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History of Japanese

Japanese (日本語 Nihongo?, [nihoŋɡo] ( listen)) is a language spoken by over 130 million people in Japan and in Japanese immigrant communities. It is a member of the Japonic (or Japanese-Ryukyuan) language family, which has a number of proposed relationships with other languages, none of which has gained wide acceptance among historical linguists (see Classification of Japonic).

Japanese is an agglutinative language and a mora-timed language. It has a relatively small sound inventory, and a lexically significant pitch-accent system. It is distinguished by a complex system of honorifics reflecting the nature of Japanese society, with verb forms and particular vocabulary to indicate the relative status of the speaker, the listener, and persons mentioned in conversation. Japanese vowels are pure.

The Japanese language is written with a combination of three scripts: Chinese characters called kanji (漢字?), and two syllabic (or moraic) scripts made of modified Chinese characters, hiragana (ひらがな or 平仮名?) and katakana (カタカナ or 片仮名?). The Latin alphabet, rōmaji (ローマ字?), is also often used in modern Japanese, especially for company names and logos, advertising, and when entering Japanese text into a computer. Arabic numerals are generally used for numbers, but traditional Sino-Japanese numerals are also commonplace (see Japanese numerals).

Although Japanese is spoken almost exclusively in Japan, it has been spoken outside. Before and during World War II, when Japan occupied Korea, Taiwan, parts of China, the Philippines, and various Pacific islands,[5] locals in those countries were forced to learn Japanese in empire-building programs. As a result, many elderly people in these countries can speak Japanese in addition to the local language.

Japanese emigrant communities (the largest of which are to be found in Brazil,[6] with 1.4 million to 1.5 million Japanese immigrants and descendants, according to Brazilian IBGE data, more than the 1.2 million of the United States[7]) sometimes employ Japanese as their primary language. Approximately 5% of Hawaii residents speak Japanese[citation needed], with an estimated 12.6% of the population of Japanese ancestry in 2008. Japanese emigrants can also be found in Peru, Argentina, Australia (especially in the eastern states), Canada (especially in Vancouver where 1.4% of the population has Japanese ancestry[8]), the United States (notably California, where 1.2% of the population has Japanese ancestry[citation needed], and Hawaii), and the Philippines (particularly in Davao and Laguna).

Japanese is the de facto official language of Japan. There is a form of the language considered standard: hyōjungo (標準語?), meaning "standard Japanese", or kyōtsūgo (共通語?), "common language". The meanings of the two terms are almost the same. Hyōjungo or kyōtsūgo is a conception that forms the counterpart of dialect. This normative language was born after the Meiji Restoration (明治維新 meiji ishin?, 1868) from the language spoken in the higher-class areas of Tokyo (see Yamanote) for communicating necessity. Hyōjungo is taught in schools and used on television and in official communications. It is the version of Japanese discussed in this article.

Formerly, standard Japanese in writing (文語 bungo?, "literary language") was different from colloquial language (口語 kōgo?). The two systems have different rules of grammar and some variance in vocabulary. Bungo was the main method of writing Japanese until about 1900; since then kōgo gradually extended its influence and the two methods were both used in writing until the 1940s. Bungo still has some relevance for historians, literary scholars, and lawyers (many Japanese laws that survived World War II are still written in bungo, although there are ongoing efforts to modernize their language). Kōgo is the dominant method of both speaking and writing Japanese today, although bungo grammar and vocabulary are occasionally used in modern Japanese for effect.

Dozens of dialects are spoken in Japan. The profusion is due to many factors, including the length of time the archipelago has been inhabited, its mountainous island terrain, and Japan's long history of both external and internal isolation. Dialects typically differ in terms of pitch accent, inflectional morphology, vocabulary, and particle usage. Some even differ in vowel and consonant inventories, although this is uncommon.

The main distinction in Japanese accents is between Tokyo-type (東京式 Tōkyō-shiki?) and Kyoto-Osaka-type (京阪式 Keihan-shiki?). Within each type are several subdivisions. Kyoto-Osaka-type dialects are in the central region, roughly formed by Kansai, Shikoku, and western Hokuriku regions.

Dialects from peripheral regions, such as Tōhoku or Kagoshima, may be unintelligible to speakers from other parts of the country. There are some language islands in mountain villages or isolated islands such as Hachijō-jima island whose dialect are descended from the Eastern dialect of Old Japanese. Dialects of the Kansai region are spoken or known by many Japanese, and Osaka dialect in particular is associated with comedy (see Kansai dialect). Dialects of Tōhoku and North Kantō are associated with typical farmers.

The Ryūkyūan languages, spoken in Okinawa and the Amami Islands (politically part of Kagoshima), are distinct enough to be considered a separate branch of the Japonic family; not only is each language unintelligible to Japanese speakers, but most are unintelligible to those who speak other Ryūkyūan languages. However, in contrast to linguists, many ordinary Japanese people tend to consider the Ryūkyūan languages as dialects of Japanese. This is the result of the official language policy of the Japanese government, which has declared those languages to be dialects and prohibited their use in schools.

Standard Japanese has become prevalent nationwide (including the Ryūkyū islands) due to education, mass media, and an increase of mobility within Japan, as well as economic integration
Japanese is a member of the Japonic languages family, which also includes the languages spoken throughout the Ryūkyū Islands. As these closely related languages are commonly treated as dialects of the same language, Japanese is often called a language isolate, but strictly speaking this is a misnomer, since the Ryukyuan languages are linguistically distinct.

All Japanese vowels are pure—that is, there are no diphthongs, only monophthongs. The only unusual vowel is the high back vowel /ɯ/ About this sound listen , which is like /u/, but compressed instead of rounded. Japanese has five vowels, and vowel length is phonemic, with each having both a short and a long version. Elongated vowels are usually denoted with a line over the vowel (a macron) in rōmaji, or a chōonpu succeeding the vowel in Japanese.

Some Japanese consonants have several allophones, which may give the impression of a larger inventory of sounds. However, some of these allophones have since become phonemic. For example, in the Japanese language up to and including the first half of the 20th century, the phonemic sequence /ti/ was palatalized and realized phonetically as [tɕi], approximately chi About this sound listen ; however, now /ti/ and /tɕi/ are distinct, as evidenced by words like [tiː] "Western style tea" and chii [tɕii] "social status".

The "r" of the Japanese language (technically a lateral apical postalveolar flap), is of particular interest, sounding to most English speakers to be something between an "l" and a retroflex "r" depending on its position in a word. The "g" is also notable; unless it starts a sentence, many speakers – predominantly in eastern and northern Japan (except Hokkaido) and therefore also speakers in Tokyo-produced NHK radio programs – pronounce it /ŋ/, like the ng in "sing".

The syllabic structure and the phonotactics are very simple: the only consonant clusters allowed within a syllable consist of one of a subset of the consonants plus /j/. These type of clusters only occur in onsets. However, consonant clusters across syllables are allowed as long as the two consonants are a nasal followed by a homorganic consonant. Consonant length (gemination) is also phonemic.

