Japanese writing consists of a mix of three different scripts:
Kanji, Hiragana, and Katakana. Kanji is based on Chinese characters which we
shall consider ideographic for the sake of simplicity, while Kana (both
Hiragana and Katakana) is syllabic.
Displaying rounded forms, Hiragana is a syllabary consisting of
46 characters, as well as several diacritics. Derived originally from cursive
forms of Kanji, Hiragana is used for the grammatical morphemes (elements) of a
sentence, e.g. auxiliary verbs and inflectional affixes. Except in books for
young children, Hiragana is not normally used alone in writing Japanese.
While the Kana syllabaries were developed in the 9th century AD,
their forms and usage were fixed in 1900. Either syllabary can be effectively
used alone for writing Japanese, though the common custom is to write in a mix
of Kana and Kanji. Because of the large number of homophonous words in
Japanese, some have argued that Kanji serves to reduce ambiguity in written
language. The syllabic nature of Kana, as well as its order, suggest some early
influence from Indic scripts, most likely through the spread of Buddhism.
Either syllabary can be used as furigana, small annotations next to a Kanji
character which hint at meaning or pronunciation.
The Hiragana font can be found in the non-Latin multilingual
font library from Monotype Imaging®.
Monotype Imaging® Inc. 847-718-0400