Introductory Japanese Lessons


Those lessens are excerpt from by Namiko Abe

I added a few things here and there.

  • You will see why I make errors in my English. I often omit "articles", mix up singular/plural nouns, tenses, modal verbs, and wrong use of prepositions. Because Japanese don't have those or very limited.

Note: If you can not see Japanese characters on this page then you need to install Japanese fonts.
Please see instructions on bottom of this page. Click here to go to bottom of this page

Let's begin the lesson;

Japanese Pronunciation

The Japanese language has only 5 vowels: A, I, U, E, O.
They are terse vowels, pronounced clearly and sharply.
If one pronounces the vowels in the following sentence one will have their approximate sounds. Please note: the "U" is pronounced with no forward movement of the lips.
Ah (a), we (i) soon (u) get (e) old (o).

Japanese syllables usually consist of a vowel preceded by a consonant.

a a i u e o
k ka ki ku ke ko
s sa shi su se so
t ta chi tsu te to
n na ni nu ne no
h ha hi fu he ho
m ma mi mu me mo
y ya *(i) yu *(e) yo
r ra ri ru re ro
w wa *(i) *(u) *(e) wo
p pa pi pu pe po
g ga gi gu ge go
d da *(di) *(du) de do
b ba be bu be bo
z za ji zu ze zo
ky kya * kyu * kyo
sh sha * shu * sho
ch cha * chu * cho
ny nya * nyu * nyo
hy hya * hyu * hyo
my mya * myu * myo
ry rha * ryu * ryo
gy gya * gyu * gyo
j ja * ju * jo
by bya * byu * byo
py pya * pyu * pyo

Here are some characteristics of Japanese grammar.

1. Japanese nouns have no gender and number.
2. Verb conjugation is not affected by the gender or number.
3. Japanese verbs have only two tenses: the present and the past.

Japanese Writing Systems

The Japanese writing system is totally different from English, because it does not use an alphabet. It may be the most difficult part of Japanese to learn, but I think it is also fun and interesting. There are three different types of writing scripts in Japanese.

  1. Kanji
  2. Hiragana
  3. Katakana

One writes Japanese using a combination of all three.

Kanji (Chinese pictographic characters) is used to represent ideas or objects, Hiragana is used to express the grammatical relationships between ideas and objects, Katakana is used for foreign words, and Romaji uses the Roman alphabet to write Japanese for foreigners. 

Each kanji character has at least two readings. One is the "on" (Chinese derived) reading, and the other is the "kun" (native Japanese) reading. For example: the word mountain in its "on" reading is "san," but the Japanese also use the native "kun" reading of  "yama". Kanji's main use is as the roots of nouns, verbs, and adjectives.

There are 46 hiragana characters for 46 different sounds. Hiragana are used for expressing "grammatical" elements such as particles, and endings of adjectives and verbs which show tenses, etc. Kanji are used for expressing "meaningful" elements such as nouns and stems of adjectives and verbs.
It is possible to write entire Japanese sentences in hiragana. If an adult forgets certain kanji which are rarely used, he/she may substitute hiragana for them. Since the basic 46 hiragana symbols and some modifications of the suffice for all Japanese sounds, Japanese children start to read and write Japanese all in hiragana before making an attempt to learn some of the two thousand kanji currently used. 

Katakana is used when writing down foreign names, places, and words of foreign origin (If you are not from Japan, your name can be written in katakana). Without knowing katakana, one might find it almost impossible to order fast food in Japan, or read billboards on the street. This is because Japan uses so many words borrowed from other languages.
The structure of katakana is similar to hiragana. The main difference between the two is katakana is composed of straight lines, where hiragana uses curved lines.

