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What Is The Official Language Of Japan?

Posted by Chloe G. on December 16, 2023.

What is the official language of Japan? Japan’s languages are unrelated to those spoken elsewhere in the world. The country is inhabited by approximately 127 million people, with Japanese being the predominant language. Japanese, a language isolate, is spoken by 99% of the population and has some shared ancestry with Okinawa, a regional language in Japan.

This post will explore the indigenous languages currently gaining attention in contemporary Japan – the unique linguistic landscape.

The Official Language in Japan – Japanese

The Official Language Of Japan 3In contemporary Japan, the official language, Japanese, is spoken by nearly every Japanese individual, regardless of their geographical location. With a population exceeding 125 million people, essentially the entire populace communicates in Japanese, with only a small fraction, approximately 2 million, speaking other languages.

Belonging to the japonica language family, Japanese is closely associated with the Ryukyuan language variant. Locally, the official language is referred to as “Nihongo.” This linguistic system bears significant influence from the Chinese, incorporating Chinese characters known as “kanji.” The fusion of Aramaic numerals and Chinese characters shapes what is now recognized as the official language of Japan.

Interestingly, the Korean language, much like Japanese, incorporates Chinese characters or “Kanji.” This shared element in their written languages allows speakers of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean to comprehend the written form of each other’s languages.


Regional Languages of Japan

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n addition to the predominant official language spoken by the majority in Japan, there exists a regional language commonly known as the Regional Language.

Upon arriving in Japan, one will encounter numerous speakers of this language scattered throughout the country, with a notable concentration on the Ryukyu Islands, where the population of speakers reaches around 1.45 million. This regional language belongs to the japonica language family and shares a close linguistic connection with Nihongo, the official language.

In recent times, the younger generation in this region seems to display a waning interest in their native language, opting instead for the official language. The youth of the Ryukyu Islands now communicate in a modified version of their traditional language.

Hokkaido Ainu Language

This represents another indigenous language in Japan that, despite still being spoken today, faces a severe risk of extinction. It is the language spoken by the Ainu ethnic group, who reside on Hokkaido Island.

According to UNESCO, this language has been classified as critically endangered, with only 10 remaining speakers, all of whom are above the age of 80. Urgent measures, including the creation of the Hokkaido Ainu dictionary, are being implemented as part of rescue efforts to safeguard this language from the imminent threat of extinction.

The records from the 16th century indicated that the Ainu language lacked an alphabet. Nevertheless, by the start of the 19th century, katakana started to be employed in this language.

Orok Language

This language, also recognized as Ulta, is spoken in Japan and has roots dating back to before the Common Era. During the Edo period, it was utilized in regions such as Hokkaido, Karafuto, and the Kuril Islands.

Presently, there are only a handful of speakers of this language in Japan.

Nivkh Language

Similar to its counterpart, the Orok language, this dialect is spoken in Hokkaido, Karafuto, and the Kuril Islands. Additionally, speakers of this language can be found along the Amur River.

Nivkh, among the languages in Japan, is confronting a significant risk of extinction. The current existence of speakers of this language in Japan remains uncertain.

Bonin Language

This language, rooted in English, is one of the indigenous languages of Japan spoken by the inhabitants of the Bonin Islands.

Regrettably, this language is on a declining trajectory in Japan, heading towards obscurity in history. Initiatives are underway to revive and preserve this language in Japan.

Ryukyuan Languages

If you’re interested in exploring a contemporary language spoken in Japan that is not originally indigenous to the country, the Ryukyuan language is a notable example.

Spoken by communities residing around Okinawa and certain areas of Kagoshima in the Ryukyu Islands, this language belongs to the Japonic language family. Despite being distinct languages with no linguistic ties to Japanese, the Ryukyuan language is acknowledged as one of the languages in Japan influenced by foreign elements.

However, it’s important to note that this language is also classified as endangered, emphasizing the need for preservation efforts in Japan.

Evenki Language

The language spoken in the Sakhalin region, once under Japanese control, is the Evenki language. Similar to the previously discussed native languages of Japan, Evenki faces a grave risk of complete extinction without concerted efforts to revive it.

This plight is shared by all the languages under consideration so far, as each one is threatened by the pervasive influence of the Western culture. The worsening situation seems challenging for the current government to address effectively.


Foreign Languages in Japan

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Japan has experienced a significant influx of foreign languages, marking a noteworthy transformation. Initially, Japan maintained a self-imposed isolation, but in 1853, it broke down these barriers and embraced the global community.

The entry of foreigners following this shift led to the introduction of various foreign languages into Japan, and these languages have since established a significant presence. Currently, notable foreign languages in Japan include English, German, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and French.

The impact of globalization on languages is palpable in Japan, where foreign influences are gradually diminishing the prominence of local languages. This trend has contributed to the prevalence of foreign languages at the expense of indigenous ones in Japan. With the ongoing process of globalization, there is a likelihood that some of the indigenous languages of Japan mentioned above may become increasingly scarce in the years to come.


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