Japanese 101

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Although Japanese is spoken almost exclusively in Japan, it has been and is still sometimes spoken elsewhere. When Japan occupied Korea, Taiwan, parts of the Chinese mainland, and various Pacific islands during and before World War II, locals in those countries were forced to learn Japanese in empire-building programs. As a result, there are still many people in these countries who speak Japanese instead of, or in addition to, the local languages. Japanese emigrant communities (the largest of which are to be found in Brazil) frequently employ Japanese as their primary language. Japanese emigrants can also be found in Peru, Australia (especially Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne), and the United States (notably California and Hawaii). There is also a small emigrant community in Davao, Philippines. Their descendants (known as nikkei 日系, literally Japanese descendants), however, rarely speak Japanese fluently. There are estimated to be several million non-Japanese studying the language as well; many schools, both primary and secondary, offer courses.

Official status

Japanese is the de facto official language of Japan, which is the only country to have Japanese as an official working language. There are two forms of the language considered standard: hyōjungo (標準語, hyōjungo?) or standard Japanese, and kyōtsūgo (共通語, kyōtsūgo?) or the common language spoken by the people in casual situations (ie, colloquial). As government policy has modernized Japanese, many of the distinctions between the two have blurred. Hyōjungo is taught in schools and used on television and in official communications, and is the version of Japanese discussed in this article.

Standard Japanese can also be divided into bungo (文語, bungo?) or "literary language," and kōgo (口語, kōgo?) or "oral language", which have different rules of grammar and some variance in vocabulary. Bungo was the main method of writing Japanese until the late 1940s, and still has relevance for historians, literary scholars, and lawyers (many Japanese laws that survived World War II are still written in bungo, although there are ongoing efforts to modernize their language). Kōgo is the predominant method of speaking and writing Japanese today, although bungo grammar and vocabulary are occasionally used in modern Japanese for effect.

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