Japanese writing systems

Japanese uses a combination of the following four writing systems:

  • Kanji: Chinese characters, introduced to Japan via Korea around the third or fourth century AD, are primarily used for word roots and stems. There may be as many as 50,000 kanji characters, though only 5,000 to 10,000 are commonly used.
  • Hiragana: 46 phonetic symbols, representing all the sounds of the Japanese language, curvilinear in style, used mainly for grammatical elements of Japanese such as verb and adjective endings and particles.
  • Katakana: 46 phonetic symbols, representing the same sounds as hiragana, more angular in style and used to write words imported into Japanese from other languages including foreign names.
  • Romaji: the Roman alphabet used to write words as they sound in Japanese.

Translating names into Japanese

Foreign names are normally transliterated into Japanese using the katakana writing system. However, kanji are likely to be considered more interesting and attractive by Westerners for name translation because of their beauty and meanings. In addition, hiragana could be considered appealing because of its curvilinear style. The romaji translation provided here will give you an indication of how a Japanese person would say your name.

If you have tried to translate your name using Kanji Zone's name translator and you get the message "not available" check whether our name database contains an alternative spelling of your name. If you find that your name is not listed and you would like us to consider including it in our database, please contact us with details (including gender and pronunciation information and where possible alternative spellings) and we will review adding your name to the database.

Read more about Japanese name translation.

How to write Japanese

Kanji and kana (hiragana and katakana) characters are written according to established principles of stroke order with "top to bottom" and "left to right" being the most important. A knowledge of these principles is extremely important to achieve the proper shape of the characters. Click on the play button below to see the stroke order for the kanji character for "Ai" (love).

Traditionally, as in Chinese, Japanese text is written from "top to bottom" and "right to left". Click on the play button below to see how this extract from Houjouki (an ancient Japanese essay) is written.

The beauty of kanji has been expressed for centuries in calligraphy, the art of drawing characters with a brush. Nowadays, with the aid of computers and modern printing technology, it is possible to print perfectly formed kanji and kana characters in a variety of colours and styles on T-shirts and other apparel. In addition to the T-shirts you can design and buy using our image editor, Kanji Zone offers a selection of Japanese themed designs on T-shirts and sweatshirts etc. made to order via US based Print on Demand webshops Zazzle .