12 Japanese Punctuation Marks You 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 vital for written communication.
Let’s check out the most common punctuation marks you’ll be using to write in Japanese.
- 【 】— Lenticular Brackets
- 「 」— Singular Quotation Marks
- 『 』— Double Quotation Marks
- 、— Comma
- … — Ellipsis
- 。— Period or “Full Stop”
- 〜 — Wave Mark
- ・ — Interpunct
- 〽 — Alternation Mark
- （ ）— Parentheses
- ？— Question Mark
- ！— Exclamation Point
【 】— 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:
(【 おんがくか の なまえ】きょくめい )
【ongakuka no namae】kyokumei
【 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.
(きょうこ は「 そとに たべに いこう」 と いいました 。)
Kyōko wa ‘soto ni tabe ni ikō’ to iimashita.
“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「 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。)
Ayumi wa ‘Kyōko wa ‘soto ni tabe ni ikō’ to iimashita.’ to iimashita.
“‘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.
Ichi, Ni, San, Shi, Go.
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 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…)
Watashi wa hontōni bukiyō desu…
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.
(ともだち に なりましょう。 )
Tomodachi ni narimashō.
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.
・ — 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.
(ちゅうがく・ こうこう )
Chūgaku / kōkō
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.
(ぼくも だいすき だよ。)
Boku mo daisuki dayo.
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.
The only difference is that typed parentheses 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 and romaji readings 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。
Kare wa kimyōna node (waruku toranaide kudasaine), watashi wa kare ga kowai desu.
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.
(てんき は どう です か ？)
Tenki wa dō desu ka?
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.
(わたし は たべもの が たべたい！ )
Watashi wa tabemono ga tabetai!
I love to eat food!
It’s not so confusing now, is it?
It may be wise to make a note of these marks to reference in the future when writing or reading something in Japanese. Try using flashcards to remember them.
You can also go on a language learning platform like FluentU, watch the videos on there with subtitles and pay attention to how the punctuation marks are used in context by native speakers.
Now get out there and properly punctuate your sentences.