Japanese word order is classified as subject–object–verb. Unlike many Indo-European languages, the only strict rule of word order is that the verb must be placed at the end of a sentence; other elements in the sentence may be in various orders for emphasis, or possibly omitted.[9] This is because the Japanese sentence elements are marked with particles that identify their grammatical functions.

The basic sentence structure is topic–comment. For example, Kochira wa Tanaka-san desu (こちらは田中さんです). kochira ("this") is the topic of the sentence, indicated by the particle wa. The verb is desu, a copula, commonly translated as "to be" or "it is" (though there are other verbs that can be translated as "to be"), though technically it holds no meaning and is used to give a sentence 'politeness'. As a phrase, Tanaka-san desu is the comment. This sentence literally translates to "As for this person, (it) is Mr./Mrs./Miss Tanaka." Thus Japanese, like many other Asian languages, is often called a topic-prominent language, which means it has a strong tendency to indicate the topic separately from the subject, and the two do not always coincide. The sentence Zō wa hana ga nagai (象は鼻が長い) literally means, "As for elephant(s), (the) nose(s) (is/are) long". The topic is "elephant", and the subject is hana "nose".

In Japanese, the subject or object of a sentence need not be stated if it is obvious from context. In addition, it is commonly felt, particularly in informal spoken Japanese, that the shorter a sentence is, the better.[citation needed] As a result of this grammatical permissiveness, there is a tendency to gravitate towards brevity; Japanese speakers tend to omit pronouns on the theory they are inferred from the previous sentence, and are therefore understood. In the context of the above example, hana-ga nagai would mean "[their] noses are long," while nagai by itself would mean "[they] are long." A single verb can be a complete sentence: Yatta! (やった!)"[I / we / they / etc] did [it]!". In addition, since adjectives can form the predicate in a Japanese sentence (below), a single adjective can be a complete sentence: Urayamashii! (羨ましい!)"[I'm] jealous [of it]!".

While the language has some words that are typically translated as pronouns, these are not used as frequently as pronouns in some Indo-European languages, and function differently. Instead, Japanese typically relies on special verb forms and auxiliary verbs to indicate the direction of benefit of an action: "down" to indicate the out-group gives a benefit to the in-group; and "up" to indicate the in-group gives a benefit to the out-group. Here, the in-group includes the speaker and the out-group does not, and their boundary depends on context. For example, oshiete moratta (教えてもらった) (literally, "explained" with a benefit from the out-group to the in-group) means "[he/she/they] explained [it] to [me/us]". Similarly, oshiete ageta (教えてあげた) (literally, "explained" with a benefit from the in-group to the out-group) means "[I/we] explained [it] to [him/her/them]". Such beneficiary auxiliary verbs thus serve a function comparable to that of pronouns and prepositions in Indo-European languages to indicate the actor and the recipient of an action.

Japanese "pronouns" also function differently from most modern Indo-European pronouns (and more like nouns) in that they can take modifiers as any other noun may. For instance, one does not say in English:

*The amazed he ran down the street. (grammatically incorrect insertion of a pronoun)

But one can grammatically say essentially the same thing in Japanese:

Odoroita kare wa michi o hashitte itta. (grammatically correct)

This is partly because these words evolved from regular nouns, such as kimi "you" ( "lord"), anata "you" (あなた "that side, yonder"), and boku "I" ( "servant"). This is why some linguists do not classify Japanese "pronouns" as pronouns, but rather as referential nouns, much like Spanish usted (contracted from vuestra merced, "your [(flattering majestic) plural] grace") or Portuguese o senhor. Japanese personal pronouns are generally used only in situations requiring special emphasis as to who is doing what to whom.

The choice of words used as pronouns is correlated with the sex of the speaker and the social situation in which they are spoken: men and women alike in a formal situation generally refer to themselves as watashi ( "private") or watakushi (also ), while men in rougher or intimate conversation are much more likely to use the word ore ( "oneself", "myself") or boku. Similarly, different words such as anata, kimi, and omae (お前, more formally 御前 "the one before me") may be used to refer to a listener depending on the listener's relative social position and the degree of familiarity between the speaker and the listener. When used in different social relationships, the same word may have positive (intimate or respectful) or negative (distant or disrespectful) connotations.

Japanese often use titles of the person referred to where pronouns would be used in English. For example, when speaking to one's teacher, it is appropriate to use sensei (先生, teacher), but inappropriate to use anata. This is because anata is used to refer to people of equal or lower status, and one's teacher has higher status.

Japanese nouns have no grammatical number, gender or article aspect. The noun hon () may refer to a single book or several books; hito () can mean "person" or "people"; and ki () can be "tree" or "trees". Where number is important, it can be indicated by providing a quantity (often with a counter word) or (rarely) by adding a suffix. Words for people are usually understood as singular. Thus Tanaka-san usually means Mr./Ms. Tanaka. Words that refer to people and animals can be made to indicate a group of individuals through the addition of a collective suffix (a noun suffix that indicates a group), such as -tachi, but this is not a true plural: the meaning is closer to the English phrase "and company". A group described as Tanaka-san-tachi may include people not named Tanaka. Some Japanese nouns are effectively plural, such as hitobito "people" and wareware "we/us", while the word tomodachi "friend" is considered singular, although plural in form.

Verbs are conjugated to show tenses, of which there are two: past and present, or non-past, which is used for the present and the future. For verbs that represent an ongoing process, the -te iru form indicates a continuous (or progressive) aspect, similar to the suffix ing in English. For others that represent a change of state, the -te iru form indicates a perfect aspect. For example, kite iru means "He has come (and is still here)", but tabete iru means "He is eating".

Questions (both with an interrogative pronoun and yes/no questions) have the same structure as affirmative sentences, but with intonation rising at the end. In the formal register, the question particle -ka is added. For example, Ii desu (いいです) "It is OK" becomes Ii desu-ka (いいですか?) "Is it OK?". In a more informal tone sometimes the particle -no () is added instead to show a personal interest of the speaker: Dōshite konai-no? "Why aren't (you) coming?". Some simple queries are formed simply by mentioning the topic with an interrogative intonation to call for the hearer's attention: Kore wa? "(What about) this?"; Namae wa? (名前は?) "(What's your) name?".

Negatives are formed by inflecting the verb. For example, Pan o taberu (パンを食べる。) "I will eat bread" or "I eat bread" becomes Pan o tabenai (パンを食べない。) "I will not eat bread" or "I do not eat bread". Plain negative forms are actually i-adjectives (see below) and inflect as such, e.g. Pan o tabenakatta (パンを食べなかった。) "I did not eat bread".

The so-called -te verb form is used for a variety of purposes: either progressive or perfect aspect (see above); combining verbs in a temporal sequence (Asagohan o tabete sugu dekakeru "I'll eat breakfast and leave at once"), simple commands, conditional statements and permissions (Dekakete-mo ii? "May I go out?"), etc.

