Japanese Diacritical Marks

In Japanese, diacritical marks like the dakuten and handakuten are considered markers that indicate if a sound is vocalised or plosive, respectively.

Handaku-ten (“Half vocalised” = “Plosive”)
半濁点・はんだくてん
『○ ゚』は→ぱ、ひ→ぴ、ふ→ぷ、へ→ぺ、ほ→ぽ
    ha→pa, hi→pi, fu→pu, he→pe, ho→po

Daku-ten (“Vocalised” = Hum while you say the sound)
濁点・だくてん
『○ ゙』
    は→ば、ひ→び、ふ→ぶ、へ→べ、ほ→ぼ
    ha→ba, hi→bi, fu→bu, he→be, ho→bo

    か→が、き→ぎ、く→ぐ、け→げ、こ→ご
    ka→ga, ki→gi, ku→gu, ke→ge, ko→go

    た→だ、ち→ぢ、つ→づ、て→で、と→ど
    ta→da, chi→ji, tsu→dzu, te→de, to→do
    
    さ→ざ、し→じ、す→ず、せ→ぞ、そ→ぞ
    sa→za, shi→ji, su→zu, se→ze, so→zo

Ya, Yu, and Yo are used to modify the syllables ending in い like “ki” and “shi” to become “kya” and “sha.”


『○ゃ』
    き+や→きゃ
    ki+ya → kya

    し+や→しゃ
    shi+ya → sha

    ち+や→ちゃ
    chi+ya → cha

    み+や→みゃ
    mi + ya → mya

    に+や→にゃ
    ni + ya → nya

    ひ+や→ひゃ
    hi + ya → hya
『○ ゙ゃ』
     ぎゃ gya
     びゃ bya
     じゃ ja, jya
『○ゅ』
    き+ゆ→きゅ
    ki+yu → kyu

    し+ゆ→じゅ
    shi+yu → shu

    ち+ゆ→ちゅ
    chi+yu → chu

    み+ゆ→みゅ
    mi + yu → myu

    に+ゆ→に
    ni + yu → nyu

    ひ+ゆ→ひゅ
    hi + yu → hyu

『○ ゙ゅ』
     ぎゅ gyu
     びゅ byu
     じゅ ju, jyu
『○ょ』
    き+よ→きょ
    ki+yo → kyo

    し+よ→じょ
    shi+yo → sho

    ち+よ→ちょ
    chi+yo → cho

    み+よ→みょ
    mi + yo → myo

    に+よ→にょ
    ni + yo → nyo

    ひ+よ→ひょ
    hi + yo → hyo
『○ ゙ょ』
     ぎょ gyo
     びょ byo
     じょ jo, jyo
『○ ゚ゃ』
     ひゃ→ぴゃ
     hya → pya
『○ ゚ゅ』
     ひゅ→ぴゅ
     hyu → pyu
『○ ゚ょ』
     ひょ→ぴょ
     hyo → pyo


そくおん
The glottal stop called Small tsu
『・っ・』

Small tsu っ is one rhythmic unit in Japanese and is considered a glottal stop when coming after a vowel 『・っ』

Small tsu っ is considered a consonant doubler or consonant extender when coming before a consonant 『っ・』

いらっしゃいませ roughly, “ear-ah-shy-ee-ma-se”
いらっしゃい
the small tsu before the “sha” 「っしゃ」 creates and invites extra timing for the “sha” to come in earlier and slightly longer than just one mora (one rhythmic unit).

So glottal stopper っ really has two functions, depending on what precedes or follows.
うぁっ! Uatt! (sounds like “uah!” with a sudden halt in the throat). The small tsu is not pronounced, it just cuts/halts the voice of the vowel. For contrast,
「たった。」”Tatta” in this case doubles the second consonant “t sound” and expands the duration of this word slightly.

Next: Read about The Four Kinds of Kanji
Check out: What is Japanese Complete?
Learn About: The Benefits of Language Blending
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Mastery: Get Access to Japanese Complete

What is Japanese Complete?

Japanese Complete is a tool for learning Japanese effectively and efficiently, while retaining ability long-term.

How did you come to start working on Japanese Complete?

