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What Language Do They Speak in Japan?

What Language Do They Speak in Japan

Japan, a country steeped in history and tradition, is equally fascinating when it comes to its linguistic landscape. The language spoken here is as unique as the archipelago’s cherry blossoms in spring. As we delve into the linguistic folds of Japan, we’ll uncover the primary language spoken, its regional dialects, and the journey of foreign languages making a mark in the country.

Key Takeaways
Primary LanguageJapanese
Writing SystemKanji, Hiragana, Katakana
Regional DialectsKansai, Tohoku, Kyushu, and others
Foreign Languages InfluenceEnglish, Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese
Language LearningEnglish is taught in schools, other foreign languages also gaining popularity

Delving into the Linguistic Heart: The Japanese Language

Japanese, the predominant and official language of Japan, is spoken by nearly the entire population of approximately 126 million people. The language has three scripts: Kanji, Hiragana, and Katakana, each with a unique role in writing.

Writing Systems

KanjiDerived from Chinese characters, used for nouns, stems of verbs and adjectives
HiraganaNative script, used for native words and grammatical elements
KatakanaUsed for foreign words, technical terms, and names

The Japanese writing system is a fascinating blend of logographic and syllabic scripts. Here’s a closer look at each:

  • Kanji: Adopted from Chinese characters, Kanji is used for the root of words including nouns, and the stems of verbs and adjectives. There are over 2,000 commonly used Kanji characters.
  • Hiragana: This is a native script used for native words for which there are no Kanji characters, and for grammatical elements.
  • Katakana: This script is used for transcription of foreign language words into Japanese and the writing of loan words; it is also used for emphasis, much like italics in English.

Regional Dialects: The Linguistic Diversity

Japan is home to numerous dialects, reflecting the country’s long history and geographical diversity. Some of the well-known dialects include:

  • Kansai-ben: Spoken in the Kansai region, this dialect is considered softer and more melodic than standard Japanese.
  • Tohoku-ben: Known for its distinct intonation, it is spoken in the Tohoku region.
  • Kyushu-ben: Spoken in the Kyushu region, this dialect has various sub-dialects with unique features.

Influence of Foreign Languages

Over the centuries, foreign languages have left an indelible mark on the Japanese language. The most notable influences come from:

  • Chinese: A significant amount of Japanese vocabulary is derived from Chinese, along with the Kanji script.
  • English: Modern Japanese has adopted a plethora of English words, especially terms related to technology, culture, and modern living.
  • Portuguese and Dutch: These languages introduced many words to Japanese during the 16th to 19th centuries, particularly related to trade, religion, and technology.

Embracing the Global Tongue: English in Japan

English is a mandatory subject in Japanese schools, taught from fifth grade through high school. Additionally, with globalization, other foreign languages like Spanish, French, German, and Chinese are gaining traction among the populace, especially in urban areas.

The Journey of Learning English

The emphasis on learning English reflects Japan’s global outlook and its efforts to remain a key player on the international stage. However, the journey has its set of challenges, primarily due to the stark contrast between the grammatical structures and phonetics of English and Japanese.

Despite these hurdles, the Japanese government and private institutions continue to invest in English education, fostering a generation of multilingual individuals capable of bridging the cultural and linguistic divides.


Japan’s linguistic landscape is a beautiful blend of the traditional and the modern, the native and the foreign. Understanding the language and its influences not only brings us closer to appreciating the rich tapestry of Japan’s culture, but also its stride towards a global outlook, embracing languages and cultures beyond its shores.