The word da (plain), desu (polite) is the copula verb. It corresponds approximately to the English be, but often takes on other roles, including a marker for tense, when the verb is conjugated into its past form datta (plain), deshita (polite). This comes into use because only i-adjectives and verbs can carry tense in Japanese. Two additional common verbs are used to indicate existence ("there is") or, in some contexts, property: aru (negative nai) and iru (negative inai), for inanimate and animate things, respectively. For example, Neko ga iru "There's a cat", Ii kangae-ga nai "[I] haven't got a good idea".

The verb "to do" (suru, polite form shimasu) is often used to make verbs from nouns (ryōri suru "to cook", benkyō suru "to study", etc.) and has been productive in creating modern slang words. Japanese also has a huge number of compound verbs to express concepts that are described in English using a verb and an adverbial particle (e.g. tobidasu "to fly out, to flee," from tobu "to fly, to jump" + dasu "to put out, to emit").

There are three types of adjective (see Japanese adjectives):

  1. 形容詞 keiyōshi, or i adjectives, which have a conjugating ending i () (such as 暑い atsui "to be hot") which can become past (暑かった atsukatta "it was hot"), or negative (暑くない atsuku nai "it is not hot"). Note that nai is also an i adjective, which can become past (暑くなかった atsuku nakatta "it was not hot").
    暑い日 atsui hi "a hot day".
  2. 形容動詞 keiyōdōshi, or na adjectives, which are followed by a form of the copula, usually na. For example hen (strange)
    変なひと hen na hito "a strange person".
  3. 連体詞 rentaishi, also called true adjectives, such as ano "that"
    あの山 ano yama "that mountain".

Both keiyōshi and keiyōdōshi may predicate sentences. For example,

ご飯が熱い。 Gohan-ga atsui. "The rice is hot."
彼は変だ。 Kare wa hen da. "He's strange."

Both inflect, though they do not show the full range of conjugation found in true verbs. The rentaishi in Modern Japanese are few in number, and unlike the other words, are limited to directly modifying nouns. They never predicate sentences. Examples include ookina "big", kono "this", iwayuru "so-called" and taishita "amazing".

Both keiyōdōshi and keiyōshi form adverbs, by following with ni in the case of keiyōdōshi:

変になる hen ni naru "become strange",

and by changing i to ku in the case of keiyōshi:

熱くなる atsuku naru "become hot".

The grammatical function of nouns is indicated by postpositions, also called particles. These include for example:

  • ga for the nominative case. Not necessarily a subject.
彼がやった。Kare ga yatta. "He did it."
  • ni for the dative case.
田中さんにあげて下さい。 Tanaka-san ni agete kudasai "Please give it to Mr. Tanaka."

It is also used for the lative case, indicating a motion to a location.

日本に行きたい。 Nihon ni ikitai "I want to go to Japan."
  • no for the genitive case, or nominalizing phrases.
私のカメラ。 watashi no kamera "my camera"
スキーに行くが好きです。 Sukī-ni iku no ga suki desu "(I) like going skiing."
  • o for the accusative case. Not necessarily an object.
食べますか。 Nani o tabemasu ka? "What will (you) eat?"
  • wa for the topic. It can co-exist with the case markers listed above, and it overrides ga and (in most cases) o.
寿司がいいです。 Watashi wa sushi ga ii desu. (literally) "As for me, sushi is good." The nominative marker ga after watashi is hidden under wa. (Note that English generally makes no distinction between sentence topic and subject.)

Note: The difference between wa and ga goes beyond the English distinction between sentence topic and subject.[contradiction] While wa indicates the topic, which the rest of the sentence describes or acts upon, it carries the implication that the subject indicated by wa is not unique, or may be part of a larger group.

Ikeda-san wa yonjū-ni sai da. "As for Mr. Ikeda, he is forty-two years old." Others in the group may also be of that age.

Absence of wa often means the subject is the focus of the sentence.

Ikeda-san ga yonjū-ni sai da. "It is Mr. Ikeda who is forty-two years old." This is a reply to an implicit or explicit question who in this group is forty-two years old.

Japanese has an extensive grammatical system to express politeness and formality.

The Japanese language can express differing levels in social status. The differences in social position are determined by a variety of factors including job, age, experience, or even psychological state (e.g., a person asking a favour tends to do so politely). The person in the lower position is expected to use a polite form of speech, whereas the other might use a more plain form. Strangers will also speak to each other politely. Japanese children rarely use polite speech until they are teens, at which point they are expected to begin speaking in a more adult manner. See uchi-soto.

Whereas teineigo (丁寧語) (polite language) is commonly an inflectional system, sonkeigo (尊敬語) (respectful language) and kenjōgo (謙譲語) (humble language) often employ many special honorific and humble alternate verbs: iku "go" becomes ikimasu in polite form, but is replaced by irassharu in honorific speech and ukagau or mairu in humble speech.

The difference between honorific and humble speech is particularly pronounced in the Japanese language. Humble language is used to talk about oneself or one's own group (company, family) whilst honorific language is mostly used when describing the interlocutor and their group. For example, the -san suffix ("Mr" "Mrs." or "Miss") is an example of honorific language. It is not used to talk about oneself or when talking about someone from one's company to an external person, since the company is the speaker's "group". When speaking directly to one's superior in one's company or when speaking with other employees within one's company about a superior, a Japanese person will use vocabulary and inflections of the honorific register to refer to the in-group superior and their speech and actions. When speaking to a person from another company (i.e., a member of an out-group), however, a Japanese person will use the plain or the humble register to refer to the speech and actions of their own in-group superiors. In short, the register used in Japanese to refer to the person, speech, or actions of any particular individual varies depending on the relationship (either in-group or out-group) between the speaker and listener, as well as depending on the relative status of the speaker, listener, and third-person referents.

Most nouns in the Japanese language may be made polite by the addition of o- or go- as a prefix. o- is generally used for words of native Japanese origin, whereas go- is affixed to words of Chinese derivation. In some cases, the prefix has become a fixed part of the word, and is included even in regular speech, such as gohan 'cooked rice; meal.' Such a construction often indicates deference to either the item's owner or to the object itself. For example, the word tomodachi 'friend,' would become o-tomodachi when referring to the friend of someone of higher status (though mothers often use this form to refer to their children's friends). On the other hand, a polite speaker may sometimes refer to mizu 'water' as o-mizu in order to show politeness.

Most Japanese people employ politeness to indicate a lack of familiarity. That is, they use polite forms for new acquaintances, but if a relationship becomes more intimate, they no longer use them. This occurs regardless of age, social class, or gender.

