Is It Difficult to Learn to Read and Write in Japanese?










A lot of people who are thinking about visiting Japan are often put off by the fact they can’t read or write in Japanese. In reality, developing basic Japanese language skills is not as difficult as you might think. The steps below will help to simplify the process and make this daunting process seem a lot easier, especially for those people who believe it’s impossible to learn this intricate language.

Firstly, you need to know there are basically three scripts:

1. Kanji
2. Hiragana
3. Katakana

In short – kanji represents nouns, adjectives and verbs and each kanji character can represent a complete word or part of a word with one meaning or several meanings. Hiragana is the grammatical link between the kanji. Katakana represents any foreign item, place or name.

Hiragana and katakana only have forty-six characters each so it doesn’t take too long to learn these. Take a look at the table below:

Hiragana and Katakana














When you start learning hiragana and katakana, you’ll soon realise that learning to read and write Japanese isn’t really so daunting. Many children’s books in Japan are written in hiragana with very few kanji, so think of learning hiragana as a stepping stone to learning how to read and write Japanese properly, knowing you are learning this in the same way Japanese people learn to read and write.

Once you’ve mastered reading and writing hiragana and katakana, you can start to learn kanji but you must learn how to write each stroke of the kanji character in the correct order. If you do it this way, you’ll soon start to see it’s much easier to write more difficult kanji when you’ve learnt the correct way of writing. Don’t worry – the correct stroke order will come naturally to you in a very short amount of time. Also, don’t be put off by the fact there are about 50,000 Japanese kanji characters. The Japanese government’s list of recommended characters consists of only about 2,000 and that’s really achievable if you dedicate some serious time to this task. Even if you only learn 100 kanji characters, you are already going to have a much easier stay in Japan.

There are now several apps to help you learn Japanese and “16 Best Apps for Learning Japanese Like a Boss” is a good reference point. You could also buy a kanji textbook which teaches you the most necessary 2,000 characters and at the same time shows you how to write the easiest characters from the beginning of the book in the correct stroke order. “Essential Kanji: 2, 000 Basic Japanese Characters Systematically Arranged for Learning and Reference” by P.G. O’Neill is a good book or for something simpler I recommend “Read Japanese Today: The Easy Way to Learn 400 Practical Kanji” by Len Walsh.

When I study Japanese kanji characters I use the flash card method with the kanji written on the front and the meaning and the rōmaji equivalent on the back (rōmaji is Japanese written in the same Roman alphabet that we use in English). I flip these cards over and over until I can recognise and pronounce correctly each Japanese kanji character. I then try writing them over and over again making sure my stroke order is correct, until I’ve mastered the whole process. You can download PDF kanji cards with stroke order diagrams from

I must admit when I started to learn Japanese, I had to memorise these kanji characters so I could pass my exams at university and therefore I obviously had a goal which pushed me to learn these characters properly. I’m glad I learnt so many because even now I can still read many Japanese characters. Understanding the signs in Japan and anything else written in Japanese makes it a lot easier for me to get around and find what I need when I’m in Japan. These days I rarely write in Japanese and I’ve forgotten how to read and write a lot of the characters but I’m always amazed at how many I do remember when I receive a letter from a Japanese friend or when I see something written in Japanese on the internet, in a book or in a magazine.

As with any other subject that can provide enormous self-satisfaction once it is mastered, learning Japanese takes persistence and perseverance, but if you see this process as a hobby rather than a chore you will, without a doubt, have a great time learning to read and write Japanese.

Book Review and Competition on the wonderful Jean BookNerd Blog Site

Jean BookNerd

A few months ago I stumbled upon an amazing book review blog site called Jean BookNerd. I noticed they always give an honest review and I thought it might be interesting to see what they thought about my latest novel Tokyo Hearts: A Japanese Love Story. I sent them a copy and I’m so pleased I did. If you visit the Jean BookNerd blog site you can find out exactly what Jean had to say about my book and you can also read my answers to her very original interview questions.