Besides the three forms of writing (kanji, hiragana, katakana), Japanese is sometimes written in Romaji. Romaji is primarily used for the convenience of foreigners. With Romaji, one can read Japanese without knowing any Japanese writing system. Although there are several systems of Romaji, the most widely used is a modified Hepburn system. 
All three types of Japanese characters are designed to be written in vertical lines, from right to left, but they can be written horizontally as well. Years ago, almost all Japanese writing was vertical, but the horizontal style has slowly become more popular since it is easier to include Arabic numerals and passages from other foreign languages. However most newspapers still retain the vertical style. 

Here is explanation;

Watashi wa bideo o yoku mimasu.
I watch videos often.

私 = kanji character (I)

は = hiragana character

ビデオ= katakana character (video (singular noun) --- non-Japanese word)

を = hiragana character

よく = hiragana character (often)

見 = kanji character, ます = hiragana character (watch)

My Note: Japanese does not have phonetic sound of "v", "th", "f", "ph". We use "b" for "v". Example "video" will be "bideo", "The" will be "za", "Thank you" will be "san kyu" etc. I don't know why we use "fu" in Romaji and not "hu". Because Japanese don't put teeth on lower lip to make sound of "fu". Also we can't distinguish sound of "R" and "L". We don't really notice whether we curled up tongue or tip of the tongue touches top of the mouth or not. Most likely we do make sound of "L" rather than "R".

Characteristics of Japanese

Watashi wa bideo o yoku mimasu.
I watch videos often.
Kare wa terebi o yoku mimasu.
He watches TV often.

Word Order

English is a subject-verb-object language. (so are French, Spanish, etc.) Japanese is a subject-object-verb language. (so are Korean, Turkish, etc.) Generally the subject comes first, then the object and the verb comes at the end of the sentence.


subject object verb
Tanaka-san wa
Mr. Tanaka
ringo o
Tom-san wa
terebi o

"san" is a title of respect added to a name. (so it can not be used when referring to oneself.)
"wa" and "o" are particles. They are like English prepositions, but they always come after nouns. Particles are very important for proper Japanese sentence structure. I will introduce them gradually later.

Basic structure: A wa B desu.=  A is B.
Composing questions in Japanese is easy! The word order remains the same, and a sentence becomes a question by adding the particle "ka" at the end. Question marks are not used in Japanese.

Tanaka-san wa ringo o tabemasu ka.
Does Mr. Tanaka eat apples?
Tom-san wa terebi o mimashita ka.
Did Tom watch TV?

Greetings and Daily Expressions

(1) Ohayou gozaimasu.  おはようございます。 (Good morning.)
One can also say just "Ohayou(おはよう)". This is casual, and should not be used with one's boss.

(2) Konnichiwa.  こんにちは。 (Hello/Good afternoon.)

(3) Konbanwa.  こんばんは。 (Good evening.)

(4) Oyasuminasai.  おやすみなさい。 (Good night.)
Unlike English, it is mostly used before going to bed.

(5) Sayonara.  さよなら。 (Good-bye.)

"Sayounara(さようなら)" can be also used instead of "sayonara(さよなら)." People do not say "sayonara(さよなら)" when leaving their own home. "Ittekimasu(いってきます)" is normally used. The response to "Ittekimasu(いってきます)" is "Itterasshai(いってらっしゃい)". "Dewa mata(ではまた)" is also often used as "see you later", similar to the English expression.
How about "See you tomorrow"? "Tomorrow" is "ashita(明日)" in Japanese. I think you  can guess what the the answer is: "Mata ashita(また明日)".

Here are some very useful and simple expressions.

Sumimasen (すみません)-one can use this in several situations.

(a) Excuse me!

(b) Thank you.

(c) I'm sorry.

(d) Pardon me.

If you have ever had the chance to hear Japanese being spoken, you might notice that they often use "sumimasen(すみません)". Also, if you have ever hear a Japanese person speaking English, you might notice they sometimes mix up "excuse me" and "I'm sorry" because the Japanese use the same word for both expressions.
Douzo and Doumo
When one offers something "douzo(どうぞ)" can be used. A simple reply is "doumo(どうも)". "Doumo arigatou gozaimasu(どうもありがとうございます)" is a very polite way of saying, "Thank you very much". A more casual response is either "arigatou(ありがとう)" or "doumo(どうも)".