The original language of Japan, or at least the original language of a certain population that was ancestral to a significant portion of the historical and present Japanese nation, was the so-called yamato kotoba (大和言葉 or infrequently 大和詞, i.e. "Yamato words"), which in scholarly contexts is sometimes referred to as wago (和語 or rarely 倭語, i.e. the "Wa}} words"). In addition to words from this original language, present-day Japanese includes a number of words that were either borrowed from Chinese or constructed from Chinese roots following Chinese patterns. These words, known as kango (漢語), entered the language from the 5th century onwards via contact with Chinese culture. According to the Shinsen Kokugo Jiten (新選国語辞典) Japanese dictionary, kango comprise 49.1% of the total vocabulary, wago make up 33.8%, other foreign words or gairaigo (外来語) account for 8.8%, and the remaining 8.3% constitute hybridized words or konshugo (混種語) that draw elements from more than one language.[10]

There are also a great number of words of mimetic origin in Japanese, with Japanese having a rich collection of sound symbolism, both onomatopoeia for physical sounds, and more abstract words. A small number of words have come into Japanese from the Ainu language. Tonakai (reindeer), rakko (sea otter) and shishamo (smelt, a type of fish) are well-known examples of words of Ainu origin.

Words of different origins occupy different registers in Japanese. Like Latin-derived words in English, kango words are typically perceived as somewhat formal or academic compared to equivalent Yamato words. Indeed, it is generally fair to say that an English word derived from Latin/French roots typically corresponds to a Sino-Japanese word in Japanese, whereas a simpler Anglo-Saxon word would best be translated by a Yamato equivalent.

Incorporating vocabulary from European languages began with borrowings from Portuguese in the 16th century, followed by words from Dutch during Japan's long isolation of the Edo period. With the Meiji Restoration and the reopening of Japan in the 19th century, borrowing occurred from German, French, and English. Today most borrowings are from English.

In the Meiji era, the Japanese also coined many neologisms using Chinese roots and morphology to translate European concepts;[citation needed] these are known as wasei kango (Japanese-made Chinese words). Many of these were then imported into Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese via their kanji in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.[citation needed] For example, seiji 政治 ("politics"), and kagaku 化学 ("chemistry") are words derived from Chinese roots that were first created and used by the Japanese, and only later borrowed into Chinese and other East Asian languages. As a result, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese share a large common corpus of vocabulary in the same way a large number of Greek- and Latin-derived words – both inherited or borrowed into European languages, or modern coinages from Greek or Latin roots – are shared among modern European languages – see classical compound.[citation needed]

In the past few decades, wasei-eigo ("made-in-Japan English") has become a prominent phenomenon. Words such as wanpatān ワンパターン (< one + pattern, "to be in a rut", "to have a one-track mind") and sukinshippu スキンシップ (< skin + -ship, "physical contact"), although coined by compounding English roots, are nonsensical in most non-Japanese contexts; exceptions exist in nearby languages such as Korean however, which often use words such as skinship and rimokon (remote control) in the same way as in Japanese.

The popularity of many Japanese cultural exports has made some native Japanese words familiar in English, including futon, haiku, judo, kamikaze, karaoke, karate, ninja, origami, rickshaw (from 人力車 jinrikisha), samurai, sayonara, sudoku, sumo, sushi, tsunami, tycoon. See list of English words of Japanese origin for more.

Literacy was introduced to Japan in the form of the Chinese writing system, by way of Baekje before the 5th century.[11] Using this language, the Japanese king Bu presented a petition to Emperor Shun of Liu Song in AD 478.[12] After the ruin of Baekje, Japan invited scholars from China to learn more of the Chinese writing system. Japanese emperors gave an official rank to Chinese scholars (続守言/薩弘格/[13][14] 袁晋卿[15]) and spread the use of Chinese characters from the 7th century to the 8th century.

The table of Kana. (Hiragana top, Katakana in the center and Romaji on the bottom.)

At first, the Japanese wrote in Classical Chinese, with Japanese names represented by characters used for their meanings and not their sounds. Later, during the 7th century AD, the Chinese-sounding phoneme principle was used to write pure Japanese poetry and prose, but some Japanese words were still written with characters for their meaning and not the original Chinese sound. This is when the history of Japanese as a written language begins in its own right. By this time, the Japanese language was already distinct from the Ryukyuan languages.[16]

An example of this mixed style is the Kojiki, which was written in AD 712. They then started to use Chinese characters to write Japanese in a style known as man'yōgana, a syllabic script which used Chinese characters for their sounds in order to transcribe the words of Japanese speech syllable by syllable.

Over time, a writing system evolved. Chinese characters (kanji) were used to write either words borrowed from Chinese, or Japanese words with the same or similar meanings. Chinese characters were also used to write grammatical elements, were simplified, and eventually became two syllabic scripts: hiragana and katakana which were developed based on Manyogana from Baekje.[17] However this hypothesis "Manyogana from Baekje" is denied by other scholars.[18][19]

Modern Japanese is written in a mixture of three main systems: kanji, characters of Chinese origin used to represent both Chinese loanwords into Japanese and a number of native Japanese morphemes; and two syllabaries: hiragana and katakana. The Latin alphabet is also sometimes used, and is known in Japan as a system called "Romaji." Arabic numerals are much more common than the kanji when used in counting, but kanji numerals are still used in compounds, such as 統一 tōitsu ("unification").

Hiragana are used for words without kanji representation, for words no longer written in kanji, and also following kanji to show conjugational endings. Because of the way verbs (and adjectives) in Japanese are conjugated, kanji alone cannot fully convey Japanese tense and mood, as kanji cannot be subject to variation when written without losing its meaning. For this reason, hiragana are suffixed to the ends of kanji to show verb and adjective conjugations. Hiragana used in this way are called okurigana. Hiragana can also be written in a superscript called furigana above or beside a kanji to show the proper reading. This is done to facilitate learning, as well as to clarify particularly old or obscure (or sometimes invented) readings.

Katakana, like hiragana, are a syllabary; katakana are primarily used to write foreign words, plant and animal names, and for emphasis. For example "Australia" has been adapted as Ōsutoraria (オーストラリア), and "supermarket" has been adapted and shortened into sūpā (スーパー). The Latin alphabet (in Japanese referred to as Rōmaji (ローマ字), literally "Roman letters") is used for some loan words like "CD" and "DVD", and also for some Japanese creations like "Sony".

Historically, attempts to limit the number of kanji in use commenced in the mid-19th century, but did not become a matter of government intervention until after Japan's defeat in the Second World War. During the period of post-war occupation (and influenced by the views of some U.S. officials), various schemes including the complete abolition of kanji and exclusive use of rōmaji were considered. The jōyō kanji ("common use kanji", originally called tōyō kanji [kanji for general use]) scheme arose as a compromise solution.

Japanese students begin to learn kanji from their first year at elementary school. A guideline created by the Japanese Ministry of Education, the list of kyōiku kanji ("education kanji", a subset of jōyō kanji), specifies the 1,006 simple characters a child is to learn by the end of sixth grade. Children continue to study another 939 characters in junior high school, covering in total 1,945 jōyō kanji. The official list of jōyō kanji was revised several times, but the total number of officially sanctioned characters remained largely unchanged.

