About the Japanese Language &
Since the most beautiful and
inspirational books on making Temari are still written in Japanese
(no offense to our Western authors who have done admirable jobs!)
- there is a growing interest in one becoming able to interpret a
small amount of Japanese - enough to be able to decipher and
follow the pattern instructions and diagrams in Japanese books.
This is not an easy task; in fact, our Sensei agrees that one
doesn't need to learn to read Japanese, one needs to learn to read
"Temari-ese", which are indeed 2 different things! However, there
is still a curiosity, and understanding a little about Japanese
writing and reading can help. Japanese (and Chinese) are among if
not the most difficult languages to learn. Much of this inherently
stems from the writing systems - they do not usually use Roman
alphabet characters and have completely different orientations;
this makes it impossible to run a "simple" translation, and
requires additional keyboard layouts on computers.
Japanese is written in
a mixture of three types of symbols, Kanji, Hiragana, and Katkana;
each has its own function. Kanji are pictorial ideographic
characters that were adopted from the Chinese. They are used for
conceptual words and indigenous names. Kana are phonetic symbols
that were developed in Japan. Each one represents the sound of one
syllable. They are divided into two groups (each called
syllabaries): Hiragana, used to write the inflectional endings of
conceptual words written in Kanji and all types of native words
not written in Kanji; and Katakana, are used mostly for
words of foreign origin. In addition, you'll often find some Roman
characters (for sounds that are not native to the Japanese system)
and Arabic numerals mixed in.
There has never been an
independent purely Japanese system of writing. The first attempt
to use Chinese characters to note down Japanese speech was in the
seventh century. The Japanese simplified the extremely complex
Chinese characters into what now are the Kana. It is possible to
write exclusively in Kana but causes problems due to the large
number of words that are pronounced alike but have different
meanings - these are called homophones, and are distinguished from
one another by the use of different Kanji.
Japanese is written
either in vertical columns read right to left, top to bottom (this
style is seen mostly in literary works), or written horizontally,
read from left to right (this is the form recommended by the
Ministry of Education, to be found in more technical works and
those dealing with natural sciences). Newspapers use both. Letters
and other handwritten Japanese may use either. Japanese manuscript
paper is formatted into 200 or 400 squares arranged in vertical
columns. Each symbol, including punctuation, takes up a full
space. Characters are written one right after another, and the
characters of one line may not be strung together. Blank spaces
are not left in between words; there is no change between
capitalization or lowercase. This means deciding where one word
ends and another beings adds to the challenge.
There are different
forms of handwriting as in all systems, and three are formally
acknowledged. Standard style is called Kaisho and is what is
taught in school and is practically identical to printed text.
Next is semi-cursive which is slightly simplified over the
standard, and allows one to be more flowing and is more rapid.
Cursive is called Sosho which is almost like a calligraphy, and is
more like a shorthand using extreme simplification and aesthetics.
The actual number of
characters that one must know in order to pass a proficiency test
in Japanese, and that most Japanese students learn in their
education, numbers about 2000. Characters are also combined with
radicals to modify the meanings. Characters have strict governing
in terms of placement with each other when they are compounded,
and also the strokes used to form them are strictly determined in
terms of direction, order and number. Indeed, one of the indexing
systems of characters (for example in Japanese translation
dictionaries) uses stroke count. Indexing the characters in order
to create a bi-directional dictionary is quite difficult, but
several systems do exist and use the character and radical
placement, the basic construction of the character and stroke
A Japanese child, throughout
their schooling will take most of their entire education to learn
(as in recognizing, comprehending, and writing) the full 2000 odd
required characters needed to pass proficiency exams, so you can
see that it is a lengthy process; learning Japanese is much more
learning and labor intensive that the Romanic languages.
Additionally, the meanings of characters can change based on
context, so running pre-fab translation programs are often
exercises in frustration when it comes to informational accuracy.
In order to be an effective translator, one must be fluent not
only in the language but also the subject matter.
Kanji and Kana, Revised Edition - A Handbook of the Japanese
Hadamitzky & Spahn, 1999 by Charles Tuttle and Company