Location| East Asia|
Time| 5th Century CE to Present|
Direction| Top to Bottom|
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The Japanese writing system is an interesting mixture of innovation and tradition. It combines a set of Chinese logograms and two Chinese-derived syllabaries into a complex logosyllabic system.Writing came to Japan from China during the 5th century CE. The first Japanese texts were written in Chinese characters (kanji), a system called kanbun (which simply means "Chinese Writing"). However, writing in Chinese became very awkward as the grammatical syntax of the Japanese language is considerably different from Chinese. The solution to this problem is to keep the Chinese characters but use Japanese grammar.The next problem is that Chinese is an isolating language, which led to a writing system where each sign represented a morpheme. The Japanese language, on the other hand, has inflected verbs and postpositions, requiring concatenation of suffixes and particles to words and clauses in a sentence. So, in order to represent these extra grammatical units, the Japanese scribes used certain Chinese characters for their sound values. This means that the system was ambiguous, as it was hard to tell whether a character was to be interpreted as a logogram or a phonetic sign.This ambiguous system eventually led to a change in the graphical representation of the syllabograms. The Chinese characters used to write out sounds were visually simplified and made distinct from the Chinese characters used as logograms. The Two Kana SystemsA syllabic grapheme in the Japanese writing system is called a kana. There are two sets of kanas, namely, hiragana, and katakana.In modern times, hiragana is used to write native Japanese words. Its origin lies in the early literary works which used Chinese characters completely for their phonetic values at the 8th century CE. This system is called the manyogana, from the...