Last-modified: February 27, 1997
Copyright: (C) 1997 Olaf Meeuwissen
Frequently Asked Questions
The last posted version of the FAQ should be available at
or a mirror site near you.
For reasons of a private nature I didn't have any time to
work on the FAQ. So, no changes this time around.
Ask me no questions, and I won't lie
No guarantees, just a promise to try
-- Soul II Soul
Subject: Table of contents
Q1 The group and its FAQ
Q1.1 Say, how about some introduction?
Q1.2 How can I help?
Q1.3 Things to look out for.
Q1.4 Newsgroups and the fj.* hierarchy
Q1.5 Mailing lists
Q1.6 Where can I find out more?
Q2 The language
Q2.1 How do I say ...?
Q2.2 How do I say `I love you'?
Q2.3 How do I say `Congratulations'?
Q2.4 How do I say `Happy birthday'?
Q2.5 How do I write ...?
Q2.6 How many kanji are there?
Q2.7 Why is everyone using different romanisation schemes?
Q2.8 What is the correct way to write something in romaji?
Q2.9 How do I send/read e-mail in Japanese?
Q2.10 How can I see Japanese characters while surfing the
Q2.11 Is "gaijin" a derogatory word?
Subject: Q1 The group and its FAQ
This chapter answers frequently and not so frequently asked ques-
tions about <news:sci.lang.japan> and its FAQ. If you are only
interested in real, Japanese language FAQs, do yourself a favour
and skip directly to any of the other chapters. But before you
do, there's one question you might want to take a peek at before
you jump ahead. Q1.6 tells you where you can find additional or
more in depth material.
Subject: Q1.1 Say, how about some introduction?
Ok, here goes! This is the FAQ of <news:sci.lang.japan>. It
tries to answer questions that have a habit of popping up in this
newsgroup, and then some. Since seeing the same questions and
answers time and time again does get a bit boring, they've been
put together here in the hope that keeps you from boring us.
So, if you have a question, look here first, and, if you can't
find a satisfactory answer, then annoy <news:sci.lang.japan>.
Please, don't bug me with your questions. Chances are pretty big
I don't have an answer ready to dash off anyway, so it would take
time away from maintaining the FAQ! Of course, FAQ-related ques-
tions are welcome.
In case you see a question in the group that you know is answered
here somewhere, please tell people so by e-mail, don't shout it
all over the newsgroup ;-). On many a news reader, hit `r' for
`reply' (instead of `f' for `followup'). If that doesn't work
for you, ask a local guru or have fun with your on-line help
and/or the manual pages.
Subject: Q1.2 How can I help?
Of course, answers to as-of-yet unanswered FAQs are very welcome.
Then, there are bound to be typos, mistakes or pieces of outdated
info in the FAQ at some time or other. It would be most helpful
if you not only point them out, but include the correct info as
well. That'll save me a bundle. And, naturally, any kind of
suggestions to improve the FAQ are appreciated.
Please send contributions to <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>
and I'd certainly appreciate it if you put any one of `slj',
`faq' or `sci.lang.japan' in the subject of your mail. Helps
speed up processing and weeds out my mailbox a bit at the same
Subject: Q1.3 Things to look out for.
I haven't quite found the time to get around to these, but future
versions of the FAQ may contain several of the following fre-
quently asked and answered questions (in bubble-up order):
* How do I write my name in kanji/kana?
* Why are romaji evil?
* Can anyone recommend a good dictionary?
* I just can't remember those hiragana/katakana. Help!!
* What are hiragana/katakana?
This list is far from complete and I dare everyone to beat this
list. See Q1.2 on how to get your list to me. Preferably with
Subject: Q1.4 Newsgroups and the fj.* hierarchy
The fj.* hierarchy can be thought of as the Japanese version of
Usenet. For example, <news:fj.sci.lang> discusses pretty much
the same kind of topics as <news:sci.lang> but in Japanese. One
exception is <news:fj.life.in-japan> which is basically in
English and deals with topics foreigners may encounter when liv-
ing in Japan.
Apart from the above groups, some other groups deal with
language, Japan and Japanese as well. People interested more in
linguistics and translation than in Japanese may find something
of their liking in <news:sci.lang> or
<news:sci.lang.translation>. If you are looking for more culture
oriented news, try <news:soc.culture.japan> or
<news:soc.culture.japan.moderated> if you find the former a bit
too flame infested.
