What is Nihongo and Should YOU Learn it in 2017?

We’re already a month into the new year of 2017. How’s it going so far?

A lot of people make new years resolutions for: things they want to have, things they want to do, and perhaps most importantly, things that they want to become.

But to be something new, you first have to learn something new. Which brings us to today’s topic: What is Nihongo and Should YOU Learn it in 2017? Read on to find out!

Nihongo means… Japanese!

Nihongo is the Japanese word for the Japanese language. Pretty simple right? Only it’s actually not.

You see, in English we use the Alphabet to write our words. Each letter represents a sound, but not any sort of meaning. On the other side of things, nihongo uses what are known as “kanji” (Chinese characters) to write words.

Each kanji has a sound associated with it of course, but they also have a specific meaning as well. So what are the kanji used for nihongo? Let’s take a look!

The first kanji is ni and this is the kanji for sun. When the Chinese invented the written part of their language, they used pictographs (pictures) of everything. The symbol for sun was originally written like a sun.

But this took too long to draw, so eventually they removed the surrounding rays to speed things up. Then at one point in history, they decided to “square off” all of their characters so that they would all fit better together.



The next kanji is hon and it can mean either “origin” or “root” depending on the context.

Obviously you can only draw so many different things. So the kanji for “root” is actually a modified version of the “kanji” for tree. They drew an additional line at the base of the tree (an additional root) to emphasize its roots.



The root of a tree is also the origin of a tree, so you can see why this kanji is used for both meanings.

Just these two kanji together create nihon, which is the word for Japan. Looking at these two kanji we can see that the meaning of the word is akin to “the sun’s origin” or as you’ve probably heard it said before, Japan is “the land of the rising sun.”

That just leaves the final kanji go. This is the word for “language”. This one is actually comprised of three individual kanji: the number five, mouth, and words. You can see that five mouths speaking different words is a pretty accurate description of languages.

And that’s the meaning of nihongo! Language of the rising sun!

Where will you find it?

Nihongo 日本語 is primarily spoken and used in Japan (of course). The population of Japan is around 127 million people. BUT, there are lots of Japanese people living in other countries as well, such as America and Brazil.

However, that is just taking a look at the physical world. You can find a lot, and I mean A LOT of nihongo in the digital world!

(1) Anime – Probably the most common place that you can find nihongo digitally is in anime. Anime, in case you’re not familiar with it, is short for animation. It refers to a specific type of Japanese cartoons.

It is actually becoming more and more popular around the world, and in the USA in particular, each and every year. A decent amount of it gets translated into English, but the vast majority of it is still in nihongo with English subtitles.

Here’s a couple of great sites that I’ve used myself to watch anime, both in English and in nihongo:

  1. Crunchyroll
  2. Funimation
  3. Netflix
  4. Amazon Prime
  5. Hulu

(2) Video Games – a lot video games are created and released in Japan long before they are ever translated, localized, and then sold in other countries.

And there are even times when games remain in Japan and nihongo forever. That’s why there are companies like Play-Asia who specialize in getting games from Japan and selling them to people in America and other countries.

So if a great game comes out in nihongo, but not English, there’s still hope! As long as you know know a little 日本語 (^_^)

(3) Manga – I once read that eBooks are outselling traditional books by a margin of 25 to 1! That is CRAZY talk! But it shows how people are really buying into the convenience and ease of digital products.

And there is a similar trend in manga (Japanese comics) as well. You can buy and read manga in nihongo instantly! You no longer have to wait for a hard copy to be shipped overseas. You can even find some for free on Amazon:

The Girl Living Alone (Japanese version for Kindle)

The Girl Living Alone (English version for Kindle)

Bottom line is this: thanks to digital technology, you can experience nihongo anywhere in the world!

Wanna know more?

There’s lots of resources at your disposal if you’re interested in learning nihongo.

Of course I am totally biased, but I’m going to recommend that you come back here to Japanese Tactics often so you can learn and understand nihongo 🙂

Otherwise, I’ve got some recommendations for you to check out on the Reviews Tab at the top of the page.

Or if you’d like me to simplify it even further and make only one recommendation, then I’d encourage you to check out the Rocket Japanese Free Trial below. It’s a great place to start!

Rocket Japanese is Your Answer to How to Learn Nihongo in 2017!

If you liked this, let me know! Thanks for stopping by and I’ll see ya next time!


  • Paulina

    Hey Nick,
    I love how you simplify the process of understanding the meaning and how to write Nihongo. I was surprised to find out that by the end of the article I could actually read 日本語!
    Your writing is great and really helped me learn something new today.

    Best regards,

    • Nick Hoyt

      Hi Paulina! I’m glad it was easy to understand. A lot of people find Japanese difficult to learn, but sometimes it just takes the right approach.

  • Mike

    Hi Nikku,

    I’m an avid language learner and speak a number of European languages but have always been put off learning Japanese due to the alphabet more than anything. I love the way you break down the kanji in this article – it makes the concept feel a lot easier to manage. I’m going to give the rocket Japanese course a go – I’ll let you know how I get on.



    • Nick Hoyt

      Hey Mike, that is awesome! (^_^)b

      Pretty much all the Asian languages are a little intimidating due to their alphabets being so different from ours. It reminds me of that saying “Everything’s hard before it’s easy.” It becomes a lot easier when you take it one step at a time.

      Let me know what you think of Rocket Japanese! Thanks!

  • Cameron

    I have always been very interested in the Japanese language (“nihongo” apparently lol), but I have never really taken any steps to learn about it.

    Definitely something cool to work on this year but I’m sure it’s gonna take a lot more than just THIS year to get any good at it lol

    Thanks for the post!

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