Japanese, spoken by more than 125 million people in Japan, ranks among the top ten languages of the world. It belongs to the Japanese-Ryukyu family, yet no definite link has been established between Japanese and any other language, living or dead. Though it adopted the Chinese pictographic characters in the 3rd century A.D., Japanese is not, as is sometimes thought, genetically related to Chinese, but rather to Korean and other Altaic languages, such as Mongolian. The latest linguistic theory suggests that Japanese went through a complex transformation of a possible Pacific language, influenced by the rice-producing people of Southern China and the Altaic people.
Buddhism and the Chinese culture made much influence on the Japanese language, just as Christianity and the Latin language made a great influence to the West European languages. The Japanese writing system uses the phonetic character sets, called Hiragana and Katakana, and the Chinese characters, called Kanji (Hanzi in Chinese). The Kanji are ideographs. An educated person can read 10,000 of them and the government has published a list of 1,850 that it considers basic. In normal Japanese writing, Hiragana and Kanji are used, while Katakana is used for words borrowed from the non-Chinese foreign languages.
There are a few ways to express Japanese in the English alphabet, called the "romanization." One of the most commonly used romanization methods in Japan is the Hepburn method. Modern Japanese writing began in 1946, and the Kanji characters were simplified in 1949 as "Toyo Kanji" (1850 characters). The latter were further redefined as "Joyo Kanji" (1945 characters) in 1981. 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. English words of Japanese origin include kimono, geisha, sukiyaki, hibachi, jiujitsu, karate, samurai, etc...
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