There are so many people who are interested in Japanese language after watching anime and manga. Even in the academy where I work, most of my teenagers or students in their twenties, thirties, love anime and that’s why they come to learn Japanese.
But do you feel a big difference between the Japanese you listen to in anime and the Japanese you study in textbooks in class?
In fact, in Japanese, the use of words is very different when writing and speaking. Today I am going to explain it to you.
As I said before, in Japanese, the use of words is very different when writing and speaking.
In ancient times, it is said that in general there was no writing culture in Japan, but in the Palace, they used the words that came from China, Kanji. Therefore, there was a double structure: Chinese when writing and Japanese when speaking.
However, as time goes by, they started to use Kanji according to Japanese grammar. And about 1,000 years ago, hiragana and katakana were created. From there, the way of speaking and that of writing gradually unify. Therefore, and it may be a remnant of that time, the way the Japanese write and the way they speak are very different now.
Japanese Bungo and Kougo
The writing style is called Bungo and the speaking style is called Kougo. Today, of course, the grammar is the same for both Bungo and Kougo, but Bungo has a very collective and orderly style, but on the other hand, Kougo is a freer form. One is a photo, the other is a painting by Picasso, something like that.
So for people who still don’t understand Japanese grammar and who are not good at listening, Kougo can be a bit more problematic than Bungo.
For example, in a formal situation, such as at work or in a meeting, the spoken style is similar to Bungo, that makes easier to understand. But in anime, there are a lot of stories about teenagers, so there are a lot of made-up words, and because so many conversation styles are spoken, it could be more difficult to understand.
If someone says “muzui” for “muzukashii”, or, “tte kotode” for “souiukotode onegaishimasu”, it sounds completely different and you may not understand it. It’s not easy to understand even in a children’s anime like “Doraemon” or “Shin-chan”.
Let’s use Anime & Manga
But I’m not saying “don’t watch anime”. Please watch more and more. I think watching anime could be a help for your study. Because if it is something interesting, you will not feel pain.
For example, when you see Picasso’s “Guernica”, you think “wow, it’s amazing”, and if you discover later that Picasso also learned the basics, you will also like to study from the basics. And what you felt “is amazing,” that kind of excitement could cheer you up when you have a difficult time later. If you think, “That’s great,” it encourages you to continue studying.
That said, I can choose manga, which can be easier to understand than anime when you start studying. First, learn words and expressions in manga, then practice listening to anime. There are many manga that became popular and later became anime, and since the story and dialogue are in many cases the same between them, you can learn to read and listen to them.
I also love manga, and I started reading it when I was between 6 and 7 years old. I loved it and was reading all the time, then thanks to that, I started to read Kanji without Yomigana faster than usual and learned many words.
However, since I’m a native, I knew most of the grammar when I started reading manga. So for those of you who are learning Japanese as a foreign language, I recommend that you first learn the structure of the Japanese language.
When I say “structure”, I am not talking about grammar, I am talking about: what kind of forms does it have and how are they spoken and with whom. I recommend that you first understand that. Then, little by little, you will understand the manga and anime.
In the structure of Japanese, there are these three ways:
And there are two groups in Keigo: Kenjougo that would be used for your actions and Sonkeigo, for others. Together they are called Keigo.
These three forms will be used depending on who you are talking to and who you are writing to.
Use Futsuutai for friends, family, or anyone with whom you can relax and talk.
Teineitai is best used. It is used for anyone. You use this form when you talk to people you don’t know and when you speak to the public. People sometimes misinterpret, as Teineitai is called “formal”, they think that this way is very polite, but this is a very common way of speaking.
On the other hand, if you talk to someone you don’t know on Futsuutai, that is called “informal”, people might get mad at you. So be careful.
And when you want to talk super polite, for example when you want to talk to your boss or clients, use Keigo.
These three together are difficult to handle well. But it is inevitable. Make sure you understand this structure, especially if you want to live in Japan or use Japanese for your work.
The must manga classics
Since everyone is very familiar with modern anime and manga, I would like to present here the classics of manga that everyone knows in Japan.
The first is “Garasu no kamen”. In the latest, Vol. 49, (released in 2012, the series has since been discontinued without conclusion) the main character Maya, who was 13 years old at the start of the series in 1976, is still 21 years old, a wonderful time progression. I used to read it as a child but since I recently read a new volume, I was surprised to realize, it’s only been eight years in the history!
It is a story in which Maya grows as an actress, and the first 10 volumes are especially turbulent, making it interesting. It became an animation in 1984 and became a television series in 1997 and 1998. From the younger generation to your father, mother, and possibly the grandfather and grandmother generation, it is a classic with over 50 million copies sold in Japan.
And “Haikarasan ga tooru” is even now the most fun. A total of eight volumes, serialized in magazines from 1975 to 1977, is a masterpiece of romantic comedy that was animated (1978-79), filmed (1987), and staged and released a new anime film in 2017.
I recently reread it too, and I laughed so hard that I read it all at once in two days. It is a story about the Taisho era when the samurai culture ends and the western culture flourishes, so it is also useful for learning about Japan at that time.
ilustration for cover photo: ノーコピーライトガール