“Why do you have to spell such a simple thing like ‘an eraser’ with three different sets of letters? Look at 消しゴム!”
Once a friend of mine from France complained and the following is my explanation.
There are a variety of languages in the world. Some of them are without letters but there is no language without sound and speech as languages originate in sound.
Japanese language did not have letters until they borrowed Chinese letters (Kanji).
Chinese letters are unique that only one letter can have a meaning such as 魚fish 草grass. But in Japanese they had to be used as sound alphabets as there were no letters at all in Japan.
So fifty letters were chosen as regular members on the phonetic alphabet team.
About a thousand years ago, government officials began to use simplified letters based on the entire form of Kanji to take notes. This what we now call Hiragana.(middle)
Katakana seems to originate about two centuries earlier than Hiragana. While reading Chinese scrolls, Buddhist scholars annotated their text with simplified alphabet based on just one part of Kanji. This is the beginning of Katakana.(bottom)
Some children who have difficulties learning Hiragana (maybe over processed) find Kanji letters cool and exciting and learn them quickly. I was amazed when a seven year old son of my friend, who hated Hiragana lessons at school, proudly showed me beautiful hand copy of Sake label calligraphy in Kanji.
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