As for kanji for personal names, the circumstances are somewhat complicated. Jōyō kanji and jinmeiyō kanji (an appendix of additional characters for names) are approved for registering personal names. Names containing unapproved characters are denied registration. However, as with the list of jōyō kanji, criteria for inclusion were often arbitrary and led to many common and popular characters being disapproved for use. Under popular pressure and following a court decision holding the exclusion of common characters unlawful, the list of jinmeiyō kanji was substantially extended from 92 in 1951 (the year it was first decreed) to 983 in 2004. Furthermore, families whose names are not on these lists were permitted to continue using the older forms.

A common ancestor of Japanese and Ryukyuan languages or dialects is thought to have been brought to Japan by settlers coming from either the mainland or nearby Pacific islands (or both) sometime in the early- to mid-2nd century BC, replacing the language(s) of the original Jōmon inhabitants,[20] including the ancestor of the modern Ainu language. Very little is known about the Japanese of this period – because writing had yet to be introduced from China, there is no direct evidence; so anything that can be discerned about this period of Japanese must be based on reconstructions of Old JapaneseA common ancestor of Japanese and Ryukyuan languages or dialects is thought to have been brought to Japan by settlers coming from either the mainland or nearby Pacific islands (or both) sometime in the early- to mid-2nd century BC, replacing the language(s) of the original Jōmon inhabitants,[20] including the ancestor of the modern Ainu language. Very little is known about the Japanese of this period – because writing had yet to be introduced from China, there is no direct evidence; so anything that can be discerned about this period of Japanese must be based on reconstructions of Old Japanese

Old Japanese is the first attested written form of Japanese – the earliest text (the Kojiki) dates to the early 8th century AD; the end of Old Japanese coincides with the end of the Nara period in 794. Old Japanese uses the Man'yōgana system of writing, which uses kanji for their phonetic values as well as semantic. Based on the Man'yōgana system, Old Japanese can be reconstructed as having 88 distinct syllables; texts written with Man'yōgana use two different kanji for each of the syllables now pronounced き ki, ひ hi, み mi, け ke, へ he, め me, こ ko, そ so, と to, の no, も mo, よ yo and ろ ro[21] (the Kojiki has 88, but all later texts have 87, the distinction between mo1 and mo2 apparently being lost immediately following its composition). This set of syllables shrinks to 67 in Early Middle Japanese (though some were added through Chinese influence).

Due to these extra syllables, it has been hypothesized that Old Japanese's vowel system was larger than Modern Japanese's – perhaps containing up to eight vowels. According to Shinkichi Hashimoto, the extra in Man'yōgana derive from differences between the vowels of the syllables in question.[22] These differences would indicate that Old Japanese had an eight-vowel system,[23] in contrast to later Japanese's five vowels. The vowel system would have to have shrunk some time between these texts and the invention of the kana in the early 9th century. According to this view, the eight-vowel system of ancient Japanese would resemble that of the Uralic and Altaic language families.[24] However, it is not fully certain that the alternation between syllables necessarily reflects a difference in the vowels rather than the consonants – at the moment, the only undisputed fact is that they are different syllables.

Old Japanese does not have /h/, but rather /ɸ/ (preserved in modern fu, /ɸɯ/), which has been reconstructed to an earlier /*p/. Man'yōgana also has a symbol for /je/, which merges with /e/ before the end of the period.

Several fossilizations of Old Japanese grammatical elements remain in the modern language – the genitive particle tsu (superseded by modern no) is preserved in words such as matsuge ("eyelash", lit. "hair of the eye"); modern mieru ("to be visible") and kikoeru ("to be audible") retain what may have been a frequentative suffix -ru (kikoyu > kikoyuru (the attributive form, which slowly replaced the plain form starting in the late Heian period) > kikoeru (as all shimo-nidan verbs in modern Japanese did)); and the genitive particle ga remains in intentionally archaic speech.

Early Middle Japanese is the Japanese of the Heian period, from 794 to 1185. Early Middle Japanese sees a significant amount of Chinese influence on the language's phonology – length distinctions become phonemic for both consonants and vowels, and series of both labialised (e.g. kwa) and palatalised (kya) consonants are added.[citation needed] Intervocalic /ɸ/ merges with /w/ by the 11th century. The end of Early Middle Japanese sees the beginning of a shift where the attributive form (Japanese rentaikei) slowly replaces the uninflected form (shuushikei).

Late Middle Japanese covers the years from 1185 to 1600, and is normally divided into two sections, roughly equivalent to the Kamakura period and the Muromachi period, respectively. The later forms of Late Middle Japanese are the first to be described by non-native sources, in this case the Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries; and thus there is better documentation of Late Middle Japanese phonology than for previous forms (for instance, the Arte da Lingoa de Iapam). Among other sound changes, the sequence /au/ merges to /ɔː/, in contrast with /oː/; /p/ is reintroduced from Chinese; and /we/ merges with /je/. Some forms rather more familiar to Modern Japanese speakers begin to appear – the continuative ending -te begins to reduce onto the verb (e.g. yonde for earlier yomite), the -k- in the final syllable of adjectives drops out (shiroi for earlier shiroki); and some forms exist where modern standard Japanese has retained the earlier form (e.g. hayaku > hayau > hayou, where modern Japanese just has hayaku).

Late Middle Japanese has the first loanwords from European languages – now-common words borrowed into Japanese in this period include pan ("bread") and tabako ("tobacco", now "cigarette"), both from Portuguese.

Modern Japanese is considered to begin with the Edo period in 1600. Since old to middle, the de facto Standard Japanese had been Kansai dialect, especially Kyoto. However, during the Edo period, Edo (now Tokyo) developed into the largest city in Japan, and Edo Tokyo dialect became the Standard Japanese position. Since the end of Sakoku in 1853, the flow of loanwords from European languages has increased significantly – the last half-century or so has seen a very large volume of words borrowed from English,[25] especially words about technology, including pasokon (a shortening of "personal computer"), intaanetto ("Internet"), and kamera ("camera"). Due to the large quantities of English loanwords, modern Japanese has developed a distinction between /tɕi/ and /ti/, and /dʑi/ and /di/; with the latter in each pair only found in loanwords.

Many major universities throughout the world provide Japanese language courses, and a number of secondary and even primary schools worldwide offer courses in the language. This is much changed from before World War II; in 1940, only 65 Americans not of Japanese descent were able to read, write and understand the language.[26]

International interest in the Japanese language dates from the 19th century but has become more prevalent following Japan's economic bubble of the 1980s and the global popularity of Japanese popular culture (such as anime and video games) since the 1990s. About 2.3 million people studied the language worldwide in 2003: 900,000 South Koreans, 389,000 Chinese, 381,000 Australians, and 140,000 Americans studied Japanese in lower and higher educational institutions.