Tokyo City Symphony

Roppongi Hills, the very fashionable shopping & entertainment district in the heart of Tokyo, is celebrating its 10-year anniversary. As part of the Love Tokyo Project and in line with the celebrations, Creative Director Tsubasa Oyagi has created the Tokyo City Symphony – it’s an amazing concept which gives you the opportunity to symphonize with the world through an interactive online synthesiser. The combination of psychadelic patterns and music with a fascinating miniature model of Tokyo is truly amazing and very cool.

Tokyo City Symphony

My 10 Top Tips for Teaching English in Japan

1. There are lots of Japanese expats living and working overseas with their families. Before I went to Japan to teach English, I gave private English conversation lessons to the wives of Japanese expats living in Australia. I asked them to provide references for me in Japanese and this really helped me to get a job in Tokyo. Get in touch with your local Japan Society and make some friends. Many Japanese people who live overseas are looking for locals to teach them English privately and this will be good practice for you before you go and teach in Japan.

2. When you apply for an English teaching position in Japan make sure you include a passport size photograph with your resume. Also, make sure your CV is up-to-date and it communicates why you think you’d be a good English teacher in Japan.

3. If you have a university degree in any subject and/or a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate then you shouldn’t have any trouble finding work as an English teacher in Japan. Knowing what qualifications you need, whether you’ll enjoy the experience and the amount of salary you should expect are all points you may want to consider before leaving your own country.

4. The JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Programme is very famous for recruiting non-Japanese people to teach English all over Japan for at least twelve months. I know this is an excellent programme but there are many other schools in Japan which offer great salaries and good working environments such as Aeon, ECC and Interac. I’d also like to mention there are lots of small private English conversation schools to consider that are looking for teachers. They are advertising in the Japan Times newspaper or online. These schools are often looking for a foreigner to teach for just a couple of hours per week and at these places you can pick up some extra money teaching on your days off.

5. Look out for English teaching jobs that offer free or subsidised housing as it’s very expensive and difficult for foreigners to rent an apartment in Japan. Real estate agents will expect you to provide a guarantor and there are lots of upfront fees even before you start living in an apartment so free rent provided by your Japanese employer can save you a lot of money.

Teaching English

6. Make sure you buy a few nice suits before you go to Japan. You’ll need to wear these for interviews and you’ll continue to wear them when you are teaching. Japanese companies like their English teachers to look polished and professional. Imagine you’re applying for a position as a general manager and in the interview you have to look your best. If you do this then you’ll dress appropriately for an interview in Japan and you’ll make a great first and lasting impression.

7. Always be on time when you’re going for interviews and teaching classes. You’ll be required to prepare your English lessons for at least fifteen minutes before the start of each class so don’t be late. Japanese professionals do not tolerate tardiness. One of the major reasons for being late in Japan is that foreigners often get lost trying to find the right platform at train stations to get to their destination. For example, Shinjuku station in Tokyo has millions of people passing through it every day and it can be difficult to find the right train line amongst a sea of commuters, so make sure you leave your home early if you’re going to an English language school you’ve never been to before.

8. Remember that honesty and integrity are very important attributes in Japan.

9. When you teach English in Japan you should try and make your classes as interesting and as memorable as possible. Make sure your students learn something new at the end of each class and always make sure your personality shines through. For example, you could teach your Japanese students some slang or something interesting about your own country. If you’re from the UK, you could tell your students the Queen’s favourite residence is Windsor Castle or you could talk about the six wives of Henry VIII. If you’re from Australia you could talk to them about how koalas love to eat eucalyptus leaves or about the history of Ned Kelly. If you’re from America you could explain why President Obama is so popular or talk about Thanksgiving Day traditions. You can use these subjects to start interesting discussions. Remember students are often asked to evaluate their lessons so make sure they leave your classes with a smile on their faces.

10. Every month, you’ll receive a substantial salary as an English teacher in Japan so make sure you save at least 10% of what you earn.