Some miscellaneous Japan related groups:
Subject: Q1.5 Mailing lists
Besides <news:sci.lang.japan> there are a number of Japanese
related mailing list out there in cyberspace. Here follows an
* The `Nihongo Discussion Group' covers pretty much the same
ground as the news group and is posted to it as well. For
subscription information and archives visit
* The `Gakusei Mailing Lists' are a bunch of mailing lists for
informal conversation in Japanese. There are lists on several
levels of proficiency and separate lists for romaji and
kanji/kana posts and a list devoted to grammar (in English).
For more info, send email with `info gakusei-L' in the body to
* The `"Honyaku"' mailing list is for anyone interested in
translation. You can find subscription details (and some
links to other info) at
Subject: Q1.6 Where can I find out more?
While this FAQ is going through its rebirth and growing pains,
there will be an, hopefully ever decreasing, pile of information
missing. In the mean time, here are some info-thirst slaking
pointers to places with more information. If your news reader
knows an URL when it sees one, click away, fire up your favourite
* Rafael Santos started this FAQ a long, long time ago. Then he
went overboard just a teensy-weensy bit ;-) and created the
`Japanese Language Information pages'. These pages ooze info
But, while going overboard just that bit, the original FAQ
started withering. And that's when
* Ben Bullock started a racket in the group, ultimately leading
to his `Alternative sci.lang.japan FAQ' which can be found at
* Jim Breen, of EDICT-fame, has a page `Things Japanese' with a
bunch of Japan(ese) and EDICT related pointers at
* John Wiederspan put together a `Guide to Japanese Computing'
Make sure you also check out the parent directory.
* Taki Naruto put together some info on using Japanese on PCs
running English based Windows. Check out
Subject: Q2 The language
Recognizing the fact that there is, currently, not a lot of con-
tent in the FAQ, I collapsed all questions into one chapter. By
the time the questions in here start to show some kind of struc-
ture I will split off parts into more appropriately named
chapters. Guess what'll happen? Right! Questions and cross
references will be completely (and automagically) renumbered.
Safest thing to do anytime is to refer to questions by name, not
by number, ever!
Subject: Q2.1 How do I say ...?
Let's be clear on this. There is no one single best answer for
this kind of question. There are many different ways to convey
the same thing and whichever is best depends on the situation, a
lot! Are you talking to your best friend, your boss or to a com-
plete and utter stranger? Do you want to borrow a couple of
thousand yen or get someone to pass you the salt?
Having said that, use your judgement when using any of the
answers below and remember that your mileage may vary.
[ed.: I want to include a section on politeness and collapse
those sections with really short answers into this one. Anyone
care to write this?]
Subject: Q2.2 How do I say `I love you'?
You don't! At least, according to common lore. Most people sug-
gest you show the person in question your affection. But, if you
want to ignore this advice, you can try your luck with "ai shite
imasu" or "daisuki desu". Since you (usually) say this to some-
one you know (quite) well, it is probably more natural to drop
the politeness level a bit and use "ai shiteru" or "daisuki da"
instead. To add some emphasis, you could add a sentence final
Subject: Q2.3 How do I say `Congratulations'?
"omedetou gozaimasu" is the standard polite form for `Congratula-
tions'. Depending on the situation, a simple "omedetou" may be
Subject: Q2.4 How do I say `Happy birthday'?
"otanjoubi omedetou gozaimasu". Situation permitting, simply
"otanjoubi omedetou" may suffice.
Subject: Q2.5 How do I write ...?
This FAQ uses ASCII characters exclusively, so it's a bit tricky
to answer this question directly. One way out would be to
include ASCII `art' depicting the kana and/or kanji, but I feel
this takes up too much space. Instead, try Jeffrey Friedl's
gateway to EDICT at <http://www.wg.omron.co.jp/cgi-bin/j-e/>.
You don't need any Japanese capabilities to use it.
Note that there are mirror sites in California at
<http://www.itc.omron.com/cgi-bin/j-e/> and Canada at
Subject: Q2.6 How many kanji are there?
Apart from the obvious too many, you mean? Approximately 50,000.
