April 11, 2012
Posted In: Blogfest | Japan

J is for Japanese

I have studied Japanese for  four years. Unfortunately, since I didn’t ever make practical use of it, my translation skills are pretty poor. 

The following excerpts are from www.soyouwantolearnjapanese.com and is a funny commentary on why Japanese is so difficult: 

I don’t care how many anime tapes you’ve watched, how many Japanese girlfriends you’ve had or books you’ve read, You Don’t Know Japanese. Not only that, majoring in the god-forsaken language is NOT fun or even remotely sensible. Iraqi war prisoners are often forced to major in Japanese. The term “Holocaust” comes from the Latin roots “Holi” and “Causm”, meaning “to major in Japanese”. You get the idea. And so, sick of seeing so many lambs run eagerly to the slaughter, I have created This Guide to REAL TIPS for Studying Japanese.

Or, as is actually the case, NOT studying it.

The Japanese Writing System

The Japanese writing system is broken down into three separate, autonomous, insane parts: Hiragana (“those squiggily letters”), Katakana (“those boxy letters”) and Kanji (“roughly 4 million embodiments of your worst nightmares”).

Hiragana is used to spell out Japanese words using syllables. It consists of many letters, all of which look completely different and bear absolutely no resemblance to each other whatsoever. Hiragana were devloped by a group blind, deaf, and dumb Japanese people who scribbled things on pieces of paper while having no idea why they were doing so. The resulting designs were then called “hiaragana”, and were used to predict the future. The prince who invented these characters, Yorimushi(“stinking monkey-bush-donkey”) was promptly bludgeoned to death. But don’t worry, because as your teachers will tell you, you’ll hardly use Hiragana in “real life”.

Katakana are used only to spell out foreign words in a thick, crippling japanese accent, so that you’ll have no idea what you’re saying even though it’s in English. However, if you remember one simple rule for Katakana, you’ll find reading Japanese much easier: Whenever something is written in Katakana, it’s an English word! (note: Katakana is also used for non-english foreign words. And sound effects, and Japanese words). Katakana all look exactly the same, and it’s impossible, even for Japanese people, to tell them apart. They kind of look like the number 9, except straighter. No need to worry though, because you’ll hardly ever have to read Katakana in “real life”. 
Katakana vs Hirigana

Kanji are letters that were stolen from China. Every time the Japanese invaded China (which was very often) they’d just take a few more letters, so now they have an estimated 400 gazillion of them. Kanji each consist of several “strokes”, which must be written in a specific order or Japanese people will laugh at you. Each character conveys a specific meaning, like “horse” (note that the character for horse could also mean “car”. Or “police officer”. Or “Didacticism”). 

Kanji can also be combined to form new words. For example, if you combine the Kanji for “small”, and “woman”, you get the word “carbeurator”. Kanji also have different pronounciations depending on where they are in the word, how old you are, and what day it is. When European settlers first came upon Japan, Japanese scholars suggested that Europe adopt the Japanese written language as a “universal” language understood by all parties. This was the cause of World War 2 several years later. Don’t worry, however, since you’ll never have to use kanji in “real life”, since most Japanese gave up on reading a long, long time ago, and now spend most of their time playing Pokemon. 

A handful of the 2500 commonly used Kanji
 Do you know a second or foreign language (or several?) where did you learn it and how often do you get to use it?


  1. Jackie

    I took Spanish for four years, but can't speak it very well. When someone's talking in the language, I can pick up certain words.
    Nice post.

  2. Connie Keller

    Loved your post!!

    I went to school in Hawaii, and Japanese was one of the foreign languages offered. Most of my friends took Japanese. I took French. While my friends moaned about learning their Kanji, I sighed blissfully and memorized the Imparfait.

    I do know Dutch since my mom's an immigrant. But the Dutch I speak is a very old version of the language–kind of like Elizabethan English. People always laugh or smile when I speak because I use the Dutch equivalent of "thee" and "thou."

  3. Morgan

    Wow. What a difficult language. I have a brother-in-law who speaks fluent Japanese. Crazy stuff! I can read most French, but that's it! 😀

  4. Anonymous

    French and Spanish was enough. Might do Mandarin though.

