Japanese Writing Systems for Beginners: Learn Romaji

What is Japanese Romaji? A Roman character and letter system for English speakers

When learning Japanese you’re introduced to several writing systems, including hiragana, katakana, kanji, and finally – romaji.

Romaji simply means “Roman characters.” You will typically use romaji when you type out Japanese sentences using a keyboard.

Romaji is the representation of Japanese sounds using the western, 26-letter alphabet,” says Donald Ash, creator of TheJapanGuy.com. “Romaji puts Japanese into a format that most Westerners can read and understand.”

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Although romaji is one way to write Japanese syllables, it’s not a completely functional system.

“First of all, there are ways in which the Japanese sound system is different from English,” says Tofugu writer Linda Lombardi. “Second, there’s more than one way to write even some English sounds in English.”

Romaji isn’t used as often as kanji, katakana, and hiragana, but it’s still a good idea to be familiar with it when you’re learning to speak Japanese.

How to Use Romaji for Beginners

Let’s take a look at romaji, and the the standard Japanese syllables.

Hiragana is the basic writing system that is commonly used in Japan. Hiragana uses 46 letters, so there are 46 romaji variations to represent all hiragana. (See the chart below, read from right to left).

romaji to english alphabet chart

Japanese syllables, however, have more variations than 46 because hiragana letters can be combined to describe variations of sounds.

Dakuon and Han-dakuon

Japanese syllables consist of dakuon (impure sounds) and han-dakuon (half-impure sounds). Dakuon sounds occur in the  か (ka), さ (sa), た (ta), and は (ha) rows. The consonants for each row k, s, t, and h should be changed to: g, z, d, and b. See the chart below for examples.

romaji japanese syllables chart - dakuon

Notice that “zi,” and “zu” are used twice for different letters.

Han-dakuon only occur on the “h” consonant row, which changes the sound to a “p.” In Japanese writing, dakuon is described by simply adding two dots right next to the original letters. Han-dakuon uses a small circle instead of dots.

romaji japanese syllables chart - Han-dakuon

Here are some extra tips to keep in mind about romaji:

  • The romaji for じ (zi) and ぢ (zi), ず (zu) and づ (zu) are the same
  • Spelling “zi” to describe the sound can be confusing, because from an English speaker’s perspective, it should be spelled “ji.” The same thing applies for “し” (si/shi) and “つ” (tu/tsu), too.
  • Romaji uses the Hepburn system of romanization, which is a Japanese-English translation system. For example, if you type “ji” on a computer, it will be translated to “じ” automatically.

SEE ALSO: 8 Essential Japanese Greetings


Yôon (twisted sound) is formed by combining hiragana. You have already been introduced to the  や (ya), ゆ (yu), and よ (yo) letters in chart 1.

When these three letters follow other letters, [except for the “あ” vowel row, or わ (wa), を (wo), and ん (n)], it’s going to create distinctively different sounds. This conjugation happens to dakuon and han-dakuon sounds as well. See the chart below:

romanized japanese chart - yoon

When や, ゆ, and よ are conjugated with other letters, the size of those three letters has to be smaller. If you write the letters in the same size, it’s not considered a conjugation. It’s just two syllables happening successively.

For example, “きや” is read and written as “kiya” instead of “kya” – one syllable sound. ちゃや which means “tea shop,” is written as “tyaya” in romaji.


Tyôon means “long sound.” It often happens in Japanese when two vowels are written successively. Since all Japanese syllables have a vowel, the vowel in the first syllable can be connected with another vowel directly. When this happens, it creates the feeling of a longer sound.

In Japanese hiragan, tyôon is written as ちょうおん. If you write each syllable in romaji, it would be “tyouon.”

Now let’s focus on the first two syllables of the word, ちょう. The vowel “o” in “tyo” is connected with the vowel “u.” This “ou” sound is considered a “longer sound.”

In official romaji writing, this is supposed to be written so as “tyôu” with a circumflex (a mark placed over a vowel to indicate a contraction or change in length or tone). This longer sound is a very important part of Japanese pronunciation.

You can see this in two common Japanese last names: おおの (Ôno) and おの (ono). These two names are similar but distinctively different.

When you see two Os, you may be tempted to say “oo” as in the word “ooze.” Using a circumflex can help to eliminate this confusion.

Of course, there are exceptions to these rules. For example, when the vowels “e” and “i” are combined, you can’t use a circumflex. So romaji writing for the term “movie,” えいが, should be written as “eiga.” Just write each syllable rather than “êga,” even though this is still one of the longer sounds.