The team behind the site and software is composed of avid language learners and we were simply solving a problem we all had, namely that there was no full, effective, efficient, and data-supported path to native-level fluency in Japanese for new learners.

How long has this project been in development?

The project in its current form has been in furious development mode since September 2019. We are preparing for 1.0


Learn the Kana via the iroha poem composed by Master Kuukai thirteen hundred years ago.

What makes Japanese Complete unique?

Oh there’s just a handful of unremarkable things you could notice. You could

  1. Admire the original curriculum based on frequency analysis.
  2. Appreciate Language Blending and how it will accelerate acquisition.
  3. Become a master of Creative Memory for Kanji (ideograms).
  4. Enjoy the drills that help sharpen your linguistic acumen.
  5. Enjoy being able to listen along to lessons.
  6. Enjoy thorough and complete explanations that won’t leave you guessing in the future.
  7. Participate in an educational journey, proceed at your own pace, as quickly or as gradually as makes sense for you.
  8. Have an unshakeable foundation in Japanese grammar and fundamentals.
  9. Have a working mental model for Japanese that gets more detailed and defined over time.
  10. Start using your new understanding right away, learn via English Context.
  11. Hyper-differentiation of the most common grammar constructions because they are preferentially taught first.
Sampling of the most frequent 777 kanji which provide 90% coverage of glyphs in the wild.
Triple 7 Kanji list.

What’s Next?

Soon we will be announcing Japanese Complete 1.0
Please keep an eye out and help spread the word!

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日本語のマスターになりましょう!

Let’s become masters of Japanese!

You can get a subscription and start learning Japanese at Japanese Complete. You can learn more about the curriculum at LearnJapanese.Best

The Four Types of Kanji

象形・指事・会意・形声

Kanji, ideograms that constitute a bulk of the Japanese written language, come in four rough types. Pictographs, Indicators, Combographs, and Meaning-and-Sound Borrowers.

The first type is pictographs which stand in for the actual thing they represent. Some researchers claim fewer than 4% are actually pictographs.


1

象形文字

しょうけいもじ

人 biped (human)
女 woman
手 hand
田 ricefield
子 child
日 sun
月 moon
門 gate
山 mountain
川 river
弓 bow (as in “bow and arrow”)
火 fire
戸 Japanese style door
口 mouth, entranceway
水 water
雨 rain
竹 bamboo
木 tree, wood, timber
本 roots (origins)
麦 wheat, barley, oats
目 eye
牛 cow
羊 sheep
馬 horse
鳥 bird
All these are nouns which really limits their applicability in the realm of human affairs.


2

指事文字
しじもじ

Indicators. Visual stand-in or pointer for a concept. Here are some examples

上 Up/above
下 Down/below
中 Middle/between
一 One
二 Two
三 Three
乃 「の」
音 Sound
足 Leg/foot
天 Heaven
立 Stand up
引 Pull
公 Public
今 Now
母 Mother
化 Change
世 Society
面 Face, facet
共 Together
仲 Relationship
末 Top end, tip
片 one of a pair


3

会意文字
かいいもじ

Combographs, kanji composed of two or more kanji to create a third meaning.

“A meeting of meanings” to forge a new alloy with different properties.

武 is composed of 戈 and 止
Military arts = Spear + Stop

「信」は「人」と「言」
Trust (Person + Speak) … Word is bond.

「相」は 「木」と「目」
Physiognomy (tree + eye)

「休」は「人」と「木」
Rest/Take Off/Take break = Person + Tree

「男」は「田」と「力」
Man = Field + Power

「即」は「皀」と「卩」
Namely = Fragrant + Seal

「赤」は「大」と「火」
Red (Big + Fire)

「香」は「黍」と「甘」
Fragrance (Millet + Sweet)

「髟」は「長」と「彡」
Hair hanging long (Long + hair)

形声文字
けいせいもじ

Semantics and Sound Borrowers, meaning and sound borrowers, soundalikes inherit a phonetic value (pronunciation / reading) from one of their subkanji, and inherit meaning from another.

Meaning inherited on the left, Reading on the right.

Meaning and Sound Borrowers make up 90% of Japanese Kanji.