In Japan, more than 90,000 foreign students studied at Japanese universities and Japanese language schools, including 77,000 Chinese and 15,000 South Koreans in 2003. In addition, local governments and some NPO groups provide free Japanese language classes for foreign residents, including Japanese Brazilians and foreigners married to Japanese nationals. In the United Kingdom, study of the Japanese language is supported by the British Association for Japanese Studies. In Ireland, Japanese is offered as a language in the Leaving Certificate in some schools.

The Japanese government provides standardized tests to measure spoken and written comprehension of Japanese for second language learners; the most prominent is the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT), which features 5 levels of exams (changed from 4 levels in 2010), ranging from elementary (N5) to advanced (N1). The JLPT is only offered twice a year. The Japanese External Trade Organization JETRO organizes the Business Japanese Proficiency Test which tests the learner's ability to understand Japanese in a business setting. The Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation, which took over the BJT from JETRO in 2009, announced in August 2010 that the test would be discontinued in 2011 due to financial pressures on the Foundation. However, it has since issued a statement to the effect that the test will continue to be available as a result of support from the Japanese government.

When learning Japanese in a college setting, students are usually first taught how to pronounce romaji. From that point, they are taught the two main syllabaries, with kanji usually being introduced in the second semester. Focus is usually first on polite (distal) speech, which is what students would be expected to use when interacting with native speakers. Casual speech and formal speech usually follow polite speech, as well as the usage of honorifics.


Seppuku (切腹?, "stomach-cutting") is a form of Japanese ritual suicide by disembowelment. Seppuku was originally reserved only for samurai. Part of the samurai bushido honor code, seppuku was either used voluntarily by samurai to die with honor rather than fall into the hands of their enemies, (and likely suffer torture), or as a form of capital punishment for samurai who had committed serious offenses, or performed for other reasons that had brought shame to them. The ceremonial disembowelment, which is usually part of a more elaborate ritual and performed in front of spectators, consists of plunging a short blade, traditionally a tantō, into the abdomen and moving the blade from left to right in a slicing motion.

Seppuku is also known as harakiri (腹切り, "cutting the belly"), a term more widely familiar outside Japan, and which is written with the same kanji as seppuku, but in reverse order with an okurigana. In Japanese, the more formal seppuku, a Chinese on'yomi reading, is typically used in writing, while harakiri, a native kun'yomi reading, is used in speech. Ross notes,

"It is commonly pointed out that hara-kiri is a vulgarism, but this is a misunderstanding. Hara-kiri is a Japanese reading or Kun-yomi of the characters; as it became customary to prefer Chinese readings in official announcements, only the term seppuku was ever used in writing. So hara-kiri is a spoken term and seppuku a written term for the same act."

The first recorded act of seppuku was performed by Minamoto no Yorimasa during the Battle of Uji in the year 1180.[3] Seppuku eventually became a key part of bushido, the code of the samurai warriors; it was used by warriors to avoid falling into enemy hands, and to attenuate shame and avoid possible torture. Samurai could also be ordered by their daimyo (feudal lords) to carry out seppuku. Later, disgraced warriors were sometimes allowed to carry out seppuku rather than be executed in the normal manner. The most common form of seppuku for men was composed of the cutting of the abdomen, and when the samurai was finished, he stretched out his neck for an assistant to decapitate him. Since the main point of the act was to restore or protect one's honor as a warrior, those who did not belong to the samurai caste were never ordered or expected to carry out seppuku. Samurai generally could carry out the act only with permission.

Sometimes a daimyo was called upon to perform seppuku as the basis of a peace agreement. This would weaken the defeated clan so that resistance would effectively cease. Toyotomi Hideyoshi used an enemy's suicide in this way on several occasions, the most dramatic of which effectively ended a dynasty of daimyo. When the Hōjō were defeated at Odawara in 1590, Hideyoshi insisted on the suicide of the retired daimyo Hōjō Ujimasa, and the exile of his son Ujinao; with this act of suicide, the most powerful daimyo family in eastern Japan was put to an end.

In time, carrying out seppuku came to involve a detailed ritual. This was usually performed in front of spectators if it was a planned seppuku, not one performed on a battlefield. A samurai was bathed, dressed in white robes, and fed his favorite meal. When he had finished, his instrument was placed on his plate. Dressed ceremonially, with his sword placed in front of him and sometimes seated on special cloths, the warrior would prepare for death by writing a death poem.

Women have their own ritual suicide, jigai. Here, the wife of Onodera Junai, one of the Forty-seven Ronin, prepares for her suicide; note the legs tied together, a female feature of seppuku to ensure a "decent" posture in death

With his selected attendant (kaishakunin, his second) standing by, he would open his kimono (robe), take up his tantō (knife) or wakizashi (short sword)—which the samurai held by the blade with a portion of cloth wrapped around so that it would not cut his hand and cause him to lose his grip—and plunge it into his abdomen, making a left-to-right cut. The kaishakunin would then perform kaishaku, a cut in which the warrior was decapitated. The maneuver should be done in the manners of dakikubi (lit. "embraced head"), in which way a slight band of flesh is left attaching the head to the body, so that it be hung in front as if embraced. Because of the precision necessary for such a maneuver, the second was a skilled swordsman. The principal and the kaishakunin agreed in advance when the latter was to make his cut. Usually dakikubi would occur as soon as the dagger was plunged into the abdomen. The process became so highly ritualised that as soon as the samurai reached for his blade the kaishakunin would strike. Eventually even the blade became unnecessary and the samurai could reach for something symbolic like a fan and this would trigger the killing stroke from his second. The fan was likely used when the samurai was too old to use the blade, or in situations where it was too dangerous to give him a weapon in such circumstances.[4]

This elaborate ritual evolved after seppuku had ceased being mainly a battlefield or wartime practice and become a para-judicial institution.

The second was usually, but not always, a friend. If a defeated warrior had fought honorably and well, an opponent who wanted to salute his bravery would volunteer to act as his second.

In the Hagakure, Yamamoto Tsunetomo wrote:

From ages past it has been considered an ill-omen by samurai to be requested as kaishaku. The reason for this is that one gains no fame even if the job is well done. Further, if one should blunder, it becomes a lifetime disgrace. In the practice of past times, there were instances when the head flew off. It was said that it was best to cut leaving a little skin remaining so that it did not fly off in the direction of the verifying officials.

A specialized form of seppuku in feudal times was known as kanshi (諫死, "remonstration death/death of understanding"), in which a retainer would commit suicide in protest of a lord's decision. The retainer would make one deep, horizontal cut into his stomach, then quickly bandage the wound. After this, the person would then appear before his lord, give a speech in which he announced the protest of the lord's action, then reveal his mortal wound. This is not to be confused with funshi (憤死, indignation death), which is any suicide made to state dissatisfaction or protest. A fictional variation of kanshi was the act of kagebara (陰腹, "shadow stomach") in Japanese theater, in which the protagonist, at the end of the play, would announce to the audience that he had committed an act similar to kanshi, a predetermined slash to the stomach followed by a tight field dressing, and then perish, bringing about a dramatic end.