On the other hand, if two Es are combined, you still have to follow the circumflex rule, even though the pronunciation for “ei” and “ee” are the same. This might sound confusing but with enough practice, anyone can master it!

SEE ALSO: Japanese Vocabulary for the Family


Sokuon means urging sound. I’d describe this as a skipping or jumping sound. These kinds of words are written with a small “tu” in hiragana (いった (went) and やった (did).

Just like yôon, there is a smaller letter in between. In romaji, you should write the two examples as “itta” and “yatta.”

Most of time, romaji writing works when you type on a keyboard. It doesn’t always work perfectly, however – describing Japanese syllables with the alphabet sometimes requires adjustments.

For instance, じ、ず、and ぢ、づ are the same in romaji: “zi, zu.” When you need to type ぢ and づ on the keyboard, you can actually use “di” and “du” because ぢ and づ belong to the だ (da) row in the first chart we shared.

New Japanese syllables have also been added since foreign words and new terms were imported. These new syllables combine vowels and consonants. These syllables are still controversial, and most of them are not even officially acknowledged, even though you can see them everywhere in Japan.

As you can see, romaji is a very unique component of the Japanese language. If you’re having trouble understanding these concepts, seek the help of a Japanese teacher who can break it down into small segments to make it easier for you. Good luck and enjoy learning Japanese!

AndyWPost Author: Kaoru N.
Kaoru N. teaches Japanese and guitar lessons in Brighton, MA. Originally from Tokyo, he graduated from Berklee College of Music with a dual major and is available for local or online lessons. Learn more about Kaoru here!

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Japanese Dialects

The Ultimate Guide to Major Japanese Dialects

Japanese dialects

If you live in the United States, you’ve probably noticed that someone from New Jersey doesn’t speak the same way as someone from California. This is because of dialects, or forms of language developed and used in specific regions.

These dialects differ not only in accent but in vocabulary, grammatical structure, and slang (from “y’all” in the South to “hella” in Northern California).

The same is true in Japan. A majority of Japanese students are familiar with the type of Japanese spoken in, and north of, the Kanto region which contains Tokyo. But there are several other Japanese dialects to learn, each with many subsections.

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If you’re planning a trip to Japan soon, don’t get caught unprepared! Here are some of the major Japanese dialects you can expect to encounter.

5 Major Japanese Dialects

Standard Japanese (Eastern Japanese, Tokyo-type Japanese)

Spoken in: Most of Japan (Hokkaido, Tohoku, and Kanto region; much of Chubu region)

Soon after Japan opened its borders in 1853, the country went through the Meiji Restoration, which united the nation as a major world power. Along with other advancements in society, a standard Japanese dialect was chosen—the one used in Yamanote, a district of Tokyo. Once technology brought about radio and TV broadcasts, this dialect spread quickly throughout the country.

Western Japanese (Kansai-ben)

Spoken in: (Kansai, Chugoku, and Shikoku regions; part of Chubu region)

Eastern and Western Japan have long been separated by differences of culture and dialect, similar to the Northern and Southern United States. Because of the geographical separation, a different type of speech developed over time in the old capital, Kyoto, and surrounding areas.

Western Japanese is known for its shortened words, much like southern American English – think of the southern drawl. Here are some examples:

Meaning Standard Japanese Western Japanese
Look Miru (見る) Mii, miyo (見い,見よ)
Wide Hiroi (広い) Hirō (広お)
Dropped Otoshita (落とした) Otoita (落といた)

Western Japanese also includes many words with modified syllables, as you can see here:

Meaning Standard Japanese Western Japanese
Paid Haratta (払った) Harōta (払おた)
Will not do Shinai (しない) Senu (せぬ)
To exist Iru (いる) Oru (おる)

Unique dialects within Western Japanese include Osaka-ben (spoken in Osaka) and Kyoto-ben (spoken in Kyoto). These two dialects are very similar, which makes it fairly easy for people from Kyoto and Osaka to speak to one another. The cities are only half an hour apart by train.

Kyushu Japanese

Spoken in: The island of Kyushu

Kyushu has long been an important part of Japan, especially as an ancient center of relations with China and Korea. Since it’s separated from the main island both culturally and geographically, it makes sense that a new dialect emerged here.

The Kyushu dialects differ so much from each other that it’s difficult to identify specific congruences between them. As a whole, there are many modified conjugation types, shortened words, and alternate words.

There are three unique dialects in Kyushu: Satsugu/Kagoshima, Hōnichi, and Hichiku. Each of these include their own sub-dialects.

  • Satsugu/Kagoshima: Southern Kyushu, mostly Kagoshima province
  • Hōnichi: Eastern Kyushu, including most of Oita prefecture
  • Hichiku: Western Kyushu, including Fukuoka (Hakata-ben) and Nagasaki (Nagasaki-ben)

SEE ALSO: How Long Does It Take To Learn Japanese?

