの指輪” in her case, but it doesn’t seem cool for a tattoo from the perception of native Japanese.
You had better ask some advice to native Japanese whether the words in Japanese are correct translations in case you really want to have some tattoos on your body. Moreover, please don’t forget that you will miss the great chance to enjoy our public bath and hot springs culture when you come to Japan in case you have a tattoo because those people tend to be prohibited to enter public baths and hot springs due to ethical issues! (please refer to the episode → 9 basic manners st hot springs and public baths in Japan)