And what's more, this staggeringly big number seems to have been
reached as early as around the end of the second century AD! To
give you some idea, many concise bilingual dictionaries carry a
comparable number of entries for each language.
Subject: Q2.7 Why is everyone using different romanisation schemes?
Romanisation schemes are a reading aid, just like furigana. They
convert kanji and kana to something you can, supposedly, read and
when pronounced actually resembles Japanese pronunciation. The
reading part of this is fairly easy, but the pronunciation part
is a lot harder. It depends heavily on the target language and,
to make matters worse, opinions on what best represents the
Japanese pronunciation in a given target language differ, widely
[ed.: I'd like to include a striking example or two. Any ideas?]
Subject: Q2.8 What is the correct way to write something in romaji?
There is no one correct way to write anything in romaji (see
Q2.7). As a logical consequence, romanisation flames are rather
futile. There are, at best, recommended ways.
Perhaps the closest thing to a correct way is the romanisation
scheme the Japanese government announced on December, 9, 1954.
Based on the "gojuuonjun", it uses the following kana to romaji
n wa ra ya ma ha na ta sa ka a
- ri mi hi ni ti /chi si /shi ki i
ru yu mu hu/fu nu tu /tsu su ku u
- re me he ne te se ke e
-/wo ro yo mo ho no to so ko o
rya mya hya nya tya/cha sya/sha kya
ryu myu hyu nyu tyu/chu syu/shu kyu
ryo myo hyo nyo tyo/cho syo/sho kyo
pa ba da za ga
pi bi - /di zi /ji gi
pu bu - /du zu gu
pe be de ze ge
po bo do zo go
pya bya - /dya zya/ja gya
pyu byu - /dyu zyu/ju gyu
pyo byo - /dyo zyo/jo gyo
The table does not stand by itself. It comes with a couple of
rules as well, the first of which says that in principle you have
to use the romanisation that's on the left hand side of the
slash, if there is one of course. The right hand side alterna-
tive is only to be used for words with strong international con-
notations, those that are customarily romanised that way or if it
strongly improves the information content. Rather vague and
prone to abuse, but that's what it says.
The other rules are:
* To disambiguate the letter `n' in a word like `kinen', you use
a single quote if it is the romaji `n'. So `kinen' is to be
interpreted as `memorial', whereas `No smoking' is `kin'en'.
* The "sokuon" (small tsu) causes doubling of the following con-
sonant, as in `sippai'.
* The "chouon" (lengthened vowel) is represented by a caret, ^,
over the vowel. However, in case the vowel is a capital you
are at liberty to write the extra vowel, as in `Oosaka'.
* Finally, and curiously, you can capitalize all Nouns if you
please, not just proper Names and the initial Word of Sen-
tences. Sounds very German, if you ask me.
By the way, the dashes in the table indicate the fact that the
use of these kana for Japanese words is discouraged. In the
"gojuuonzu" these positions are either empty or filled with kana
from other columns.
[ed.: I believe this romanisation scheme is known as "nihon
shiki", but am not altogether sure about that. Could someone
If you are familiar with romanisation schemes, you may have
noticed that the above roughly encompasses the two perhaps most
famous schemes: "kunrei shiki" and "hebon shiki". The former
uses the alternatives on the left hand side of the slash, while
the later opts for the right hand side, with some minor excep-
tions for both:
* Both systems miss the entries for `dya', `dyu' and `dyo'.
* "kunrei shiki" uses `di' and `du', whereas "hebon shiki"
sticks to `ji' and `zu' for the same kana, thereby introducing
* Both systems have some extra romaji covering kana in the "wa
gyou" (wa column) that have slipped into disuse, namely `wi'
(both) and `we' ("kunrei shiki") or `ye' ("hebon shiki").
"kunrei shiki" also uses `wo' instead of `o'.
* Before the voiced versions of "ha gyou" romaji, like `ba',
`pa', etc., and before "ma gyou" romaji, "hebon shiki" uses
`m' instead of `n', leading to things such as `shimbun'
instead of `shinbun'.
