Those who are not familiar with the Japanese language and culture might not be aware of how the language is read on paper. Some of you reading this article may have heard that Japanese people read right to left, and if this is the case, then why?
If you have found yourself pondering this, and have stumbled upon this article, great! Because we’ve got all the information that you need. Simply keep reading as we answer your question below.
Right To Left
Maybe you are actually a person who is looking to study the Japanese language, but when you received your textbook, you actually found that the writing followed the traditional Western pattern of left to right. If this has happened to you, you might find yourself feeling very confused.
Before we go on to discuss the right vs left question though, we need to consider the other direction dilemma first, horizontal or vertical?
Traditionally, Japanese is written in vertical columns which are read from top to bottom, and from right to left.
This particular form of writing is known as the Japanese word tategaki, this translates in our language to ‘vertical writing’, signifying the way it is presented on the page.
If you find yourself presented with a piece of writing that follows this particular style, make sure that you start at the top right hand column, working your way down before moving on to the column beside it.
This kind of writing can still be found in Japan today, although it is considered a more traditional form of writing. Many people use it in formal letters, and in birthday cards sent to loved ones.
Left To Right
Now we can move on to the more modern format of Japanese writing that may have led you to this article in the first place. This type of writing is called yokogaki, which again, has a very literal translation, meaning ‘horizontal writing’.
This means that this particular style of writing is written in the same way as Westerners write, meaning that it expands over the entire page, one line at a time, all underneath each other.
Interestingly, this form of writing rose in prevalence over the course of the Second World War. It was presented in order to try and standardize education systems in Japan following on from this tumultuous period. The influences have probably come from Western styles of writing themselves.
That is why, if you’ve found yourself looking at a Japanese textbook, and are wondering if it’s correct, you can rest assured that it is. Many Japanese people use this style of writing in everyday communication, like text messaging, informal writing, and on the internet.
If you are somebody who is just learning Japanese, we recommend that you start with this style of writing rather than tategaki, as it will probably be far less arduous for you to get a grasp on it.
So Is Japanese Actually Read From Left To Right?
In order to clear up the confusion related to this topic, we should probably talk about why many believe that Japanese people always read right to left.
Well, before the First World War, and the more modern version of Japanese was not yet in circulation, some did write from right to left in tategaki. This was however, only done on occasions where there was no space for the text to be written vertically.
When the text was not able to be written vertically, many would write horizontally, formatting it so that it was read right to left. Some examples of this would include product labels, shop signs, or images, where there was no space for vertical, columned writing.
What Style Of Writing Is Manga Written In?
If you’ve picked up a manga book before, it might be a bit confusing to figure out at first, especially considering that the book itself is read from back to front unlike Western books.
The style of writing that manga is written in is actually, if you hadn’t already guessed, tategaki, which can make them initially more difficult to read.
This style of writing presented in a comic book format is normally read vertically, and right to left. It can be quite amusing because both tategaki and yokogaki can be intermingled in these books.
For example, the manga itself might be written using tategaki, but you may find a character either reading a book, or writing something, and this is presented in the yokogaki format.
This is meant to signify the casual nature of what the character is reading or writing.
Japanese newspapers are also interesting (and sometimes confusing), in the fact that they also sometimes use a combination of both styles of writing. They can either present a text that is read from right to left, or from left to right.
The graphic designers and editors of these newspapers really want to utilize all of the space that is available to write things on, and so this might mean switching between tategaki and yokogaki.
This means that if you’re reading a Japanese newspaper, or even just a poster, you will likely see both styles of writing presented there.
I’m guessing that when you first stumbled upon this article, you thought that you would just find a very simple yes or no answer. The subject however, is far more complex and nuanced than this.
As we mentioned before though, if you’re planning on learning Japanese for the first time then we recommend that you begin your studies by reading yokogaki, as it is far more similar to Westernized styles of writing that are read horizontally and from left to right.