Easy Japanese Overview

What is Easy Japanese?

Easy Japanese refers to Japanese that uses simple expressions that can be understood by those who are learning Japanese.

In the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake of 1995, many foreigners who were in Japan were also affected. Some of them did not understand Japanese well enough to receive essential information. Later, taking advantage of the lessons learned from the earthquake, Easy Japanese began to be used to convey accurate information to non-native speakers of Japanese as quickly as possible.

Today, many foreigners live in Japan. Easy Japanese is used as a means of communication in daily life. Currently, an increasing number of local governments are using Easy Japanese to provide information on public services and other information relevant to daily life in Japan.

Why Do Japanese Language Learners Find Japanese So Difficult?

Japanese is said to be a difficult language for non-native speakers. But what is it that makes Japanese difficult?

● A variety of different characters (hiragana, katakana, kanji, and even English alphabet)
● Multiple ways to read Kanji (on'yomi, kun'yomi, special readings for proper nouns, etc.)
● Many similar expressions
● Many omitted words (subject, object, etc.)
● An abundance of onomatopoeia (giongo/gitaigo)
● Many loan words (katakana, Wasei-eigo)
● Difficult to understand phrases derived from Japan's unique culture (double negatives, keigo)

Other reasons for Japanese being difficult include grammar, sentence word order, pronunciation, honorifics, dialects, etc.

[What Makes Japanese Difficult] A Variety of Characters + On'yomi & Kun'yomi

One of the reasons why foreigners find Japanese difficult is the variety of characters. The Japanese sentences we see in everyday life use hiragana, katakana, kanji, Roman alphabets, and numbers.
Hiragana alone has more than twice as many characters as the English alphabet!

Furthermore, kanji have both on'yomi (readings based on Chinese pronunciation) and kun'yomi (readings based on Japanese pronunciation), meaning that a single kanji can be read in a number of different ways.

[Example sentence]
Ashita, Sangatsu Mikka, Getsuyoubi no Kijitsu Made ni Henji wo Suru.

The kanji "日" (day) is a commonly used Kanji character, but in the above sentence alone, it has five different readings.

[What Makes Japanese Difficult] Multiple Usages for a Single Word and Similar Expressions

In addition, some words in Japanese have more than one meaning.

For example, the word 適当 (tekitou)
● 適当なタイミングで声をかける。(Tekitou na Taimingu de Koe wo Kakeru, To speak at just the right time). Here "tekitou" means "just right"
● 忙しかったので、適当な返事をした。(Isogashikatta node, Tekitou na Henji wo Shita, I was busy so I gave a perfunctory response). Here "tekitou" means "perfunctory"
Depending on the usage, it can have either a good or bad meaning.

There are many words that sound the same, such as 聞いてください (Kiite Kudasai, Please listen) and 来てください (Kite Kudasai, Please come here), as well as other words like 座って (Suwatte, sit) and 触って (Sawatte, touch), etc. A single misspelling can lead to a misunderstanding.

[What Makes Japanese Difficult] Omitted Subjects

In Japanese conversation, subjects and objects are often omitted.

The words in parentheses in the following conversation are words that are omitted.
A.(あなたは)何がしたい? "What do (you) want to do?"
B.(私は)サイクリングに行きたい。"(I) want to go cycling."
A.(私は)(自転車に)乗れないから、(サイクリングに)行けない。"(I) can't ride (a bike), so I can't go (cycling).
B. それは、残念だ。"That's too bad."

It can be difficult to have a conversation while having to infer the subject and object from the context.

How to Learn Japanese

For those who want to improve their Japanese, here are three recommendations.

1. Use movies, dramas, informational programs, and other videos.
It helps you to get used to hearing Japanese. Also, by learning about Japanese culture, you'll gain a better understanding of the Japanese language and what words are used in what situations.

2. Read books such as manga and novels
This helps you learn the characters. By reading manga with lots of dialogue, you'll become accustomed to subjects and objects being omitted.

3. Interact with Japanese people or people who speak Japanese
Conversing while being able to see the facial expressions of the person you're talking to will help you understand nuances that are difficult to understand through text alone.

Learn About Japanese Culture and Customs With Our Useful 'Easy Japanese' Articles!

COOL JAPAN VIDEOS' Easy Japanese articles are produced by an American staff member whose native language is English.
The articles introduce information on manners and rules unique to Japan, which they have learned from their own experiences since coming to Japan, in easy-to-understand Japanese. We hope you will find them useful for learning more about and enjoying Japan.