Okinawa Japanese

Spoken in: The island of Okinawa

Some people joke that Okinawa isn’t really a part of Japan, and its controversial history (including annexation by Japan) implies as much. The island is home to several languages that UNESCO now considers endangered as Okinawans lean toward standard Japanese.

Okinawan Japanese borrows many words from standard Japanese, but they have different meanings. For example, “korosu” means “hit” in Okinawan Japanese and “kill” in Standard Japanese. Okinawan Japanese also borrowed some words from English ever since the Battle of Okinawa.

Whether or not Okinawan Japanese is actually a Japanese dialect is often debated, so comparing it to Japanese can be quite difficult. It might be safer to think of the two like Italian and Spanish—similar in many ways, but distinct.

Mixed Dialects

Spoken in: Parts of the Chubu prefecture

Since the borders between Eastern and Western Japan are superficial, the dialects tend to mix. This is most evident in areas of Chubu, where two dialects have meshed into something new.

Let’s look at Nagoka-ben, as Nagoya is Chubu’s largest city. Differences are subtler than those between standard and Western Japanese, but they are still obvious to anyone who speaks either dialect. This mostly manifests itself in slight contractions or conjugation modifications.

Meaning Standard Japanese Nagoya-ben
It gets smaller Chiisakunaru (小さくなる) Chiisanaru (小さなる)
I don’t sleep Nemasen(寝ません) Nesen (寝せん)
It was fun Tanoshikattayo (楽しかったよ) Tanoshikattani (楽しかったに)

Tackling Japanese Dialects

Considering the dizzying array of Japanese dialects, do you think your current Japanese skills are enough to get you through a trip to Japan without a hitch? If not, consider working with a Japanese tutor to study the dialects of the specific areas you’d like to visit. You’ll be glad you did when you’re able to understand Kansai-ben and Kagoshima-ben!

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Elaina RPost Author: Elaina R.
Elaina R. teaches singing in Ann Arbor, MI. She earned a Master of Music in Voice Performance from the University of Michigan. She is also proficient in multiple languages and speaks Japanese, English, Italian, and German.  Learn more about Elaina here!

15 Fun-to-Say Japanese Onomatopoeias (With Audio)

15 Fun-to-Say Japanese Onomatopoeias and sound words

What Are Japanese Onomatopoeias?

An onomatopoeia is a word where meaning is derived from a sound, or when a word sounds like how it looks. In English, we have onomatopoeias like “cock-a-doodle-doo” for the sound a rooster makes, or “crunch” for the act of crushing things.

Onomatopoeias are quite common in many, if not all languages. We tend to notice them most in comics as sound effects: zippers “zip” and light switches “click.” They’re fun to say and they certainly aren’t hard to learn.

Certain Asian languages, like Chinese and Japanese, show emphasis through repetition of a word. This emphasis is usually applied when it comes to onomatopoeias.

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The Onomatopoeias

Let’s start off with an onomatopoeia that anyone who watches anime or reads manga is sure to be intimately familiar with…

dokidoki    どきどき/ドキドキ

The sound of a small throbbing, dokidoki is most often used to identify a beating heart – typically one that is beating unusually fast or hard. It’s often used to signal sexual tension to the reader of a manga. Dokidoki-suru can be used to infer being excited, nervous, anticipatory, or embarrassed. Actually, saying dokidoki-suru would translate to “I’m nervous,” or, “You make my heart race.”

perapera    ぺらぺら/ペラペラ

The sound of something flapping in the wind, perapera is often used to describe incessant chatter. Perapera-suru could be used to tell someone that they should take a breath. But perapera can also be used for good; suggesting that someone flaps their gums in a language would describe them as fluent.

jii    じー/ジー

One of the more unique onomatopoeias in Japanese, jii is the sound of staring and motionlessness. The longer the vowel is extended, the more intense the stare. When used as a verb with suru, jii becomes jitto-suru (じっとする). This “to” is a quotation marker and it’s sometimes seen accompanying onomatopoeias in Japanese.

kirakira    きらきら/キラキラ

“Twinkle, twinkle, little star…” Most of us know that nursery rhyme. Kirakira is like that “twinkle twinkle.” It’s the sound of sparkling, whether it’s water, gemstones, or stars. Kirakira-suru could be used to let a friend know that the rock you found might just be a diamond.

zaazaa    ざあざあ/ザアザア

We don’t really have a word for this in English, but I think it’s fantastic! Zaazaa is the sound of rain falling, or the sound of static on your television screen. This isn’t one you would use too much in ordinary conversation, but it could be used adverbially when talking about rain.

