Kanji is by far the most difficult of the Japanese alphabets to learn. Why is that? Well, because there are thousands of characters to learn, and well, look at them! If they look like Chinese characters that's because they are Chinese characters. The Japanese borrowed these idiograms from the Chinese in the fifth century. Kanji is unlike Hiragana or Katakana because each character usually represents an entire word or idea. Not only that, each Kanji character can have several Japanese pronunciations, and their pronunciation and meanings change if they're paired or alone. Many Kanji characters have very little, or an obscure, meaning when they are alone. So, many characters, when paired with another, take on a precise meaning, and a precise pronunciation in Hiragana. This meaning is often untranslatable.

Here are some Kanji that are used in everyday Japanese life:

The average Japanese student is expected to know about 2,145 different Kanji characters by the time he would graduate from high school. Most Japanese people can recognize more than this, so learning Japanese as a second language can be really difficult for this reason! Here are some more Kanji which would be useful to a Japanese video game enthusiast.

This one's easy. It's "Nihon", or Japan. The first character alone means "sun"; the second, "book", or sometimes "base".

This one means "man," "person," or "human." Alone it's usually pronounced "hito", but paired it's usually "-jin."

This one means "big," "great," or sometimes "super." Alone or paired it is usually pronounced "dai," but it can also be used in its adjectival form as "ookii" or just "oo."

This one means "outside" or "foreign." Alone it is usually pronounced "soto," but paired it is usually pronounced "gai-." Hence, "Gaiden" or... ahem, "Gaijin."

This one means "sky" or "heaven." When pronounced as "ame" it can mean sky or heaven; however, it can also be pronounced "ten," which can also mean "nature" and "God." Curious.

This one means "language" or "word." It is usually pronounced "go," as in "Nihongo" or "Eigo" (that means "English" -- Great, we're a bunch of Eggos!)

These characters mean "music." The first character alone means "sound"; the second, "music" or "pleasure." So, I guess that these characters together make "pleasurable musical sounds." You would pronounce this "ongaku."

These characters together make up the word "densetsu," or "legend." The first character means "written record"; the second, "theory." Another word for Legend can be "monogatari," which literally means "spoken things," or "tale".

Now, let's put all your newly-learned powers of Japanese to the test. Can you tell me the title of this game?

No peeking!

Well, I'm sure the screen just gave away the answer, but did you recognize exactly what the title of the game is? It's "Zelda no Densetsu," literally, exactly, "Zelda's Legend," or "The Legend of Zelda." This of course is the title of the Famicom Disk System version of Zelda. Zelda never enjoyed quite the amazing success in Japan that it did over in North America, mainly because it was released only in the Disk format, which not everybody had.

Well, thanks for participating in this lesson of Japanese. I hope you have learned a bit more about how to go read Japanese writing. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to send me an e-mail.