Is it "douzo" or "dōzo"?


"Wait, is it douzo? In the book it says dōzo..."

It's both. And it's neither!

In the beginning stages I use rōmaji (English letters) to write Japanese in class. This is to give you a head start in learning to speak.

Some people think you shouldn't use rōmaji at all, because it will give you bad pronunciation.
That might be true if you're studying by yourself.

But if you have a teacher to teach you how to pronounce Japanese words correctly, and correct your mistakes, you can learn Japanese correctly using rōmaji.

I'm pretty strict on pronunciation, I think. My students have good pronunciation - even the beginners.

Anyway, there are different systems for writing Japanese in the English alphabet. Depending on which system is being used, a word could be spelled quite differently.

どうぞ (do-u-zo) means "here you are" / "go ahead".

Some writing systems use a macron (a horizontal bar over the letter) to write the long vowel sound: ā ī ū ē ō.  Then, it would be written "dōzo".

Another method is to spell out the letters: aa, ii, uu, ei, ou.   That gives us "douzo".

Both "dōzo" and "douzo" are correct.

Sometimes, the long vowel isn't written in: "dozo". This is wrong!

You might also see ee and oo used instead of ei and ou: "doozo".

Personally I think "doozo" is just asking for trouble. That's not how the word is spelled in Japanese (it's どうぞ  do-u-zo).

Of course, the only truly correct way to spell the word is to write it in Japanese: どうぞ.

But both "dōzo" and "douzo" are fine too. Just don't forget the long vowel!



What's The Difference Between Tabemono and Ryouri?


I love a good question. Here's one I got this week:

"Why does this homework say the Japanese word for food is ryouri? I thought you said the word for food was tabemono?"

Consider the following:

Potatoes are tabemono, but they're not ryouri.

A plate of hot chips is tabemono AND ryouri.

Does that give you a clue?



食べ物 tabemono


Tabemono is food in quite a general sense.

The unprepared ingredients in your fridge are tabemono. The food on your plate is also tabemono.

For example:
好きな食べ物は?
Suki-na tabemono wa?
What's your favourite food?

体に良い食べ物ベスト10!
Karada ni ii tabemono besuto 10!
Top ten foods that are good for you!

料理 ryouri


Ryouri, on the other hand, is cooking or cuisine. Specifically, it's food which has been cooked or prepared.

The food on your plate is ryouri, but the ingredients in your fridge are not ryouri.

その店の料理は美味しかったです。
Sono mise no ryouri wa oishikatta desu.
The food at that restaurant was great. 


Ryouri can be the cuisine of a whole country:

フランス料理が大好きです。
Furansu ryouri ga daisuki desu.
I love French food.

イギリス料理はまずいと言われます。
Igirisu ryouri wa mazui to iwaremasu.
It's said that British food is disgusting.

料理をする ryouri o suru means "to cook", too:

ロバートさんはあまり料理をしません。
Robaato san wa amari ryouri o shimasen.
Robert doesn't cook very often. 

Question time! Can you answer these questions?


1. 好きな食べ物は何ですか。
 (すきな たべものは なんですか。)

2. よく料理をしますか。何を作りますか。
 (よく りょうりを しますか。なにを つくりますか。)

Or, you could hop on over to Twitter and ask me a question. I do love a good question 😊

Why Does The Japanese Language Have So Many Alphabets?

Why Does Japanese Have So Many "Alphabets"? - Step Up Japanese

My students ask a lot of good questions. And one that sent us off on a bit of a tangent a few weeks ago was:

“How old is Japanese writing?”

That'd make a good blog post, I thought (after we talked about it a bit).

So, let’s take a whistle-stop tour of Japanese history with a very brief introduction to Japanese writing systems!


Until the 1st or 2nd century, Japan had no writing system. Then, sometime before 500AD, kanji - Chinese characters - made its way to Japan from China (probably via Korea).

These characters were originally used for their meaning only - they weren't used to write native Japanese words.

↓ And at that time, Japanese writing looked like this. Look, it looks like Chinese!


But it was inconvenient not being able to write native Japanese words down, and so people began to use kanji to represent the phonetic sounds of Japanese words, not only the meaning. This is called manyougana and is the oldest native Japanese writing system.

For example, in manyougana the word asa (morning) was written 安佐 (that's a kanji for the a sound - 安 - and another for the sa sound - 佐). In modern Japanese we'd use 朝, the kanji that means "morning" for asa.

Problem was, manyougana used multiple kanji for each phonetic sound - over 900 characters for the 90 phonetic sounds in Japanese - so it was inefficient and time-consuming.

Gradually, people began to simplify kanji characters into simpler characters - that's where hiragana and katakana came from.

Katakana means "broken kana" or "fragmented characters". It was developed by monks in the 9th century who were annotating Chinese texts so that Japanese people could read them. So katakana was really an early form of shorthand.

Each katakana character comes from part of a kanji: for example, the top half of 呂 became katakana ロ (ro), the left side of 加 became katakana カ (ka).

↓ Each katakana comes from part of a kanji.


Women in Japan, on the other hand, wrote in cursive script, which was gradually simplified into hiragana. That's why hiragana looks all loopy and squiggly. Like katakana, hiragana characters don't have meaning - they just indicate sound.

↓ How kanji (top) evolved into manyougana (middle in red), and then hiragana (bottom).


Because it was simpler than kanji, hiragana was accessible for women who didn't have the same education level as men. The 11th-century classic The Tale of Genji was written almost entirely in hiragana, because it was written by a female author for a female audience.

What would 12th-century people in Japan think of my students, 800 years later, learning hiragana as they take their first steps into the Japanese language?

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