Japanese, spoken by more than 125 million people in Japan, ranks among the top ten languages of the world.
No definite link has been established between Japanese and any other language, living or dead. Though it adopted the Chinese picto-graphic characters in the 3rd century A.D., Japanese is not, as is sometimes thought, genetically related to Chinese. Japanese does resemble Korean in grammatical structure, and though some scholars have suggested that they are related, this remains to be proven.
The Japanese ideographs, known as kanji, number in the thousands. An educated person can read 10,000 of them and the government has published a list of 1,850 that it considers basic. The kanji designate the chief meaningful words of the language-nouns, verbs, and adjectives. They are, however, supplemented by the kana, or syllabic characters, which are used chiefly to designate suffixes, particles, conjunctions, and other grammatical forms. There are two types of kana, each consisting of fifty characters: the hiragana, which is cursive in shape and in general use, and the katakana, which is angular in shape and is used mainly in imperial proclamations and in the transcription of foreign words. Each kana character stands for a single syllable rather than for a whole word. Theoretically any Japanese word can be written exclusively in the kana (children's primers are written entirely in katakana) but the large number of homonyms in the language makes this impractical. Modern Japanese, therefore, is written with a mixture of kanji and kana characters. As can be seen in the passage below, the kana are easily distinguishable from the kanji by their greater simplicity of design.
Japanese is generally written vertically beginning on the right, but many texts today are written horizontally to permit the inclusion of English words, Arabic numerals, and mathematical and chemical formulas. Though various movements over the years have advocated the adoption of the Roman script, native tradition and the great Japanese literary heritage militate against such a change.
English words of Japanese origin include kimono, geisha, sukiyaki, hibachi, jiujitsu, karate, samurai, hara-kiri, and kamikaze.
Yasunari Kawabata was the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1968.