「漢字の約9割が形声文字であるといわれている。」

Roughly 90% of Kanji glyphs used in Japanese are classifiable as Meaning and Sound Borrower kanji.
[Reference 3: shinyuzemi-niigata.wixsite ]

This amazing fact, that 90% of kanji inherit their sound value (phonetic value / reading) from a subkanji has been explored in great detail in the book Cracking the Kanji Code.

Natalie Hamilton’s Cracking the Kanji Code is a great resource in learning the phonetic readings constituting over 90% of the kanji.

形声文字は、音を表わす文字(音符)と、意味を表わす部分(意符)で構成されています。

Sound and Meaning Borrower Kanji have a phonetic helper subkanji and a meaning helper subkanji.

An exhaustive list of these “Soundalike” kanji, that usurp meaning from one and phonetic reading from another, can be found in Reference 4 where they also show derivations like the image above.

紙(シ)
= 糸+氏(シ)
町(チョウ)
= 田+丁(チョウ)
姉(シ)
=女+市(シ)
理(リ)
=王+里(リ)

In the kanji characters above we can see that the phonetic reading is inherited from the right-hand side (Reference 5).

形声文字 do they mean what they say, or say what they mean?

Thanks for reading, we hope that you’ll use this new knowledge to master the kanji swiftly!

Master kanji like never before with the lessons specially crafted for long-term retention at Japanese Complete. Join the online course today.


  1. https://www.weblio.jp/wkpja/content/%E4%BC%9A%E6%84%8F_%E4%BC%9A%E6%84%8F%E3%81%AE%E6%A6%82%E8%A6%81
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanji#Types_of_kanji_by_category
  3. https://shinyuzemi-niigata.wixsite.com/index/single-post/2017/12/06/%E3%80%90%E6%BC%A2%E5%AD%97%E3%80%91%E2%91%A0%E8%B1%A1%E5%BD%A2%E3%83%BB%E6%8C%87%E4%BA%8B%E3%83%BB%E4%BC%9A%E6%84%8F%E3%83%BB%E5%BD%A2%E5%A3%B0%E6%96%87%E5%AD%97
  4. https://okjiten.jp/19-keiseimoji.html
  5. https://katekyo.mynavi.jp/juken/9182

What does 「すみません」 actually mean?

The definitions of 「すみません」
「すみません」の定義

「すみません」 is the standard polite form of 「すまない」 and is used when, with your present company you wish to express:

  • 謝罪 an apology
  • 感謝 a sense of gratitude
  • 依頼 when you wish to request something

Often translated as “Excuse me,” the word 「すみません」 has three subtle senses that may help explain more about the Japanese aesthetic.

「見えない」and「見られない」 How are they similar, what do they mean?

「見えない」と「見られない」


The best way to see the difference between 見えない and 見られない is through examples:

微粒子は肉眼ではほとんど見えない
Minute particles are hardly visible to the naked eye.

彼は片目が見えない
He is blind in one eye.

肉眼ではほとんど見えない星もある。
Some stars are hardly visible to the naked eye.

ここじゃないと見えないんだ。
I can only see it (the game) from here.

The stroke order ( 書き順 “kakijun” ) for 見

彼女は彼に涙を見られないようにした。
She turned away so he could not see her tears.

彼のような人は二度とは見られないだろう。
We shall not see his like again.

今晩は星1つ見られない
Not a single star is to be seen tonight.

Expressions

二目と見られない。(ふためとみられない
Can’t take another look, unable to look at it twice (the sight is unbearable).

見られたものではない。
When something is so crude that it cannot be looked upon at all.

Definitions of 「みえる」

「見える」の定義

① Shine-project into the eye. Confirmable by the eye.

② Visible. Able to be immediately perceived by eye.

③ Discernable. Able to catch sight of.

④ To be discovered, to be found.

⑤ Humble language to explain meeting someone. = I was able to see X.

Definitions of 「みられる」

「見られる」の定義

① To be visible. To recognize some situation. To think in such fashion.

② To be worthy of watching or viewing. To be valuable viewing.