shiin    しーん/シーン

Another word we don’t have in English, shiin, is the sound of silence. This is an example of the best part of Japanese onomatopoeias: words for sounds that aren’t made by anything! This word can be used with suru to mean “to be silent,” or more commonly with “to-suru,” as seen above with jii, to form the sense of doing something silently.

wakuteka    わくてか/ワクテカ

This is one of my personal favorites. It’s actually a two-fer; it comes from the phrase “wakuwaku tekateka.” Let’s break that down: wakuwaku (わくわく/ワクワク) is the sound of trembling – it means to get excited or nervous, and tekateka (てかてか/テカテカ) is the sound of something shiny or gleaming (similar to kirakira, but less “sharp”). Together, you get wakuteka – the jitters. When someone is shivering with excitement and they just can’t keep still, you might comment with wakuteka-suru.

gorogoro    ごろごろ/ゴロゴロ

Gorogoro is the sound of something rolling around. It’s great for describing all manners of things, like roly polies, a runaway barrel, a rolling pen, your gymnastic friend, and more! In addition, it can be the sound of a grumbling stomach, or even thunder. If you imagine all three uses, you can start to really hear the similarity in the sounds.

pachipachi    ぱちぱち/パチパチ

Snap! It’s the sound of a book clapping closed, or the bubbling pop of a wood fire. It could also be the sound you make when you snap your fingers. Have you heard of pachinko? It’s a pretty popular game in Japan (often used for gambling) and it’s named so because it makes that sound too! This one has a variant, pachin, that’s goes “zing!” – like bullets ricocheting or the sound of a pinball game.

pekopeko    ぺこぺこ/ペコペコ

The sound of a grumbling stomach, pekopeko, is more often used by children, but it can be a cute way to say you’re feeling famished! A groaning pekopeko-suru should get you headed toward food in no time (especially after you read the complete guide to sushi).

suu    すう/スウ

The sound of sucking, suu, is actually a normal Japanese verb. But… it’s also an onomatopoeia! Whether taking a breath, pulling on a pipe, or slurping up some broth, suu can be used. Keep in mind that unlike the others on this list, you can’t just add suru to suu because it’s a godan verb, not a suru verb!

mogumogu    もぐもぐ/モグモグ

Chew chew chew… and not just in the literal sense. You can use mogumogu for munching on your lettuce leaves, but also to indicate mumbling. Don’t forget to chew your words!

zudon    ずどん/ズドン

Thud! Bang! Something heavy just hit the ground. Maybe you dropped a box of books or a bowling ball. Either way, you can use zudon to call to mind a decisive slam onto the floor (or table, bench, or what-have-you).

herohero    へろへろ/ヘロヘロ

Oh man, am I wiped! I’m completely pooped from writing this article – I would say I’m herohero. If you take a piece of plastic and flap it around, listen to the sound it makes. This word means flimsy, in the sense of utter and total exhaustion. It counts whether it’s mental, physical, or both.

It’s often used in conjunction with 疲れる (つかれる/ツカレル – to be tired) as ヘロヘロに疲れた (へろへろ に つかれた / herohero ni tsukareta – totally wiped out).

nikoniko    にこにこ/ニコニコ

We’re at the end of the article, but don’t be sad – put on a smile! Niko is the sound a smile makes. When you put two smiles together and get nikoniko, it has connotations of happiness – doing something with a grin.

You know emojis? Those cute little faces on your phone that are so popular? Did you know that if you’re using an IME (Input Method Editor) to type Japanese, you can get to those by using onomatopoeias? Try it! Type niko next time you’re writing in Japanese and hit your spacebar.

Learn more onomatopoeias in Japanese group classes on TakeLessons Live, or ask a Japanese tutor if you need some extra help!

Related: Japanese Honorifics, Japanese Numbers 1-10, and Common Japanese Greetings

japanese holidays

12 Japanese Holidays and Celebrations [Infographic]

japanese holidays

From January through December, there are many Japanese holidays and special occasions you can participate in.

If you’re taking Japanese lessons, make sure you get in on the fun! This is a great way to practice your skills in an authentic, cultural setting.

Get ready to mark your calendar! Here are 12 Japanese celebrations you should remember.

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12 Japanese Holidays & Celebrations

Ganjitsu – New Year’s Day

January 1st

People around the world celebrate New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. In Japan, many businesses remain closed until the 3rd, and there are all types of parties and traditions.

Japanese people view each year as a fresh start—so you should leave your worries and troubles behind, and start the new year with joy, happiness, and a fresh perspective.

