This page is designed to answer questions regarding Japanese and its use on Wikipedia. If you have trouble viewing Japanese, please see the Help:Installing Japanese character sets page for assistance for your particular operating system.
Japanese text is written with a mixture of kanji, katakana and hiragana syllabaries. Almost all kanji originated in China, and may have more than one meaning and pronunciation. Kanji compounds generally derive their meaning from the combined kanji. For example, Tokyo (東京) is written with two kanji: "east" (東) + "capital" (京). The kanji, however, are pronounced differently from their Chinese relatives. For example, in modern mandarin Chinese, these two kanji would be "Dongjing". The name was chosen because Tokyo was to be the eastern capital of Japan, relative to its previous capital city, Kyoto (京都). (Some other kanji compounds use characters chosen primarily for their pronunciations. Such characters are called ateji.) In addition to native words and placenames, kanji are used to write Japanese family names and most Japanese given names.
Centuries ago, hiragana and katakana, the two kana syllabaries, derived their shapes from particular kanji pronounced in the same way. However, unlike kanji, kana have no meaning, and are used only to represent sounds. Hiragana are generally used to write some Japanese words and given names and grammatical aspects of Japanese. For example, the Japanese word for "to do" (する suru) is written with two hiragana: す (su) + る (ru). Katakana are generally used to write loanwords, foreign names and onomatopoeia. For example, retasu was borrowed from the English "lettuce", and is written with three katakana: レ (re) + タ (ta) + ス (su). The onomatopoeia for the sound of typing is kata kata, and is written with 4 katakana: カ (ka) + タ (ta) + カ (ka) + タ (ta). It is common nowadays to see many businesses using katakana in place of hiragana and kanji in advertising. Additionally, people may use katakana when writing their names or informal documents for aesthetic reasons.
Throughout Wikipedia, a modified version of the widely accepted Hepburn romanization is used to represent Japanese sounds in Roman characters. The following are some basic rules for using Hepburn to pronounce Japanese words accurately.
- The vowels a, e, i, o, and u are generally pronounced somewhat similarly to those in Italian, Portuguese, French, Spanish, and Slavic languages.
- The vowel u is similar to that of the oo in moon, although shorter and without lip-rounding. In certain contexts, such as after "s" at the end of a word, the vowel is devoiced, so desu may sound like dess.
- Japanese vowels can either be long (bimoraic) or short (monomoraic). The macron denotes a long vowel.
- Long a, o and u sounds are usually written with macrons as ā, ō and ū. The notation "ou" or "oo" is sometimes used for a long "ō", following kana spelling practices.
- Long e and i sounds are usually written ei /ee and ii, but in neologisms are instead written with macrons as ē and ī.
- Circumflexes (âêîôû) occasionally appear as a typographical alternative to macrons, especially in older texts.
Japanese vowels can be approximated in English as follows:
|English approximations||as in arm||as in feet||as in boot||as in hey||as in or|
- An n before a consonant is moraic (its own mora).
- A moraic n followed by a vowel or y is written n' to distinguish it from mora that begin with the consonant n.
- The moraic n has various phonetic realisations:
- Before an n, t, d or r, it is pronounced [n].
- Before a k or g, it is pronounced [ŋ].
- Before an m, b or p, it is pronounced as [m]. It is written as m in some versions of Hepburn, but as n in Wikipedia’s modified Hepburn.
- It is otherwise pronounced as [ɴ] or [ɯ̃].
- Consonants other than f, r, g, and n at final or before r are generally pronounced as in English.
- The consonant f is bilabial: the teeth are not used, and the sound is much softer than the "f" of English. [tōfu] "tōfu"
- The consonant r is a flapped or tapped consonant. To an English speaker's ears, its pronunciation lies somewhere between a flapped t (as in American and Australian English better and ladder), an l and a d. [kirei] "beautiful"
- The consonant n at final or n before r is uvular: This consonant is a sound made further back, as of making a nasal sound at the place to articulate the French ʁ. [shinryaku] "invasion"
- Double consonants (kk, tt, etc.) basically indicate a slight, sharp pause before and stronger emphasis of the following sound, more similar to Italian than English. Spelling anomalies:
- double ch is written as tch (sometimes cch),
- double sh is written as ssh and
- double ts is written as tts.
When a consonant is followed by another of the same letter, the first consonant is written with a chiisai (made-smaller) tsu (つ/ツ). Exception: Double n. In this case, being as n (ん/ン) is a single consonant, it can be written by itself. (Ex: Woman: Onna-おんな)
- In the name 徳川家康, the family name is 徳川 (Tokugawa) and the given name is 家康 (Ieyasu).
- In the name 福田康夫, the family name is 福田 (Fukuda) and the given name is 康夫 (Yasuo).
However, to reflect the Western convention of listing the given name first and the family name last, the romanized names of most Japanese people born since the establishment of the Meiji era in 1868 conform to the "given name, family name" order. This usage is typically reflected on Wikipedia: Tokugawa Ieyasu (born 1543) is listed at Tokugawa Ieyasu, while Fukuda Yasuo (born 1936) is listed at Yasuo Fukuda.
- Help:Japanese/Editing for information on customizing the appearance of Japanese text and usage in articles.
- Help:IPA/Japanese for transcription of Japanese pronunciation
- Help:Installing Japanese character sets
- Japanese abbreviated and contracted words
- Japanese language
- Japanese sound symbolism
- Wikipedia:Enabling East Asian characters for other East Asian Character sets
- Wikipedia:Manual of Style (Japan-related articles) for official Wikipedia style guidelines how to incorporate Japanese into articles here.