③ Passive tense where Influential Actor is marked by に : To be seen. To be seen by someone. e.g. Someone に見られた。


Research depicts many overlaps between 「みえる」and「みられる。」

Questionnaire Results for various Japanese expressions and if they are completed better by 「みえる」 or 「みられる」
○ means agree,
△ means partially agree,
✖︎ means disagree.
富士山

How to Input Japanese via Keyboard

「キーボードで日本語の入力」
“Japanese Input via Keyboard”

Google Japan solved the problem of inputting >2000 glyphs with this treasure (1 April 2010). Don’t worry, there are easier ways.
Some of the original full Japanese keyboard concepts, evaluating possible keyboards with >2000 glyphs (Google Japan).
Why not just hold a big bulge of buttons? Or we could project all the shapes onto a table! (More Google Japan Concept Art).

Modern Mobile Japanese Input Methods

Modern Input Methods on Mobile tend to look like this.

Each button is actually a mask of five letters. Since Japanese is consonant-vowel pairs you can simply choose the correct consonant (K or T) and then choose the correct vowel (A or O) and end up with your result when you release (KA or TO).

Default is か … drag left to make き drag right to make け (this is called “Flick Input”).

Each button has its vowels attached in clockwise fashion:

  • あ in the middle
  • い at 9:00
  • う at 12:00
  • え at 3:00
  • お at 6:00

Remember that い starts on the left side and eventually your muscle memory will take over with the sequence あいうえお。

More of this amazing concept Google keyboard of brute force enumeration of glyphs (Google Japan).
Good luck with Touch Typing. (Google Japan).

Japanese Input via Traditional Keyboard

Traditional keyboards are very biased to English, so most of the world’s languages have found a way to adapt with the prominence of English as a world tech language and tool language.

Japanese Macbook Pro with Kana keyboard. If you buy in Japan, it can look like this.

Some keyboards have Hiragana printed on them, and you can actually buy Hiragana stickers for your keyboard if you choose to use one of these complex layouts. Like IME “Layout 1” or “Layout 2,” each is a little different in where some letters are placed, but the idea is that each key on the board represents one Hiragana glyph.

Modern Romaji-based Input

By and large the most common way to input Japanese is through a standard keyboard, where you simply type the character out as if writing it in romaji.

Output Hiragana | What to Type

あ a
い i
う u
え e
お o

か ka
き ki
く ku
け ke
こ ko

さ sa
し shi, si
す su
せ se
そ so


た ta
ち chi, ti
つ tsu, tu
て te
と to

な na
に ni
ぬ nu
ね ne
の no

は ha
ひ hi
ふ fu, hu
へ he
ほ ho

ま ma
み mi
む mu
め me
も mo

ら ra
り ri
る ru
れ re
ろ ro

わ wa
を wo
ん n, nn

ぁ LA
ぉ LO
ぅ LU
っ LTSU, LTU
(L for Little)

じゃ ja, jya
じゅ ju, jyu
じょ jo, jyo
きゃ kya
きゅ kyu
きょ kyo

Some characters have interesting tricks!

You can type し with simply “si” or つ with just “tu” as well as with”shi” and “tsu” as expected.


ふ can be typed in as either “hu” or “fu.”

The sound of ふ is made by bringing the lips together to contract air flow – the same shape you make with your lips to make a “woo” sound in English. However, unlike “woo,” ふ is not voiced, meaning the vocal chords do not vibrate (no humming in the background) when you say it.

Little letters (half-height) can be invoked by preceding them with letter “L,” as in LTSU or LTU for small tsu: っ。

Additionally, small っ will automatically occur in romaji input when the consonant in doubled. Yatta = やった。


Sunset on Lake Biwa

Learn more about Google Japan’s April Fool’s Keyboard from 2010.

Learn more about Japanese Complete and how important it is to build a solid foundation.

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Twenty Vowels English Make, Simply Seven Japanese.

English in all its glory has pure vowels 12 and 8 vowels glide. Compare this with Japanese that has 5 vowels.

