Extra Fox – A blog by Christopher Taylor

Furigana.jp has launched

Posted in Uncategorized by extrafox on February 2, 2007

I have been working during my free time, over the last month, on a new website called Furigana.jp. The aim of the site is to help people “read Japanese today”.

In a nutshell, Japanese is hard to read. It is hard to read because there are actually four “alphabets” that are used to write Japanese: kanji, hiragana, katakana and romaji. Two of these alphabets, hiragana and katakana, are phoenetic alphabets collectively known as kana. The forth, romaji, is a formalized phoenetic form base on the Latin characters, which are commonly used in European languages like English. If these were it, most foreigners living in Japan and students of Japanese wouldn’t have such a hard time; these can basically be learned in a week or so. The one that is the cause of so much anguish for people learning Japanese is kanji.

Kanji is a form of writing that is a modification of the Chinese writing system. It was brought to Japan a long time ago (see Wikipedia). It basically consists of over 2000 characters that everyone is expected to learn to graduate from school and more than 8000 others that range in usage from common to obsolete. If that didn’t make matters bad enough, each symbol has up to eight different pronunciations depending on how they are used in a sentence or with other characters. Let’s just say that kanji is really hard.

For foreigners living in Japan, going about your daily life is hard enough without trying to learn such a complicated system of writing. That is why I decided to create Furigana.jp.

I receive between 10 and 20 emails each day that are written in kanji. I’m sure many other foreigners working in Japan receive even more. Up until now, I would copy the text of these emails into the Excite Translater and turn them into a mangled conglomeration of words that roughly resemble English and can almost be understand as having a vague sort of meaning; in other words, it turns it into jibberish. That’s not really a slight against Excite as it has the best translator out there. Back to the point… There was no way for me to read these emails since they were all in kanji.

Furigana.jp solves this problem and makes it possible for me (and everyone else) to “read Japanese today”. The site will take web pages or text, written in Japanese (aka kanji), and convert it into one of three readable formats:

  • furigana – adds hiragana above the kanji from the original text
  • kana – replaces the original kanji with hiragana
  • romaji – replaces all Japanese text (kanji, hiragana and katakana) with Latin characters (modified Hepburn notation)

I should mention, this isn’t the first site that has these functions. There are a couple of others that offer part of what I am offering. The difference is that I have brought it together in a cleaner package that is easier to use as a daily tool. After trying to use the other tools I was left frustrated, which is why I decided to build my own tool. So, I hope this tool will be useful to people. Time will tell. If nothing else, I will be using the tool every day. Enjoy!