Have you ever wondered what that weird little circle is at the ends of Japanese sentences?
Are you lost in the sea of parentheses and brackets sprinkled into the Japanese text on websites and social media?
What do all these strange symbols mean, anyway?
We’re talking about Japanese punctuation marks, of course!
Some look familiar, others are completely foreign. Learning all about these marks is a crucial step toward fluency.
To make it easy, we’ve made a list of the most common Japanese punctuation marks and their uses.
First, though, let’s look into why exactly Japanese punctuation is so important.
Why Should I Learn About Japanese Punctuation?
- Punctuation is a key aspect of the Japanese language. Without a basic understanding of how punctuation works in any language, you won’t be able to communicate effectively.
Life would just be a series of run-on sentences.
- It’s crucial if you plan on using written or typed Japanese often. You’ll need to learn how Japanese punctuation works if you want to use Japanese social media, read Japanese books or write to a pen-pal.
- It’s a bit different from English punctuation. While Japanese and English do have a couple of common marks, Japanese has its own unique punctuation marks that you’ll need to get a grasp of.
Learn the marks to avoid making punctuation errors!
12 Japanese Punctuation Marks Learners Need to Know
Japanese punctuation, also known as 約物 (やくもの) — yakumono includes all the written marks in Japanese that aren’t numbers, 仮名 (かな) — kana or 漢字 (かんじ ) — kanji.
Surprisingly, Japanese punctuation is a fairly recent addition to the language. In fact, it was barely used at all until Japan began translating texts from Europe in the 19th century.
Now, though, punctuation has become the final spice in the dish that is the Japanese language, and it’s become vital for written communication.
This is especially so if you’re typing things over the internet. You need to use breaks, stops, ellipses, quotation marks and other punctuation marks in order to effectively write a sentence—at least, if you want to be understood.
Let’s check out some of the most common ones you’ll be using to write in Japanese.
【 】— Lenticular Brackets
Lenticular brackets are known as 墨付き括弧 (すみつき かっこ) — sumitsuki kakko (ink-filled brackets) in Japanese.
These brackets are unique to Japan and aren’t used in English. As with all types of parentheses and brackets, lenticular brackets are used to interject or separate chunks of text from a sentence or paragraph.
These particular brackets are usually only found in typed Japanese so you’ll see them online pretty often.
They don’t have any one particular purpose, but they’re especially useful for really making the bracketed statement stand out.
If you’re on YouTube searching for music videos, you may come across titles like this one:
【音楽家の名前】曲名 (【 おんがくか の なまえ】きょくめい )
【 Musician’s Name】Song Title.
「 」— Singular Quotation Marks
鉤括弧 (かぎ かっこ) — kagi kakko (key brackets) are the Japanese equivalent of quotation marks.
In handwritten and typed Japanese, use these characters when denoting dialogue or quoting anything.
京子は「外に食べに行こう」と言いました。(きょうこ は「 そとに たべに いこう」 と いいました 。)
“Let’s go out to eat,” Kyoko said.
『 』— Double Quotation Marks
These marks are known as double quotation marks or 二重鉤括弧 (にじゅう かぎ かっこ) — niju kagi kakko, and they’re used as quotes within quotes in Japanese. They’re primarily typed.
あゆみは「京子は『外に食べに行こう』と言いました。」と言いました。(あゆみ は「 きょうこ は『 そとに たべに いこう』 と いいました。 」 と いいました。)
“‘Let’s go out to eat,’ Kyoko said,” said Ayumi.
This may seem a little confusing at first, but it’s really identical to how quotes within quotes are used in English.
The comma, 読点 (とうてん) — toten, is used to divide sentences into segments, separate items in a list and to deliver asides.
Just be sure you use the correct Japanese “、” comma instead of the English “,” comma.
One, two three four, five.
… — Ellipsis
三点リーダー (さんてん りーだー) — santen rīdā (ellipsis) are used in Japanese the same way as in English, but more often.
