Punctuation in Japanese

Since there are no spaces between Japanese words, punctuation  (Japanese: 約物/ やくもの “yakumono”) is a really helpful way of breaking sentences down. If you’ve mastered hiragana or katakana, then you’ll already have come across some important symbols that affect pronunciation (such as and ). This post is more focused on the punctuation and symbols used in the written language.

Fortunately, it seems that generally, Japanese punctuation is pretty similar in usage to English. This is likely because punctuation wasn’t used in the Japanese language at all until it was imported from the West during the Meiji era.

However, there might be a couple of things you encounter when you first start to read Japanese that may be unfamiliar.

Most Common Punctuation

Full-stop/ period (Japanese: 句点/くてん or 丸/ まる)

Unlike English, the full stop is a little circle (hence the word まる, literally ‘circle’). The full stop sits in the bottom left; despite being so small it still takes up the width of a regular character due to the space that comes after it.

Comma (Japanese: 読点/ とうてん – note the reading!! or just 点/ てん)

The comma is at a different angle to English, but is pretty much used in the same way.

In my opinion, the comma gets used a lot to add a pause in sentences (and that’s coming from someone who is quite fond of using a lot of commas).

Interpunct (Japanese: 中点/ちゅうてん, 中黒/なかぐろ)

This is used to separate words written in katakana, particularly for foreign names (for instance John Smith would be written as ジョン・スミス). More generally, it is used to separate items in lists.

Question mark (Japanese: 疑問符/ ぎもんふ)

No explanation needed?

Exclamation mark (Japanese: 感嘆符/ かんたんふ)

No explanation needed!

Ellipses (Japanese: 三点リーダー/ さんてんリーダー)

If you are familiar with anime or manga, then you’ll know that this is used a lot to indicate silence.

Quotation marks (Japanese: かぎ括弧/ かぎかっこ)

Like in English, you have single quotation marks (「」) and double quotation marks (『』). Double quotation marks are usually used to indicate the name of a book, TV show or film.

Brackets (Japanese: 括弧/ かっこ)

This includes the various types of brackets including curly brackets ({},中括弧/ ちゅうかっこ) and ([], 角括弧/かくかっこ).

Wave dash (Japanese: 波ダッシュ/ なみダッシュ)

The wave dash is interesting since it can convey a few different things.

  • Similar to a normal dash in katakana words, the wave dash can be used to elongate the preceding sound. For example, ですよね〜 has more of a colloquial or whimsical feel compared to ですよね.
  • I’ve often seen the wave dash used to show a range, such as opening times 5時〜6時 which would be read using から (and まで).
  • Japan seems quite fond of using the wave dash in the titles of songs, TV shows and movies. In this context, the wave dash is used to indicate a brief synopsis or summary.

Other Punctuation

There are a few other punctuation marks that you might come across. I’m not certain if these have official names in Japanese, so I’ve given them my own names:

Iteration marks 々 andゝ

There are two types of marks which indicate this: and. Simply put, this symbol indicates that you repeat the previous sound. Some examples are:

  • 時々 (ときどき) sometimes
  • 様々 (さまざま) various 
  • 人々 (ひとびと) people

As you can see from the above, the repeated syllables often have a sound change.

I mentioned the second one of these in my post about the author Kaneko Misuzu (written as 金子みすゞ), which is more uncommon.

Small katakana ‘ke’ ヶ

Confusingly, this is a small katakana ‘ke’ but is actually read as ka (or ga). This is most commonly used when counting a number of months, eg. 四ヶ月 よんかげつ

You might also see this in place names too:

関ヶ原 せきがはら Sekigahara

自由が丘 じゆうがおか Jiyuugaoka (the name of a neighbourhood in Tokyo)

Emphasis mark (Japanese: 傍点/ ぼうてん, ‘side dot’)

One piece of punctuation of sorts which you are likely to encounter in novels looks a lot like a comma. 

I see a lot of people asking about these marks online. They are used to show emphasis in the same way we might use bold or italic font. 

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