General Akashi Gidayu preparing to carry out Seppuku after losing a battle for his master in 1582. He had just written his death poem, which is also visible in the upper right corner. By Tsukioka Yoshitoshi around 1890.

Some samurai chose to perform a considerably more taxing form of seppuku known as jūmonji giri (十文字切り, "cross-shaped cut"), in which there is no kaishakunin to put a quick end to the samurai's suffering. It involves a second and more painful vertical cut on the belly. A samurai performing jumonji giri was expected to bear his suffering quietly until perishing from loss of blood, passing away with his hands over his face.

[edit] Seppuku as capital punishment

While the voluntary seppuku described above is the best known form, in practice the most common form of seppuku was obligatory seppuku, used as a form of capital punishment for disgraced samurai, especially for those who committed a serious offense such as unprovoked murder, robbery, corruption, or treason. The samurai were generally told of their offence in full and given a set time to commit seppuku, usually before sunset on a given day. If the sentenced was uncooperative, it was not unheard of for them to be restrained, or for the actual execution to be carried out by decapitation while retaining only the trappings of seppuku; even the short sword laid out in front of the offender could be replaced with a fan. Unlike voluntary seppuku, seppuku carried out as capital punishment did not necessarily absolve the offender's family of the crime. Depending on the severity of the crime, half or all of the deceased's property could be confiscated, and the family stripped of rank.

Seppuku as judicial punishment was abolished in 1873, shortly after the Meiji Restoration, but voluntary seppuku did not completely die out. Dozens of people are known to have committed seppuku since then, including some military men who committed suicide in 1895 as a protest against the return of a conquered territory to China;[citation needed] by General Nogi and his wife on the death of Emperor Meiji in 1912; and by numerous soldiers and civilians who chose to die rather than surrender at the end of World War II. This behavior had been widely praised by propaganda, which made much of a soldier captured in the Shanghai Incident (1932), who returned to the site of his capture to commit seppuku.[6]

In 1970, famed author Yukio Mishima and one of his followers committed public seppuku at the Japan Self-Defense Forces headquarters after an unsuccessful attempt to incite the armed forces to stage a coup d'état. Mishima committed seppuku in the office of General Kanetoshi Mashita. His second, a 25-year-old named Masakatsu Morita, tried three times to ritually behead Mishima but failed; his head was finally severed by Hiroyasu Koga. Morita then attempted to commit seppuku himself. Although his own cuts were too shallow to be fatal, he gave the signal and he too was beheaded by Kog

European witness

The first recorded time a European saw formal seppuku was the "Sakai Incident" of 1868. On February 15, eleven French sailors of the Dupleix entered a Japanese town called Sakai without official permission. Their presence caused panic among the residents. Security forces were dispatched to turn the sailors back to their ship, but a fight broke out and the sailors were shot dead. Upon the protest of the French representative, financial compensation was paid and those responsible were sentenced to death. The French captain was present to observe the execution. As each samurai committed ritual disembowelment, the violent act shocked the captain, and he requested a pardon, due to which nine of the samurai were spared. This incident was dramatised in a famous short story, Sakai Jiken, by Mori Ōgai.

In the 1860s, the British Ambassador to Japan, Algernon Freeman-Mitford (Lord Redesdale) lived within sight of Sengaku-ji where the Forty-seven Ronin are buried. In his book Tales of Old Japan, he describes a man who had come to the graves to kill himself:

I will add one anecdote to show the sanctity which is attached to the graves of the Forty-seven. In the month of September 1868, a certain man came to pray before the grave of Oishi Chikara. Having finished his prayers, he deliberately performed hara-kiri, and, the belly wound not being mortal, dispatched himself by cutting his throat. Upon his person were found papers setting forth that, being a Ronin and without means of earning a living, he had petitioned to be allowed to enter the clan of the Prince of Choshiu, which he looked upon as the noblest clan in the realm; his petition having been refused, nothing remained for him but to die, for to be a Ronin was hateful to him, and he would serve no other master than the Prince of Choshiu: what more fitting place could he find in which to put an end to his life than the graveyard of these Braves? This happened at about two hundred yards' distance from my house, and when I saw the spot an hour or two later, the ground was all bespattered with blood, and disturbed by the death-struggles of the man.

Mitford also describes his friend's eyewitness account of a Seppuku:

There are many stories on record of extraordinary heroism being displayed in the harakiri. The case of a young fellow, only twenty years old, of the Choshiu clan, which was told me the other day by an eye-witness, deserves mention as a marvellous instance of determination. Not content with giving himself the one necessary cut, he slashed himself thrice horizontally and twice vertically. Then he stabbed himself in the throat until the dirk protruded on the other side, with its sharp edge to the front; setting his teeth in one supreme effort, he drove the knife forward with both hands through his throat, and fell dead.

During the Meiji Restoration, the Tokugawa Shogun's aide committed Seppuku:

One more story and I have done. During the revolution, when the Taikun (Supreme Commander), beaten on every side, fled ignominiously to Yedo, he is said to have determined to fight no more, but to yield everything. A member of his second council went to him and said, "Sir, the only way for you now to retrieve the honour of the family of Tokugawa is to disembowel yourself; and to prove to you that I am sincere and disinterested in what I say, I am here ready to disembowel myself with you." The Taikun flew into a great rage, saying that he would listen to no such nonsense, and left the room. His faithful retainer, to prove his honesty, retired to another part of the castle, and solemnly performed the harakiri.

In his book Tales of Old Japan, Mitford describes witnessing a hara-kiri:[5]

"As a corollary to the above elaborate statement of the ceremonies proper to be observed at the harakiri, I may here describe an instance of such an execution which I was sent officially to witness. The condemned man was Taki Zenzaburo, an officer of the Prince of Bizen, who gave the order to fire upon the foreign settlement at Hyōgo in the month of February 1868,—an attack to which I have alluded in the preamble to the story of the Eta Maiden and the Hatamoto. Up to that time no foreigner had witnessed such an execution, which was rather looked upon as a traveller's fable. The ceremony, which was ordered by the Mikado himself, took place at 10:30 at night in the temple of Seifukuji, the headquarters of the Satsuma troops at Hiogo. A witness was sent from each of the foreign legations. We were seven foreigners in all. After another profound obeisance, Taki Zenzaburo, in a voice which betrayed just so much emotion and hesitation as might be expected from a man who is making a painful confession, but with no sign of either in his face or manner, spoke as follows:

I, and I alone, unwarrantably gave the order to fire on the foreigners at Kobe, and again as they tried to escape. For this crime I disembowel myself, and I beg you who are present to do me the honour of witnessing the act.