Kenkoku Kinen no Hi – National Foundation Day

February 11th

National Foundation Day is a historical holiday on the 11th of February. The holiday commemorates the formation of the nation.

The National Flag is raised and the prime minister gives a speech, while Japanese people show their national pride by waving flags.

Hina Matsuri – Girls’ Festival

March 3rd

This is many young girls’ favorite of all the Japanese holidays. On this day, parents wish their daughters success and happiness.

Dolls and peach blossoms are displayed in many houses throughout Japan.

RELATED: 10 Japanese Quotes and Sayings

Shunbun No Hi – Spring / Vernal Equinox

March 20th / 21st

This national holiday welcomes the end of winter and the beginning of spring. It’s also a time to visit graves and honor your ancestors.

Additionally, this is a favored holiday for farmers, who pray for an abundant harvest.

Showa No Hi – Showa Day

April 29th

Part of “Golden Week,” Showa Day takes place on April 29th. Once known as the Emperor’s Birthday, it commemorates the Showa Era (1926 – 1989).

Golden Week

April 29th – May 8th

Golden week combines four national holidays in Japan. May 3rd is Kenpo kinenbi (Constitution Day), and it commemorates the new constitution which was put in place in 1947.

May 4th is Midori no hi (Greenery Day), which celebrates nature and the environment. Kodomo no Hi (Children’s Day) is the last Golden Week holiday, when Japanese families pray for their son’s health and future success.

Summer Solstice

June 20th – 21st

It’s not an official national holiday, but chances are you can find a celebration to attend. The summer solstice recognizes the longest day of the year—a tradition honored in Japan and around the world.

SEE ALSO: Learn How to Count From 1-10 in Japanese

Umi no Hi – Marine / Ocean Day

Third Monday in July

Ocean Day is a holiday to give thanks for the ocean’s bounty and its importance to Japan as an island nation.

Mountain Day

August 11th

Mountain Day became an official holiday on August 11th, 2016. Like several other Japanese holidays, this one has to do with celebrating nature.

It not only gives people a day off from work, but also provides an opportunity to appreciate and study the benefits of mountains.

Keiro no Hi – Respect for the Aged Day

Third Monday in September

This holiday is all about celebrating and showing respect for elderly people in the community, and expressing gratitude for their contributions.

Taiku no Hi – Health and Sports Day

Second Monday in October

Health and Sports Day is a national holiday that commemorates the opening of the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. The holiday also encourages a healthy and active lifestyle.

Kinrō Kansha no Hi – Labor Day / Thanksgiving

November 23rd

As the name implies, Japan’s Thanksgiving celebrates workers, and honors the labor and production in the country.

Tennō Tanjōbi – The Emperor’s Birthday

December 23rd

The emperor’s birthday is always a national holiday in Japan. Akihito, the current Japanese emperor, was born on December 23rd, so the holiday coincides with his birthday.

Check out the colorful infographic below for more reminders of these Japanese celebrations!

japanese holidays

We hope you enjoyed learning about the many Japanese holidays. If you’re taking Japanese lessons, learn as much as you can about these special Japanese celebrations.

Learning about cultural traditions makes studying Japanese that much more fun!

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Photo by David Chau

facts about japan

Bet You Didn’t Know: 45 Fun Facts About Japan [In Pictures]

facts about japanEvery culture has its own set of perks, quirks, and interesting facts, and Japan is no exception.

So whether you’re planning a trip, taking language lessons, or you just want to learn some facts about Japan, check out this fun, interactive slideshow.

From facts about food to the lifestyle and the land, here are 45 things you probably didn’t know about Japan.


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Now that you’ve learned some interesting facts about Japan, is there anything you found shocking or surprising? Let us know in the comments below!


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Halloween in Japan

Get in the Spirit: Celebrate Halloween in Japan

Halloween in Japan

Have you ever wondered how other cultures celebrate your favorite haunted holiday? Here, Japanese teacher Taro T. explains how Japanese people get in the spirit and add their own twist to Halloween…

Japan may be far away from the United States where Halloween is widely celebrated, but wearing costumes has become a tradition in Japan. In the land of anime and video games, wearing costumes, or cosplay, has been a part of Japanese sub-culture for decades.

Despite the increased popularity of Halloween in Japan (ハロウィーン), in the past, dressing up in costume usually meant attending cosplay conventions. Tens of thousands of people attend such events every year. This part of Japanese culture has also become popular in Western countries. In fact, in 2014, over 33,000 people attended Otakon, a cosplay event in Baltimore, Maryland.

