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Japanese Sushi, sake, karate, manga, anime and cosplay – what are we talking about? These are just some of the clichés about Japan, which seems to have one of the most appreciated and diffuse cultures in the world.
The Japanese language belongs to the Japonic family, which also includes Ryukyuan, spoken in the Ryukyu Islands. The main particularity of Japanese is the existence of three different writing systems: kanji, a set of Chinese characters, hiragana and katakana. This is why Japanese is quite difficult to learn.
Old Japanese in its written form was composed only of Chinese characters read out in a unique Japanese way. In the early 9th century a new syllabic script was introduced, kana, which is different from the logographic Chinese scripts. However, Chinese linguistic influence on the Japanese language continued and loanwords from European languages such as Portuguese, German and English also became part of common terminology. Modern Japanese, in fact, is the result of the evolution of the language during its course of history, meeting a standardisation only after World War II.
The language is spoken in Japan by 125 million people as their mother tongue. An additional 1 million people, speakers either as their mother tongue or as a second language, are spread out all over the world in countries such as Australia, Thailand, Philippines, the United States and Palau.
Japanese culture, however, is increasingly penetrating the Western world, such as Europe. From typical cuisine such as sushi, to martial arts, to anime and manga, it is possible to find at least one of these typical Japanese elements in nearly every country. This is due to the process of a “Japanisation” in Europe, which started in the 1970s, with Japanese companies aiming at developing their industrial production there in many countries. In recent years the new “all you can eat” style of Japanese cuisine has been introduced and appreciated by many people. More and more restaurants opened with demand continuously increasing. Nowadays when you talk about nigiri, wasabi or sake you can easily be understood by many people in most countries: a sign of the fact that Japanese has affected almost all European languages.