“Pure” Vowels of English
/ı/as in hit
/ɪ/ as in read
/e/ as in bed
/æ/as in bat
/ɑː/as in hard
/ɒ/ as in shot
/ɔː/ as in short
/ʊ/as in full
/uː/ as in school
/ʌ/ as in hut
/ɜː/as in alert
/ə/ as in aloud

“Glide” Vowels of English
/aɪ/ as in fight,
/ɑʊ/ as in shout
/əʊ/ as in go
/ɔɪ/ as in boy
/ʊə/ as in poor,sure
/ɪə/as in ear
/eə/ as in air
/eɪ/ as in hate

“Pure” Vowels of Japanese
/ɪ/
/e/
/a/
/o/
/u/

Listen to this sound file to get an idea of the five pure tones of Japanese.
This brief “song” can be the basis of a great pronunciation in Japanese.

” ɪ e a o u, u o a e ɪ “
The song above can be used to track “where” the vowels happen in the simple pictogram of the mouth cavity on the right.
Japanese Phonology, Vowels on Wikipedia

Although Japanese is often depicted having just 5 pure vowel sounds we can take note that there is an extra-short “ee” sound like in the English word “meet,” and an unvocalised (lightly aspirated) “oo” as if the word “boot” were being whispered.

IPAKana exampleTransliterationEnglish approximation
aarufather
eekibet
iirumeet
shitawhispered meet
oonistory
ɯなぎunagishoot
ɯ̥きやきsukiyakiwhispered shoot

Often in English-speaking countries, students are taught that there are 5 vowels and that that is all. While true in a symbolic sense, it’s certainly not true of all the sounds afforded by the flexibility of glyphs and tongues.

Were we to follow such lackadaisical statements with an ingenuous mind, statements as if they were the whole truth, we would become but dimly lit slaves of our own ignorance, mistaking the bramble and dilapidated brickwork for the variety and resplendence of the garden.

Next: Read “To Learn Japanese, You need a Rocketship.”

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How to study Japanese Grammar

Japanese grammar can be very fun to learn, especially when we grasp the fundamental elements.

The basic skeletal structure of every Japanese sentence.
  1. Create your own examples from grammar constructions you learn, have them checked by your teacher and native speakers.
  2. Try and use the new structure as a lens on subject matter, using it frequently. The more practice the better.
  3. Study plenty of examples to get a clear sense for what the grammar point does.
  4. Invest in a grammar reference dictionary, like the series by Makino Sensei, A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar, with Intermediate and Advanced.
  5. Keep absorbing Japanese attentively. Train your eyes, train your ears, and train your sensitivity to new grammar.
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Japanese Complete First Lessons Live

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Japanese Complete, the initial lessons, are live now and supporter subscribers are getting rolling access to the platform.

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What is Japanese Complete?

Japanese Complete is a new way to learn language via interactive textbook.

Train your understanding of Japanese from the most frequent glyphs and grammar constructions first, and reach native-level comprehension through detailed explanations and digestible, fun drills.

Frequency-based curriculum with bridge-language approach.

Drills to train and hone your understanding.

Improve your Japanese, build a reliable mental model, acquire an intuition for the language, and unlock a world of possibility.

Some of the many glorious grammar “particles” of the Japanese language.

Most textbooks start with specific aims in terms of conversation or composition. However, our goal is to impart a true intuitive and visceral understanding of Japanese.

Indeed, Japanese Complete is to train people to think in Japanese, not simply to parrot and perform with it.

Learn the Hiragana with a pangram poem from 715 C.E.
The Iroha poem by Kuukai
English rendering of the Iroha made for Japanese Complete.

English is a beautiful language with great variety, and Japanese is quite flexible in its composition as well, but they are both huge dragons oriented in opposite directions.

The verb of a Japanese sentence always comes at the end, and this requires one to think differently about the language.

Structure of a Japanese sentence.

In Japanese Complete we refer to each vessel as a bunsetsu jar to help illustrate exactly how flexible Japanese is in its arrangement of noun phrases before the sentence-final verb.

Vowels in Japanese and their “active spots” in the vocalizing mouth.

In Japanese Complete we also introduce Japanese pitch accent and mimetic language early on. Why save all the good stuff for last? It’s much nicer to learn all the juicy parts that make Japanese special first, it’s even better because you’ll sound like a native and be more inspired to keep learning!

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