Whether you need to indicate a pause, a length of time going by or a moment of awkwardness, an ellipsis is the way to go.
私は本当に不器用です… (わたし は ほんとう に ぶきよう です…)
I am very clumsy…
。— Period or “Full Stop”
This one’s pretty simple. The full stop or 句点 (くてん) — kuten is the Japanese period. It marks the end of a sentence.
友達になりましょう。(ともだち に なりましょう。 )
Let’s be friends.
〜 — Wave Mark
This guy’s a little more complicated.
The wave dash, known as 波形 (なみがた) — namigata in Japanese, can be used to separate a title from a subtitle, in lieu of a colon, to replace ellipses, in pairs to replace brackets or parenthesis or to indicate a drawn-out word (typically used to be cute).
It’s kind of a catch-all character in Japanese and is usually only used online, especially on social media and in chats.
Note: Colons are used in Japanese, but typically only to tell time (4:05), while the wave mark can be used where English readers would put a colon in any other literary situation. Semicolons don’t exist in Japanese punctuation.
バイバイ〜 (ばいばい〜 )
・ — Interpunct
The 中黒 (なかぐろ) — nakaguro, or interpunct, is used to divide words up, especially foreign katakana words.
Since Japanese doesn’t use “and,” have spaces or use slashes ( / ) in the way that English typically does, the interpunct helps divide words up within a statement.
It’s also used as a decimal point in mathematics when writing kanji.
中学・高校 (ちゅうがく・ こうこう )
middle / high school
〽 — Alternation Mark
Now we’re getting into the interesting stuff. 庵点 (いおり てん ) — ioriten, or the part alternation mark, is used in Japanese songwriting to denote the start of a song or the beginning of an instrumentalist’s or vocalist’s part.
It isn’t used very much anymore, but you may find an alternation mark in some professional compositions or modern songbooks.
You can also sometimes find it on social media, but we think that’s mostly because it looks cool.
I really like you.
〽僕も大好きだよ。(ぼくも だいすき だよ。)
I really like you too.
（ ）— Parentheses
Parentheses are used similarly to how English speakers use them: to add an aside or a non-essential explanation (or, in the case of FluentU Japanese blogs, the hiragana reading or English translation of a word).
The only difference is that typed parenthesis in Japanese have larger spaces to the left and right of each respective parenthesis.
In Japanese, they’re called 丸括弧 (まる かっこ ) — maru kakko (round brackets).
We’ve separated the hiragana reading here to avoid confusion:
かれ は きみょう なので（ わるく とらないで ください ね）、わたしは かれ がこわい です。
He is kind of weird (no offense) and I’m afraid of him.
？— Question Mark
Ah, the ol’ 疑問符 (ぎもんふ ) — gimonfu, a.k.a. the question mark. In traditional Japanese, questions were simply punctuated with a full stop rather than a question mark.
Modern Japanese uses the question mark in the same way English speakers do to denote a question, be it typed or handwritten.
It’s also frequently used in 漫画 (まんが) — manga and on social media.
Typed question marks in Japanese have a larger space to the right of the character than English question marks.
天気はどうですか？(てんき は どう です か ？)
What’s the weather like?
！— Exclamation Point
This guy’s also pretty simple, right? In Japanese, the exclamation point is called 感嘆符 (かんたんふ ) — kantanfu and is used in handwritten and typed Japanese.
We use exclamation marks to (you guessed it) exclaim statements.
The only difference between Japanese and English exclamation marks is that Japanese digital text places a larger space to the right of the character, just like the question mark.
私は食べ物が食べたい！(わたし は たべもの が たべたい！ )
I love to eat food!
It’s not so confusing now, is it?
You can also use FluentU to reinforce your learning.
It also comes with interactive subtitles: perfect for seeing the text while you watch!
Now get out there and properly punctuate your sentences.
Em Casalena is a published author, freelance writer and music columnist who writes about a lot of stuff, from music to films to language.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Japanese with real-world videos.