The official language of Japan is Japanese, specifically the Tokyo dialect, also known as Eastern Japanese, which is considered the standard version of the language. The other official Japanese dialects are Hachijo Japanese, Kyushu Japanese, and Western Japanese. The origins of the Japanese language is a contested issue for many historical scholars, but the most widely held view is that Japanese originated from Ural-Altaic family of languages which includes Korean, Mongolian, and Turkish. Japanese has an extremely complicated writing system with two sets of syllable characters (50 syllables in each) as well as around 2,000 Kanji characters which are required learning for Japanese children before they finish their high school education.

Approximately 98 percent of the country are Japanese citizens, and an overwhelming 99 percent speaks Japanese as their first language. There are nearly 127 million Japanese speakers worldwide (primarily from Japan) which makes it the ninth most spoken language in the world. When taking the Japanese citizenship exam individuals must undergo a language and character quiz as well as adopting a name (which can be a Japanese translation of an English name) that uses Japanese characters as other languages are not acceptable for a legal name in the country.

Japan has become a very popular tourist destination since the late 1980s, and although many Japanese individuals will know smatterings of English at the very least, there are still some useful Japanese phrases that are very easy to learn. Thank-you is pronounced “a-ri-ga-to” (arigato) and excuse me is pronounced “sue-me-ma-sen” (sumimasen). Potentially the most useful phrase to learn is “ey-go oh han-a-she-ma-sue ka?” (Eigo o hanashimasu ka?), which means do you speak English? Japanese exports have made some native Japanese words familiar in everyday English including haiku, judo, karaoke, ninja, origami, Sudoku, sushi, and tsunami to name just a few.

Ryukyuan languages, native to Japan, are spoken in Okinawa and parts of Kagoshima, and these languages are entirely different from the Japanese language. There are also various Ainu languages, with speakers located mostly in Hokkaido, which is spoken by the indigenous people of Japan. There are also tiny populations of Brazilians, Chinese, Filipino, and Korean communities within the country.

This page was last modified on May 1st, 2018

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