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Writing and Conversation Points

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Original TJP Thread

Here are some important things to keep in mind when writing Japanese on this forum. This is a mental list I have compiled while reading people's posts and Japanese practice.


Kanji vs. Kana

Do not greet everyone with "今日は".

Kanji is cool. We all want to use kanji because it looks more smart. IME is great, because you don't have to know how to write the kanji to use it. The problem is, there are some words that simply don't use kanji. One of them is こんにちは. Yes, an obscure reading of 今日 is "こんにち", but 99.9% of Japanese readers will see 今日 and think きょう. I can't count the times I've stumbled upon "今日は!" and thought "Today is... Today is what? What is this person saying about today? I'm so confused..."

The best rule is, only use kanji you know how to write. If you can't follow that, the next best rule is only use kanji you know how to read. If you can't do that, then you should at least only use kanji in a way you've seen it used before (by native Japanese writers). Since こんにちは is never written as "今日は", you should never make the mistake of misusing the kanji like this.

Other words that usually don't use kanji:

  • すごい
  • どこ
  • すぐ
  • なる
  • する
  • いる
  • ある
  • -みたい (looks like)
  • -てほしい


In Japanese, an exremely important thing to learn is politeness levels. Many people think if they don't go to Japan, they don't need to worry about politeness. However, it's such an important part of the language and culture that you would be doing yourself a great injustice by overlooking it. Your friends probably wouldn't notice the difference, but when communicating with a Japanese person, your politeness levels will be very evident and can affect the relationship as such. I'm not even Japanese, but whenever I see the wrong politeness levels used it definately affects my feelings (i.e. when someone I thought was a close friend uses distanced speech, or someone I don't know at all speaks very informally, I feel a bit put off).

A quick overview:

In e-mails and MSN conversations with friends, informal/plain form is fine. Feel free to use any slang or contractions you want.


In e-mails and MSN conversations with people you don't really know (i.e. penpals, people you met on this site, etc.) you need to speak politely. Even if you feel like you have a very friendly relationship, this politeness is very important. Keigo (very polite speech) is usually only learned by advanced students, but that fact is known by just about everyone. Just using the polite form and choosing humble words will go a long way.


When posting messages on this forum, you are addressing the public (i.e. the whole world). We are all friends here, and the highest form of keigo you can throw together is very much an overkill, but speaking informally, like you would to a close friend, is inappropriate. As I sort of mentioned before, I have often come accross posts by people I haven't heard from before, directed at everyone, using informal speech. Reading these makes me think "I don't know you, why are you talking down to me? You must not have much experience speaking Japanese." Aside from making people enjoy your writings more, speaking more politely will make your Japanese abilities appear much more skillful. The writing style for this is very similar to #2.

When addressing the public, do not refer to yourself as 俺(ore).

Posting a message on the forum directed at someone you know well and are on an "informal" basis with requires a combination of the forms above. You are still communicating in a public domain, which means informal speech is inappropriate. Formal speech (like #2) is fine, but if you want to convey informality, do so with caution. It is possible to mix forms, but learning how to do so takes some experience. Adding a little bit of formality to the informal makes it good enough for the public, but soft enough for your friend.



Common mistakes

  • みんな (minna) means 'everyone, all' and is a good Japanese word. みな (mina) means the same but みんなさん (minnasan) is wrong, you should use みなさん (minasan) instead.
  • romanji is a very common mistake the most common 'correct' spelling is romaji.
  • こんにちわ should really be こんにちは. The final character is the particle は that sounds like 'wa' but is written with the character used for 'ha'. It is not uncommon for Japanese to use the wrong version themselves in casual Japanese, particularly for youngsters and teenage women but it should not be used in formal Japanese.

Some Comments

As I pointed out in another thread: In the wrong situation, "お前" is a fightin' word. Go to Japan and use it with people you don't know and you just might get yourself beat up.

One thing Coco pointed out in her post above, learning politeness is very important, because there are very small differences between saying something in a way that will get a good response and saying it in a way that will make the other person angry (note Coco's examples). お前, used in the proper situation, is a perfectly normal, common word. In the wrong situation, it can get you into a lot of trouble.


Q: I still like to use the kanji for

こと : 事
いる : 居る
ある : 有る

Am I wrong?

AJBryant replies:

Have you ever heard the expression "hen na gaijin"? That's what they will call you.

They will look at you the same way you'd look at someone if he told you, "I'm taking the motor car out for a perambulation and then I'll go see the moving pictures."

Infidel quips:

... I heard that people who use kanji alot where they normally shouldn't are called "wapuro baka".

I find this quite interesting as a linguistic researcher... Firstly there is a big difference in the way the Japanese and Westerners use Email, for one.. Politness is an important issue, but forums such as these, linguistically speaking, are quite new. As a result there is obviously going to be cultural, and linguistic problems especially when the majority of members using this forum are Westerners, using their non native tongue. Technology has fundamentally changed the way we communicate, and actually had a physically effect on language.. At this early stage, according to extensive research in this area, there is no right or wrong way to communicate in an electronic medium.. but just like in any social group one needs to make sure not to offend others. hence being polite is usually a good idea. This is one of the first times i have actually seen people discussing this as a forum and am both impressed at everyones linguitic maturity and intrigued by everyones responses. I know many collegues who would love to read this...


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