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Thanks to the cosplay culture, Halloween has become increasingly popular in Japan as young people continue to embrace American culture. Last year in the Shibuya District in Tokyo, throngs of people took to the streets to celebrate Halloween in Japan.

If you happen to be in Tokyo on Halloween, you’ll be impressed by the costumes and makeup. When I first experienced Halloween, in high school in the U.S., I remember seeing a kid dressed as Bob Marley. I was amazed by the work kids put into their costumes. In Japan, you’ll see the same type of elaborate, high-quality costumes.

The obsession with Halloween in Japan may also be due to Obon, a period in August in which Japanese people celebrate their ancestors’ spirits. It’s an annual Buddhist holiday where people visit their relatives and honor their ancestors.

A yurei is a karmic ghost that’s associated with Obon and Halloween in Japan. A yurei is terrifying, like something you would see in a horror movie.

On the other hand, an obake is a cute, anime-like ghost which is also associated with Obon and Halloween in Japan. For Japanese people, Halloween is a time to have fun and show off their costumes.

In addition, Halloween in Japan is very marketable. Businesses take advantage of the opportunity to sell candy, costumes, and Halloween-related goods. Growing up in Japan as a kid, I remember getting candies that came in a Jack-o’-lantern case. My mother put the case by the front door, and I would avoid passing that area at night because I was afraid of the Jack-o’-lantern.

Halloween may be a relatively new holiday in Japan, but Japanese people love to put their own twist on this American tradition. If you have a chance to visit Japan on Halloween, I’m sure you’ll have just as much fun as the locals.

Here are some Japanese vocabulary  words to help you get in the spirit… ハッピーハロウィン (happy Halloween)!


halloween in Japan


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Taro TPost Author: Taro T.
Taro T. teaches Japanese and ESL in Washington, D.C. He is a language acquisition specialist and mentors students from the United States, Thailand, Italy, Korea, Turkey, and El Salvador. Born and raised in Japan, Taro came to the United States when he was 16 to learn English and American culture. He gained fluency in both English and Spanish. Learn more about Taro here!

Photo by Hideya HAMANO

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Japanese martial arts

The Ultimate Guide to Japanese Martial Arts

Japanese martial arts

There’s no better way to learn Japanese than exploring important aspects of the culture. Martial arts play a significant role in both Japanese history and Japanese culture.

So whether you’re taking Japanese lessons or you’re interested in learning martial arts, here is your guide to the most popular Japanese fighting styles.


Japanese martial arts

Photo by T toes

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Sumo is Japan’s national sport. The rules are simple: each rikishi (wrestler) tries to push his opponent out of the elevated, clay dohyo (ring).

A sumo match ends when a wrestler steps out of the ring, or touches the ground with anything other than the soles of his feet. Matches usually take just a few seconds, but can last up to a minute or longer.

Unlike American wrestling, there are no weight classes in sumo, so a smaller wrestler could find himself face to face with a much larger opponent.

There are six annual 15-day sumo tournaments in Japan. Higher-ranked wrestlers will compete in one match per day during the tournament. At the end of each tournament, the wrestlers receive an updated ranking based on their record. The ranking system consists of six classifications: Makuuchi (top division), Juryo (2nd division), Makushita (third division), Sandanme (4th division), Jonidan (fifth division), and Jonokuchi (6th division). Yokozuna (grand champion) is the highest level a sumo can achieve.

Sumo has roots in the Shinto religion, and some of the original rituals remain today, like purifying the ring with salt. Sumo wrestlers must live and train in a heya (sumo training stable) and adhere to strict rules that dictate when they sleep, what they eat, and how they dress.


Japanese martial arts

Photo courtesy judoinfo.com

Judo is a modern martial art and Olympic sport created by Jigoro Kano in 1882. Judo translates to “the gentle way,” and the sport is a combination of jujitsu and wrestling.

Judo does not involve punching, kicking, or striking. Instead, participants use throws to take an opponent to the ground.
Kata (pre-arranged movement) is part of Judo and many other Japanese martial arts. Because the opponent knows the moves, kata also allows hitting, kicking, and the use of weapons, but these movements are not permitted in competition and free practice.


Japanese martial arts

Photo by David Vega

Karate translates literally to “open or empty hand” which is fitting since it was developed during a time when a ban was placed on weapons. The three basic movements in karate are thrusts, kicks, and arm strikes.

There are several theories about the history of karate, but many of them are difficult to verify. While karate was developed initially as a method of self-defense, participants also learn and practice Zen and Bushido principles in their search for spiritual enlightenment.

Karate is a blend of indigenous martial arts from the Ryukyu Islands (now Okinawa) and Chinese martial arts like, kenpo. A large number of karate styles are practiced in Japan and across the world, differing from one another in fighting technique and kata.