  5. Alex J. Cavanaugh

    Never learned to write it, but at one time I could speak fluent Japanese. Long since forgotten. Otherwise, I know just enough German to be able to skim text and get the meaning.

  6. Unknown

    From someone who's been to Japan many times, I really get this post! Love your blog, too.

    If you've the time, please pop on over to mine. I'm the author of the Bella and Britt series for kids.

    Thanks for the post!

  7. Sarah Ahiers

    oh god this. Japanese is so not easy. I did really good with Katakana (which we started with) but nothing else.
    My cousin lives in japan and i'm always amazed at how well living somewhere will help you learn the language

  8. Brinda

    I was an English and French major in my undergrad. I never used any of my French. I could read something (basic) today, but I would be lost if I traveled to France and tried to carry on a conversation. It's sad really. Also, after majoring in the language I still had poor conversation skills. You really have to live there and immerse yourself in the language.

  9. Lydia Kang

    I learned some Korean as a kid and during a summer abroad during college. Korean is pretty easy, compared to other asian languages, I think.

    Loved this post, though! It was so different and refreshing. 🙂

  10. Weaver

    One of my sons studied Japanese. Partly because he was crazy about anime but also because his girlfriend was crazy about anime and was studying Japanese. =D

  11. Jaycee DeLorenzo

    Awesome. The only language I ever learned was some Spanish, but I'm not very good at it.

  12. Margo Berendsen

    It does sound like a difficult language to learn, I'm already language challenged! I have hard time even understanding different English ACCENTS, much less another language 🙁

  13. Catch My Words

    I bet any language that uses a different lettering system would be tough to learn.

    Je parle français un peu. I learned french in high school and college. I haven't used it in awhile, but it has come in handy when traveling.

    Thanks for stopping by.
    Catch My Words

  14. Dani

    I heard it's very difficult to learn this language from my co-workers. I love to hear them speak it but they say the amount and meanings of words are vague. I would love to learn but don't have the focus. Nice job for studying for 4 years. Very impressive!

  15. Dani

    Oh and I speak a little German and Swedish.

  16. Cathy Olliffe-Webster

    Kudos to you for studying such a tough language! Wow! That's something I don't even think I would attempt.

  17. Peggy Eddleman

    That commentary on why not to learn Japanese is HILARIOUS! Good for you for being willing to stick with it for so long. I don't know any other languages.

    Unless you count the gamer speak the boys in my family speak. I'm getting downright impressive with that one. 😉

  18. Botanist

    This is so funny, especially as we only recently hosted a couple of Japanese students. They were keen to teach us Japanese words, but now I understand their fits of laughter.

    The next worst language must be French. You can learn it with comparative ease, but dare to utter a sentence to a Parisian, no matter how perfectly executed, with even the slightest trace of an English accent, and you might as well be speaking Japanese.

  19. Dawn M. Hamsher

    That was one of the funniest things I've read yet on A to Z. I need to wipe the tears away.

    Thank you.

    Still laughing.

    The Write Soil
    1st Writes

    Yep, still laughing.

  20. vic caswell

    golly! we had a japanese exchange student live with us when i was a teenager, and she said (in not as funny of a way) the same thing.
    i'm terrible at languages. i studied a teensy bit of spanish and my sister took four years of german and would speak it aloud around the house. so i can sometimes pick up some of what people are saying when they speak those languages, but not much… and i can't speak either at all…

  21. Anonymous

    i speak fluent spanish and english and im learning japanese pretty darn well but it truly is hard to really learn all of this well. i have mastered both hirigana and katakana with patience and i can have several conversations easily face to face and im now tackling kanji which is hard unless you go to a gazillion different sites and are resourceful enough to get far into it and find the real important things, instead of the decorative gibberish, and LEARN it.

Who is Kimberlee Turley?

Kimberlee Turley grew up in California where she earned a degree in Fashion Design from FIDM in 2005. Soon after, she married her husband, who was neither Mr. Darcy nor Edward Cullen, but he’d read her atrocious first novel and said it was “good” with a straight face.

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