Both systems were invented in the 1880's. A strictly Japanese
invention, "kunrei shiki" was the official romanisation scheme
prescribed by the government in 1937. "hebon shiki" was
developed by an international group including James Hepburn and
made its claim to fame when Hepburn adopted it for the third edi-
tion of his Japanese-English dictionary in 1886. Subsequently,
his name got attached to the scheme, as in Hepburn system, and
went through some minor revisions since then. You may also find
it referred to as "hyoujun shiki" (standard form!).
Of the two, it is the least likely to be mangled in pronunciation
by non-Japanese (but still a far cry from being idiot-proof).
Subject: Q2.9 How do I send/read e-mail in Japanese?
Before anything else, remember that there is e-mail software out
there that is not 8-bit clean. Next, don't forget that you can
never be sure what route your e-mail takes from you to the
addressee, nor that it will always take the same route. That
means that your message may meet e-mail software that is not
8-bit clean. The only fail-safe way around this is to send your
Japanese message in a 7-bit encoding, i.e. JIS, iso-2022-jp or
iso-2022-jp-2. Shift-JIS and EUC-JP are 8-bit based encodings
and may get mutilated on the way.
Unfortunately, some mail software is a bit over-zealous and also
strips the escape character indicating begin and end of encoding
changes. Ken Lunde, wrote a utility called `jconv' that can,
among other things, put stripped escapes back in. The source is
at <ftp://ftp.ora.com/pub/examples/nutshell/ujip/src/> and
compiles without any problem. This same program can also detect
the encoding used and convert between encodings if desired.
If you really have to send 8-bit based encoded e-mail and it does
get mangled, you can try sending it uuencoded. The receiving end
will have to uudecode before being able to read anything. With
`jconv' there should not be any real need for this clumsy
Subject: Q2.10 How can I see Japanese characters while surfing the
Even if your computer does not have any Japanese capability at
all, you can still see Japanese characters provided you have a
graphical browser. Ka-Ping Yee wrote Shodouka, a mediator that
gets the page you want to see, translates all Japanese characters
to graphics and sends the result to you. Quite simple, isn't it?
Oh, in case you wondered, "shodouka" is Japanese for `calligra-
You can find Shodouka at <http://www.lfw.org/shodouka>.
If your computer has some Japanese capability, at least has
access to Japanese fonts somewhere, there is a much simpler
approach. As of version 1.1 Netscape Navigator supports
Japanese. All you have to do, after installing, is set the docu-
ment encoding in the options menu to Japanese (auto-detect).
This ought to work. If not, you can try setting it to shift-JIS
or EUC-JP and reload the page.
Netscape Navigator runs on virtually any platform. Requirements
for Japanese support vary a bit though. Unix systems only need
Japanese fonts for X-Windows. These should be available from
<ftp://ftp.x.org>. Windows95 and WindowsNT need Japanese exten-
sions which should be available freely from
<ftp://ftp.microsoft.com>. For the Macintosh you may need Kan-
jiTalk or JLK.
[ed.: Can someone verify the Macintosh requirements? I can't
because I only have access to fully Japanese capable Macs here
;-(. Also, comments about other browsers are very welcome.]
Subject: Q2.11 Is "gaijin" a derogatory word?
In and of itself "gaijin" can hardly be said to be a derogatory
word. Most people and dictionaries will tell you it is just
short for "gaikokujin", means `foreigner' or `alien' and can be
contrasted with "houjin" (Japanese person). Any negative conno-
tations that come with the word are the results of gross general-
ization, lack of information, (hyper)sensitivity, and the like.
Whether these negative associations are implied, depends on con-
Kids playing in the street exclaiming "Ah, gaijin da!" are gen-
erally just surprised at the sight of a foreigner. Real estate
agents using "Gaijin wa dame!" are pigeon-holing all obvious
foreigners into a group of potentially troublesome customers
they'd rather not have.
[ed.: I think most of the fuss around the word is caused by
overly PC-sensitive types not comfortable with the idea of (sud-
denly) being part of a rather conspicuous minority.]
Olaf Meeuwissen Ph.D. student, Shinshu University, Japan
olaf@IMSL.shinshu-u.ac.jp Information Management Systems Laboratory
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Send corrections/additions to the FAQ Maintainer:
olaf@IMSL.shinshu-u.ac.jp (Olaf Meeuwissen)
Last Update March 27 2014 @ 02:11 PM