Katakana – Japanese Foreign Word Alphabet
Katakana – Very Foreigner Friendly
Benefits Of Learning The Japanese Katakana Syllabary
There is no more foreigner friendly way of reading and writing Japanese than Katakana. Besides it’s entirely dedicated to foreign loan words. Not to forget – it’s easy to learn!
People in Japan say gairaigo in Japanese when they mean loanwords originating from outside of Japan. Would you like to be able to decode the common gairago words used in Japan? If so, then it’s time to start learning the Katakana scheme.
One of the benefits of getting used to Katakana symbols is that you will be able to read and recognize what it says on the exotic Japanese restaurant food menus.
My own first name Marko is a common name originating from my parent’s home country Finland, even though I was born (and grew up) in Sweden.
Since Marko is not a native Japanese name, then I need to write it using Katakana when I type my name anywhere here in Japan, like when visiting a food restaurant. As a guest I am expected to write my name on the restaurant’s visitor list. It’s the way it works here.
My family name is Akinaga, so I write it with Japanese Kanji.
When you write your name in Japan then you must begin with your family name, then follow up with your first name. In my case it becomes Akinaga Marko and not Marko Akinaga (as it would be declared in for example Sweden).
For those who wonder: I changed my previous Finnish family name into my current Japanese family name when I got married with my Japanese wife.
Since I decided to move and change continent from Europe to Asia, then I thought it could be beneficial to have a Japanese family name in Japan than keeping a foreign family name with all possible problems that it may give me. Adapt to the country I live in.
Sweden is a quite heavily integrated society where people from many different countries and continents co-exist in same society, while here in Japan that’s definitely not the case.
Here in Japan immigration is not as common and it’s generally not ordinary to see immigrants from outside of Asia – like individuals moving to Japan from Europe or USA.
Learning Katakana will also be helpful for you when trying to read street signboards and station signs when traveling with the fast Japanese Shinkansen high speed bullet trains.
Next time when you stand in an elevator in Japan, then you may notice the Katakana on the elevator buttons (or at least next to them).
Finding your way to the free included volcanic hot spring spa bath on your hotel in Japan most probably require some Katakana knowledge.
Katakana is in addition used for giving names to animals, minerals of this planet and also to name growing biological plants.
It’s also common to name Japanese companies using the Katakana system.
Katakana or Hiragana – Which Got Developed First?
Hiragana arrived first and then about one hundred years later Katakana got developed. Both Katakana and Hiragana are Kana syllabaries, simplifying characters from Kanji.
Japan needed a solid phonetic system to represent the syllables in Japanese language.
Because the curve linear Kana system of Hiragana was first mainly used by women, it came to be called ladies’ hand (onna-de in Japanese).
The other Kana system of Katakana stayed instead as the preference among well educated males within typical science and learning fields – where a close contact with Kanji was necessary at the time.
Nonetheless later on also males in Japan began to use Hiragana instead of Katakana.
It origins from extracting Kaisho style Kanji components. Only individual parts of a Kanji were taken out for each Katakana character, so that it would be fast to write and not waste time.
This was important in ancient Japan when the enlightenment of Buddhism was taught and the apprentices needed to take quick notes about what for them new and still unknown Kanji symbols meant. Katakana evolved as a quick-to-write phonetic script.
For most of us Katakana is easy to spot because of its angular syllabary writing style.
The Japanese punctuation marks are used the same way in Katakana as in Hiragana.
How To Lengthen Vowel Sounds In Katakana
When using Katakana there is a special vowel sound lengthening mark called bō in Japanese. It also has a longer Japanese name called chō-on kigō.
The mark reminds about a long horizontal line. It takes a whole symbol space in writing.
The bō mark symbol is used directly after a Katakana vowel character, resulting in that the vowel sound gets lengthened. It sounds like as if there were two exact same vowels after each other.
You can see it as an easy sound copy method to lengthen a Japanese vowel sound.