Japanese

This page provides information about the characteristics of the scripts used to write Japanese. It is not intended to be exhaustively scientific – merely to give a basic idea of the essential features of the scripts.

Click on the orange text in the features list (right column) to see examples and notes. Click on highlighted text in the Sample section to see the characters.

Sample (Japanese)

世界的に話すなら、Unicodeです。第10回のUnicode会議は1997年31012日、ドイツのマインツで開かれます。 さん ぼう の方は今すぐ登録してください。(この会議では、グローバルなインタネット、Unicode、ソフトウェアの国際化およびローカリゼーション、OSおよびアプリケーションでのUnicodeのインプリメンテーション、フォント、テキスト表示、マルチ言語コンピューティングにおける業界の専門家が集まります。)

Mixed scripts

Japanese uses ideographic characters (called kanji) and two native syllabic scripts (hiragana and katakana) in addition to Latin (which is called romaji), and mixes them all together.

In the highlighted examples you can see words consituted from each of these writing systems

Ideographic.

Hiragana.

Katakana.

And here is another word that has a kanji root, but uses hiragana for grammatical endings.

Text direction

Japanese can be set both horizontally and vertically. Horizontal lines are read left-to-right. Vertical lines are read top-to-bottom, and progress from right to left across the page.

If your browser supports vertical text, you can change the direction of the sample above using this control:  

Spaces

Japanese rarely uses spaces. In the sample text there are gaps around punctuation, but these are produced by a lack of 'ink' in parts of the square character glyphs:

You can verify this by clicking on the highlighted text. You'll see only four characters make up this sequence, and none are spaces.

Ruby

The pronunciation of Japanese ideographic characters cannot be guessed, and so can pose difficulties for those learning the language. A common way around this problem is to annotate the text with kana characters. This is called ruby, or in its most common form furigana. The following example uses markup to indicate which is base text and which is ruby, however not all browsers can display ruby correctly.

The way that the markup is written for this example, browsers that cannot display ruby alongside the base characters will display it in parentheses.

Wrapping text at line end

Lines are normally wrapped between characters – word boundaries have no significance for the wrapping. Japanese should, however, take into account a few rules (kinsoku rules) which dictate what characters cannot appear at the end or start of a line.

For example, if your browser supports Japanese wrapping correctly, and if you vary the width of the browser window, it should be impossible to get the japanese full stop after the highlighted example to appear at the beginning of a line.

Justification

Japanese justifies text using a complex set of rules which adjust the space between characters on a line. Some characters are adjusted before others.

To see how your browser justifies Japanese text, use this control:

Character list

This is the lists of characters (exemplarCharacters) used by Japanese according to CLDR. There are hundreds more characters that can be used in Japanese. Click on the Punctuation subsection title to see detailed information about those characters.

Main

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Punctuation

-,;:!?.()[]{}

Auxiliary

兌拼楔錄鳯

Available at: rishida.net/scripts/samples/japanese

Content first published 2002-12-16. This version GMT 2014-10-21 7:13