Languages of Japan


The languages of Japan are not related to other world languages. Japan is the home to an estimated 127 million people. The major language is Japanese, which shares some common ancestry with Okinawa (a regional language of Japan).

Since Japanese is a language isolate and spoken by 99% of people in Japan; it will make an interesting exercise to look into the indigenous languages that are currently making the waves in present-day Japan.

Japan has 47 prefectures and is equally important to know what are the prefectures of Japan.

Map of Japan with cities

Official Language (Japanese)

Japan today has an official language spoken by virtually every Japanese irrespective of the region where you might find them. The official, major, and main language in Japan today is known as Japanese and the language is spoken by the entire population less than 2 million people, in essence, 125 million Japanese speak the Japanese language.

This language is a member of the japonica language family that also involves another variant of the dialect- Ryukyuan language. The natives refer to this official language as “Nihongo”.

This official language is heavily influenced by the Chinese language because it is composed mainly of Chinese characters called – “kanji.” Aramaic numerals combine with Chinese characters to give us what is today called the official language of the Japanese.

Like Japanese language, the Korean language (read also: Languages of Korea) is also composed of Chinese characters “Kanji”. From the written language standpoint, the speakers of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean can understand written form of one other’s language.

Read also: Languages of China

Regional Languages of Japan

Aside from the official language spoken by the vast majority in Japan, there is the regional language referred to as the Regional Language.

When you get to Japan, you will find many speakers of this language spread across the country; however, they are majorly concentrated at the Ryukyu Islands with a population of about 1.45 million speakers. This language is a family of japonica language which is closely related to Nihongo.

In recent years, the younger natives are not showing any interest in this language, they rather prefer the official language to their native language. The young Ryukyu Islands inhabitants now speak a corrupted version of the language.

Hokkaido Ainu Language

This is yet another native languages of Japan that is still spoken in Japan to date but in great danger of going into extinction. This is the language spoken by the Ainu ethnic group residing in Hokkaido Island.

UNESCO has classified this language critically endangered with only 10 people speaking the language and all of them are above the age of 80. Policies are drastically been put in place as a rescue measure to save this language from the danger of extinction. One of such is the printing of the Hokkaido Ainu dictionary.

The 16th-century records revealed that the Ainu language did not have an alphabet. However, by the turn of the 19th century, this language began to use katakana.

Orok Language

This is also a language that is also known as Ulta that is spoken in Japan and it emerged before the Common Era. This language is used during the Edo period in the following areas: Hokkaido, Karafuto. and the Kuril Islands.

The reality of this language today is that there are very few speakers of the language in Japan today.

Video: Teruyo speaking Ainu

Nivkh Language

Like her sister language Orok, this dialect is spoken in Hokkaido, Karafuto, and the Kuril Islands. The speakers of this language can also found in Amur River.

Among the languages of Japan, Nivkh faces a serious threat of going into extinction. It is not known whether speakers of this language still exist in Japan today.

Bonin Language

This is one of native languages of Japan that is English based and it is the language of people around Bonin Islands.

This is another language that is gradually going down into the dustbin of history in Japan and efforts are been made to ensure the revival of the language in Japan.

Ryukyuan Languages

If you wanted to know about one of the languages spoken today in Japan that is not originally part of the indigenous languages of Japan, then reference can be made to Ryukyuan language.

This language is spoken by the people that live around Okinawa and parts of Kagoshima in the Ryukyu Islands. This language is classified as part of the Japonic language family. In actual sense, they are separate languages and have no bearing with the Japanese language.

But be that as it may, this is recognized as one of the languages in Japan with foreign influence. This is also one language that is classified under the endangered languages in Japan.

Ryukyuan - Languages of Japan
Ryukyuan detail - Languages of Japan

Evenki Language

This is the language spoken in the region of Sakhalin which was formerly controlled by Japan. Like the other native languages of Japan discussed earlier, the Evenki language is also under very serious threat of going into total extinction if efforts are not taken to revive it from the claws of extinction.

This has been the lot of all the languages so far under review; each and every one of them is under the threat of going under due to western influence and it seems there is nothing the government of the day can do to redress the worsening situation.

Foreign Languages in Japan

If there is one country that foreign language has made great inroads, then one of such is Japan. Japan isolated herself from the global community for some time but in 1853, she broke the wall of isolation and embraced the world community.

The influx of foreigners after the wall was broken led to the importation of several foreign languages into Japan and these languages have gained a footstool in Japan. We have the following foreign languages in Japan today: English, German, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and French.

The effects of globalization on languages can be felt in Japan. Foreign influence is gradually eroding the prominence of the local languages of the natives. This is responsible for the dominance of foreign languages over the indigenous languages in Japan. With globilzation

If you get to Japan in the years to come, there is the likelihood that you might not find some of the languages of Japan mentioned above.

Frequently Asked Questions

The main language of Japan is Japanese, which is the only official language of the country. However, there are also several regional dialects and minority languages spoken in Japan, such as Ainu, Ryukyuan, and Korean.

There is only one official Language of Japan, which is Japanese. However, there are three main dialects of Japanese that are spoken in different regions of Japan. These dialects are Tokyo dialect (also known as standard Japanese), Kansai dialect, and Tohoku dialect.

The language of Japan is Japanese. It is spoken by the majority of the population and is the only official language of the country. Japanese is written using a combination of three scripts: kanji (Chinese characters), hiragana (a phonetic script used for grammatical elements), and katakana (a phonetic script used for foreign loanwords and emphasis).

Languages of Japan
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