Chinese Characters

Chinese characters were first introduced into Japanese sometime in the first half of the first millennium CE, probably from Chinese products imported into Japan. At the time, Japanese had no native written system, and the characters were used for the most part to represent Japanese words with the corresponding meanings, rather than similar pronunciations. A notable exception to this rule was the system of man'yōgana, which used a small set of Chinese characters to help indicate pronunciation. The man'yōgana later developed into the phonetic alphabets, hiragana and katakana.

The Chinese characters imported into Japanese were called hànź, after the / Hàn Dynasty of China; in Japanese, this was pronounced kanji. In modern written Japanese, kanji are used for nouns, verb stems, and adjective stems, while the hiragana are used for prefixes and suffixes. The katakana are used exclusively for sound symbols, and for loans from other languages. The Jōyō Kanji, a list of kanji for common use standardized by the Japanese government, contains 1,945 characters—about half the number of characters commanded by literate Chinese.

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