In kendo (the way of the sword), opponents use shinai (bamboo sowrds) and wear bogu (protective armor) that covers the face, chest, and arms. Participants must master techniques and timing to strike an opponent and score a point.

Like other Japanese martial arts, kendo is about much more than just the physical fighting. Kendo participants seek physical and mental strength along with spiritual enlightenment.

According to the Southern California Kendo Organization, “the concept of kendo is to discipline the human character through the application of the principles of the Katana (sword).”


Another form of Japanese sword fighting, iaido is the art of drawing and attacking with a sword. Unlike kendo, iaido is mainly practiced solo using a series of movements called waza. A participant uses techniques and movements against an imaginary opponent, and there is more focus on striking from the draw.

Iaido practitioners develop not only their technique and physical strength, but also their mental capacity. There is no direct sparring in iaido, but partner practice is permitted with a bokuto (wooden sword).

Hayashizaki Jinsuke Minamoto Shigenobu, who lived in Japan from 1546 to 1621, is credited with creating iaido. Almost 100 years prior, however, Iizasa Ienao developed iaijutsu, the precursor to iaido.

japanese martial arts


Japanese martial arts aren’t simply physical activities, but means of seeking spiritual enlightenment. Which martial arts form would you like to try? Let us know in the comments below!

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japanese etiquette

Japanese Etiquette: How to Be a Polite House Guest

japanese etiquette

Every culture has its own set of social graces, and following rules and minding your manners can prevent awkward encounters. So whether you’re taking Japanese lessons or you’re just interested in other cultures, learn essential Japanese etiquette with Montgomery, TX teacher Emily G…

There are some specific cultural rules you should keep in mind when you visit a Japanese person’s home. Japanese etiquette is incredibly important, unfortunately it’s not always as intuitive as you might think.

I learned about etiquette from my sensei who taught me Japanese. At the end of each semester, he would host a party and ask us to pretend it was a house visit. We weren’t permitted to enter the room and join the party until we performed every aspect of etiquette.

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To help you get your house-call manners just right, here’s a quick run-down of the two most important things you should know when you visit a Japanese home.

The Way of the Genkan

The genkan is a small area just inside the front door. Sometimes it’s clearly defined because it’s lower than the floor in the rest of the house, which makes a person step to enter the house, but this is not always the case. Assume that the area immediately inside the door is the genkan, even if it doesn’t look different from the rest of the house. Leave all of your outdoor gear like your coat, umbrella, and shoes here. These items do not belong in the house.
Japanese people are very particular about keeping the genkan orderly. When you take off your shoes, keep them together and place them soles down. Remember, outdoor shoes are dirty. The genkan, by extension, is also considered dirty no matter how clean it may look, so face the interior of the house when you remove your shoes. This way, you can step out of your shoes and into the house without your clean feet or socks ever touching the dirty genkan. Your host or hostess may even give you house slippers to wear inside. Don’t worry if they don’t fit, they rarely do, you can simply shuffle around in them.

Finally, place your shoes to the side of the genkan area, to prevent people from tripping. When you move your shoes, only touch the inside and the top (the cleaner parts) and turn them to point toward the door. If you do this right, your host will not have to touch your shoes. When you’re ready to leave, simply step into your shoes.

The Way of the Omiyage

An omiyage is a type of gift or souvenir you bring to friends or family after a trip. When it comes to house visits, however, you should also bring an omiyage because you never want to show up empty handed.

You can bring a small snack or some drinks. Keep in mind that whatever you bring should be easy for people to share. Follow these three steps when you give your omiyage to your host or hostess:

  1. Hold your omiyage with both hands. The Japanese consider it lazy and improper to hand someone something with just one hand.
  2. Bow as you offer your omiyage to your host or hostess. When you bow, don’t look at the host, turn your face down toward the floor. You will look silly (like a turtle) if you continue to stare at the host as you bow.
  3. As you present your omiyage, offer a short, humble phrase. For example, my sensei taught me this phrase: “tsumaranai mono desu ga…” The sentence trails off, as many humble Japanese sentences do, and means something like, “this is just a boring little thing, but…..”. Your host or hostess should take your gift with both hands, bow, thank you for the item, and invite you in to his or her home.

Now that you know about the genkan and omiyage you’re ready to enjoy a house visit with a Japanese family. If you really want to impress your hosts, learn some Japanese mealtime etiquette. Armed with the basics, you can relax and enjoy some good food and good company!