First Meetings/ Introductions (1)

Dialogue in English

Namiko: How do you do? I'm Namiko.
Nice to meet you.
Paul: How do you do? I'm Paul.
Nice to meet you.

Dialogue in Romaji

Namiko: Hajimemashite, Namiko desu.
Douzo yoroshiku.
Paul: Hajimemashite, Paul desu.
Douzo yoroshiku.

"Wa" is a particle which is like English prepositions, but always comes after nouns. Desu(です) is a topic marker and can be translated as "is" or "are".

Watashi wa Namiko desu.
I am Namiko.
Kore wa hon desu.
This is a book.

Japanese often omit the topic when it is obvious to the other person.
When introducing yourself, "watashi wa(私は)" can be omitted. It will sound more natural to a Japanese person. In a conversation, "watashi(私)" is rarely used. "Anata(あなた)" which means you is similarly avoided.

"Hajimemashite(はじめまして)" is used when meeting a person for the first time. "Hajimeru(はじめる)" is the verb which means "to begin". "Douzo yoroshiku(どうぞよろしく)" is used when you introduce yourself, and other times when you are asking a favor of someone.
Besides family or close friends, Japanese are rarely addressed by their given names. If you go to Japan as a student, people will probably address you by your first name, but if you go there on business, it is better to introduce yourself with your last name. (in this situation, Japanese never introduce themselves with their first name).

*Katakana is used for foreign names, places and words. If you are not Japanese, your name can be written in katakana.
* When introducing yourself, the bow (ojigi) is preferred to a handshake. Ojigi is an essential part of daily Japanese life. If you live in Japan for a long time, you will begin bowing automatically. You might even bow when you are talking on the phone (like many Japanese do)!

Dialogue in English

Namiko: Hello, Mr. Yamada. This is Paul.
Paul: How do you do? I am Paul. Nice to meet you.
Yamada: How do you do? I am Yamada.
Where are you from? (Literally means, what is your country?)
Paul: I am from Canada.

Dialogue in Romaji

Namiko: Yamada san, konnichiwa. Kochira wa Paul-san desu.
Paul: Hajimemashite, Paul desu. Douzo yoroshiku.
Yamada: Hajimemashite, Yamada desu. O-kuni wa dochira desu ka.
Paul: Kanada desu.

Dialogue in Japanese

奈美子: 山田さん、こんにちは。こちらはポールさんです。
ポール: はじめまして、ポールです。どうぞよろしく。
山田: はじめまして、山田です。 お国はどちらですか。
ポール: カナダです。


How to install Japanese language fonts

  1. Open the Control Panel. One way to do this is to open "My Computer" and choose "Control Panel" from "Other Places" on the left. You may have to click on the "Folders" icon at the top in order to see it.
  2. Choose "Regional and Language Options" from the list. You may have to choose "Switch to Classic view" from the left side in order to see it.
  3. Select the "Languages" tab from the "Regional and Language Options" menu. Check the box marked "Install files for East Asian Languages."
  4. Click "Apply". Let the language fonts install.
  5. After re-starting your computer, You will see Japanese lessons the way I intended.

Click this link How to Install to see instructions above in graphical manner. This is "screen shot", your computer may looks slightly different than mine.

Regional and Language Options overview

Using Regional and Language Options in Control Panel, you can install multiple languages on your computer, such as Hebrew, Arabic, Japanese, Korean, and Western European languages (French, Spanish, German, and many others). You can choose which one you want to use when you create a document. Windows then makes the character set for that language available, so you can start writing.
Both WordPad and Notepad let you create documents in other languages, but a word processing program may include other features, such as spell checkers, to help you write documents in multiple languages.
If you send your document to someone else, the recipient must also have the same languages installed in order to read or edit the file.


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