Located in East Asia, Japan is an island country in the Pacific Ocean with a population of approximately 125 million people. Japan’s capital is the world famous Tokyo and is a perfect destination to visit for vacation, to work, or to venture into business. Today our Day Translations blog takes you along with us on our journey as we explore some very interesting and fun facts about Japanese culture and language.
Let’s get going, shall we!
4 Fun Facts About Japanese Culture and Language
Language Fact # 1
In Japan, the most commonly spoken language is ‘Nihongo’ and is part of the Japonic language family. In Japan, the Japanese pronunciation of the name of the country is referred to as ‘Nihon’ or ‘Nippon’ in some parts, hence the name of the spoken language. Of course, for English speakers, and for other languages Japan is simply called Japan. And, when learning Japanese, you’re actually studying ‘Nihongo’.
Language Fact # 2
The number of Japanese speakers worldwide is close to 123 million. With this in mind, it’s important to know that there are 3 Japanese writing systems that are used, especially if you’re considering learning Japanese.
This is the oldest of the three writing systems in Japan and is mainly picture based. It was taken from China. You’ll find that the simple Chinese characters from this writing system represent whole words. Kanji was introduced by the Korean Peninsula in the 4th or 5th century. During this time, Japan had its own language but no writing system to support it. Because of its heavy relation to the Chinese language and writing system, today, there are two ways you can read and interpret Kanji; the Japanese way known as ‘Kun-Yomi’ and the Chinese way known as ‘On-Yomi’. Eventually, however, it became clearer and clearer that Kanji was just too complicated to read and so, that’s how the other 2 Japanese writing systems came about.
Native to Japan, Katakana is the Japanese alphabet system that is heavily based on sounds. katakana is a simplified tonal language used as an alternative to Kanji, which you could say are from the same language family. The symbols are pronounced exactly the same. Katakana eventually also came in handy for writing foreign words that originate from any other language.
Also based from Kanji, Hiragana was developed out of a need for the women of Japan to have a way to communicate. In the early days of Japanese history, only men were educated in the reading and writing of Kanji. Because of this, the women from Heian Court (what is today known as modern day Kyoto), decided it was time for another language that was suitable for them to use. And that’s how Hiragana was born. It was also discovered that similar to Katakana, it was much easier to learn than Kanji and so more Japanese people, including men, gravitated to the Hiragana language. It was also easier to understand because similar to Katakana, they both had less complex character systems as well.
Language Fact # 3
The Japanese language is written using Chinese characters. You may be wondering how this could ever happen. Well, for many centuries, Japanese language was only spoken, there was never a written format for it. Eventually, the Japanese decided to fix this and so they began learning Classical Chinese including how to write it. They borrowed from the Chinese written form of Kanji and collaborated it with oral Japanese to create the earliest and oldest form of the official language of Japan.
Language Fact # 4
Unlike the English Language, the concept of pluralization doesn’t exist in the Japanese language. If you’re someone who’s interested in learning Japanese, the concept of there being no plurals may take you some time to get used to. Additionally, articles don’t exist in the Japanese language and you can also form a sentence only using verbs. It’s important to note that overall when speaking Japanese that intonation does matter as it helps you determine the meaning of those words that mean different things but have the spelling.
Culture Fact # 1
When you visit Japan and explore everyday life, there are indicators for entering buildings for whether or not shoes are allowed inside. Traditionally, when entering a Japanese home, shoes must be left outside. It is a sign of cleanliness and dates back to old Japanese practices of having their meals sitting on a tatami mat on the floor. Because everyone would be so very close to the floor, it’s not ok to have a dirty floor and as such no shoes were allowed. Guests and everyone else within the household were allowed to wear slippers inside. It’s more comfortable and also serves the purpose of keeping your feet warm.
Culture Fact # 2
When traveling, Omiyage are a must. Translated to English, Omiyage means souvenir. In Japan Omiyage is usually food that is creatively packaged in very brightly colored and vibrant boxes. It is easy to share. You bring back Omiyage for friends or family after your visit to another place or country. While in western culture it isn’t a must, in Japan, it’s the complete opposite.
Culture Fact # 3
Christmas is the season for romance in Japan. In the western world, Christmas is a Christian holiday commemorating the birth of Jesus. In Japan, however, just 2% of the population is Christian. The majority of Japanese are Shinto or Buddhist. That means Christmas is more of a mainstream or pagan holiday. Of course, there are extravagant decorations on display. The celebration takes on a more romantic role as couples express their undying love for each other.
Let’s Wrap Up
We hope you enjoyed our little journey to the big island country of Japan. Of course, we could explore all the fun facts about Japanese culture and language. But we hope these few that were chosen have heightened your interest in the beautiful and unique Asian Country.