Emily GPost Author:
 Emily G.
Emily G. teaches Japanese, Latin, and Greek lessons in Montgomery, TX. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Classics from Texas A&M University and later went on to receive her Master’s Degree in Ancient History from the University of Nottingham. She has been teaching since 2009. Learn more about Emily here!

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Photo by Robert Douglass

animals in Japanese

QUIZ: Which Japanese Animal Are You?

There are certain animals that are significant in Japanese culture and history. Some animals are feared because of their supernatural powers, while others are loved and trusted by the Japanese people.

So whether you’re taking Japanese lessons or you’re just an animal lover, learn some vocabulary and find out if you’re a friend or foe with this quiz!


[playbuzz-item url=”//www.playbuzz.com/takelessons12/a-which-japanese-animal-are-you”]
Learn how to say more animals in Japanese with this infographic!

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animals in Japanese

Japanese Vocabulary: 10 Animals in Japanese

animals in Japanese

If you’re taking Japanese lessons, you’ve probably learned the basics like greetings and phrases. So, let’s get into some fun Japanese vocabulary. Here, Brighton, MA Japanese teacher Kaoru N. teaches you the names for common animals in Japanese…

1. Inu – 犬 / 狗  – Dog

Humans and dogs have a special bond, and just like in the rest of the world, dogs are important animals in Japanese.

There are two kanji letters for “dog,” but the second one is less common, and only used when it’s part of a word, for example: “走狗”,“天狗,” (running dog).

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The left part of the second kanji is called kemono-hen, the (beast-hen). In general, “hen” is the left part of the kanji, which indicates what the kanji is related to. If a kanji has this (hen) part, it most likely stands for some kind of animal or beast.

2. Neko – 猫 – Cat

Writing “cat” is a bit more complicated than writing “dog” in Japanese. Notice this kanji also contains the “beast-hen.”

3. Saru – 猿 –  Monkey

There are a lot of Japanese legends and idioms about monkeys, they’re important animals in the Japanese culture.

In some Japanese hot springs, you can bathe with wild monkeys. If you go sightseeing in Nikko, you will see lots of monkeys in the streets. Make sure to hide your plastic bags from the monkeys in Nikko. The monkeys know plastic bags usually contain food, and they will attack you and try to take your food!

A law protects the monkeys, so you cannot harm them. In some cases, monkeys are smart and friendly; in other cases, they can be sly and mean.

4. Kitsune – 狐 –  Fox

In Japan, the fox is treated both as a monster and a god. According to Japanese superstition, these animals have supernatural powers and can play tricks on humans.

Because of these supernatural abilities, Japanese people generally respect and fear animals that dwell in the wild. A fox represents these mountain-dwelling animals. There are still a lot of fox shrines all over Japan.

5. Tanuki – 狸 – Raccoon

A raccoon is another wild, mountain-dwelling creature. There is a Japanese expression about these kinds of “monstrous” animals: “狐狸の類い” (kori no tagui),which means “a kind of fox and raccoon.”

6. Kuma – 熊 –  Bear

Bears aren’t supernatural, but they’re still dangerous. Several people are killed by bear attacks each year. Sometimes,  bears visit human-inhabited areas in search of food. If you go to the mountains in Japan, watch out for bears.

7. Sika – 鹿 –  Deer

Deer live deep in the mountains in Japan. But In Nara, you can see deer everywhere.

Deer are a nationally-protected species, so you can’t harm them, even though they can potentially hurt you. Just like monkeys, they’re cute but dangerous.

8. Tori – 鳥 / 鶏 – Bird / Chicken

There are two different kanji for this animal, and they’re pronounced exactly the same. The kanji on the left means “bird,” but the kanji on the right refers to a chicken or a rooster.

9. Ushi – 牛 – Cow / Bull

Cows are important animals in Japan, especially as agricultural resources. Not only are cows useful for meat and milk, in the past, ushi-kai (cow shepherds) used cows to till the land and carry heavy supplies.

10. Uma – 馬 – Horse

You can’t talk about a cow without mentioning a horse, of course. For military and agricultural purposes, horses are just as important as cows.

Surprisingly, in Japan, we even incorporate horse meat in meals. In fact, a horse sashimi plate is a very common food item. Not quite ready to try horse sashimi? Here’s a guide to some more conventional sushi!

Here’s a chart to help you learn the animals in Japanese.

animals in Japanese


Now that you know how to say common animal names in Japanese, find out which Japanese animal you are in this fun quiz


Kaoru N.Post Author: Kaoru N.
Kaoru teaches Japanese, guitar, and classical guitar lessons in Brighton, MA. Originally from Tokyo, he graduated from Berklee College of Music with a dual major, and is available for in-home, in-studio, and online lessons. Learn more about Kaoru here!

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