Bowing once more, the speaker allowed his upper garments to slip down to his girdle, and remained naked to the waist. Carefully, according to custom, he tucked his sleeves under his knees to prevent himself from falling backwards; for a noble Japanese gentleman should die falling forwards. Deliberately, with a steady hand, he took the dirk that lay before him; he looked at it wistfully, almost affectionately; for a moment he seemed to collect his thoughts for the last time, and then stabbing himself deeply below the waist on the left-hand side, he drew the dirk slowly across to the right side, and, turning it in the wound, gave a slight cut upwards. During this sickeningly painful operation he never moved a muscle of his face. When he drew out the dirk, he leaned forward and stretched out his neck; an expression of pain for the first time crossed his face, but he uttered no sound. At that moment the kaishaku, who, still crouching by his side, had been keenly watching his every movement, sprang to his feet, poised his sword for a second in the air; there was a flash, a heavy, ugly thud, a crashing fall; with one blow the head had been severed from the body.

A dead silence followed, broken only by the hideous noise of the blood throbbing out of the inert heap before us, which but a moment before had been a brave and chivalrous man. It was horrible.

The kaishaku made a low bow, wiped his sword with a piece of rice paper which he had ready for the purpose, and retired from the raised floor; and the stained dirk was solemnly borne away, a bloody proof of the execution. The two representatives of the Mikado then left their places, and, crossing over to where the foreign witnesses sat, called us to witness that the sentence of death upon Taki Zenzaburo had been faithfully carried out. The ceremony being at an end, we left the temple. The ceremony, to which the place and the hour gave an additional solemnity, was characterized throughout by that extreme dignity and punctiliousness which are the distinctive marks of the proceedings of Japanese gentlemen of rank; and it is important to note this fact, because it carries with it the conviction that the dead man was indeed the officer who had committed the crime, and no substitute. While profoundly impressed by the terrible scene it was impossible at the same time not to be filled with admiration of the firm and manly bearing of the sufferer, and of the nerve with which the kaishaku performed his last duty to his master.

The practice of committing seppuku at the death of one's master, known as oibara (追腹 or 追い腹, the kun'yomi or Japanese reading) or tsuifuku (追腹, the on'yomi or Chinese reading), follows a similar ritual.

Seppuku as judicial punishment was abolished in 1873, shortly after the Meiji Restoration, but voluntary seppuku did not completely die out. Dozens of people are known to have committed seppuku since then, including some military men who committed suicide in 1895 as a protest against the return of a conquered territory to China;[citation needed] by General Nogi and his wife on the death of Emperor Meiji in 1912; and by numerous soldiers and civilians who chose to die rather than surrender at the end of World War II. This behavior had been widely praised by propaganda, which made much of a soldier captured in the Shanghai Incident (1932), who returned to the site of his capture to commit seppuku.[6]

In 1970, famed author Yukio Mishima and one of his followers committed public seppuku at the Japan Self-Defense Forces headquarters after an unsuccessful attempt to incite the armed forces to stage a coup d'état. Mishima committed seppuku in the office of General Kanetoshi Mashita. His second, a 25-year-old named Masakatsu Morita, tried three times to ritually behead Mishima but failed; his head was finally severed by Hiroyasu Koga. Morita then attempted to commit seppuku himself. Although his own cuts were too shallow to be fatal, he gave the signal and he too was beheaded by Kog


Harajuku (原宿 "meadow lodging") About this sound listen is the common name for the area around Harajuku Station on the Yamanote Line in the Shibuya ward of Tokyo, Japan.

Every Sunday, young people dressed in a variety of styles including gothic lolita, visual kei, and decora, as well as cosplayers spend the day in Harajuku socializing. The fashion styles of these youths rarely conform to one particular style and are usually a mesh of many. Most young people gather on Jingu Bridge, which is a pedestrian bridge that connects Harajuku to the neighboring Meiji Shrine area.

Harajuku is also a fashion capital of the world, renowned for its unique street fashion. Harajuku street style is promoted in Japanese and international publications such as Kera, Tune, Gothic & Lolita Bible and Fruits. Many prominent designers and fashion ideas have sprung from Harajuku and incorporated themselves into other fashions throughout the world.

Harajuku is also a large shopping district that includes international brands, its own brands, and shops selling clothes young people can afford.

Harajuku as it is now traces its roots to the end of World War II during the Allied occupation of Japan. U.S. soldiers and government civilians and their families lived in a nearby housing area called Washington Heights. It became an area where curious young people flocked to experience a different culture and stores in the area stocked goods marketed towards middle and upper class Japanese and Americans.

In 1958, Central Apartments were built in the area and were quickly occupied by fashion designers, models, and photographers. In 1964, when the Summer Olympics came to Tokyo the Harajuku area was further developed, and the idea of “Harajuku” slowly began to take a more concrete shape.

After the Olympics the young people who hung out in the area, frequently referred to as the Harajuku-zoku, or the Harajuku tribe, began to develop a distinct culture and style unique to different groups and the area. From this distinct style grew the culture of Harajuku as a gathering ground for youths
he term "Harajuku Girls" has been used by English-language media to describe teenagers dressed in any fashion style who are in the area of Harajuku. This fashion infuses multiple looks and styles to create a unique form of dress. The cyber-punk look takes its influence from gothic fashion and incorporates neon and metallic colors.

Punk style in Harajuku is more of a fashion than a statement. Its fashion mainly consists of dark colors, plaid, chains, and zippers. Punk style is also one of the more gender-neutral fashions in Harajuku.

Ganguro is a style that symbolizes the average American teenager. The term translates to ‘black-faced’. The basic look is what Westerners would call a ‘California girl’, with bleached hair, dark skin, fake eyelashes and nails. It is not clear how Ganguro came to be. Many assume[who?] it originated in the early 1990s, and was meant as a way of rebelling against the traditional Japanese ideas of beauty (pale skin, dark hair, etc.)

Cosplay is more of a costume-based style. A cosplay enthusiast will usually dress as a fictional or iconic character from a band, game, movie, anime, or manga.

Ura-Hara is another section of Harajuku, which caters to a mostly male population interested in a hip-hop, graffiti, and skater fashion and culture. Ura-Hara is seen as the opposite of Harajuku in that it’s more hidden and reserved.

In addition to Harajuku is its counterpart, known as Visual Kei. this refers to the style of bands and their fanbase. The term Visual Kei literally means a ‘visual style of music’. The melodies of the music these bands perform often resemble eighties rock, heavy metal, or techno; in some cases, the sound is a good mix of the three. The fashion began in the 1980s, when American metal bands were popular. Japanese fans loved how their idols would dress frantically and paint makeup wildly on their faces, so they began to emulate their style. This mimicking is also known is costume play, or cosplay.

Some countries have embraced this culture and arrange meetings under the same fashion as their Japanese counterpart. For example, in Colombia they are frequently held at the surrounding area of the Virgilio Barco Library in Bogotá In Paris, the area around Opéra Bastille is a well-known meeting place for manga-inspired youngsters who follow emo subcultures.


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