Japanese has mysterious origins and there are numerous theories on how it emerged. The oldest known from of Japanese is Old Japanese, which was recorded when Chinese writing was first introduced in Japan. Chinese substantially influenced Japanese until the 12th century. Later, European traders and explorers introduced European words which were incorporated into Japanese.
Japanese is spoken by 125 million people, mainly in Japan, and nearly 4 million people are studying Japanese as a foreign language worldwide. It is the ninth most spoken language in the world.
The world’s first novel is sometimes considered to be The Tale of Genji (源氏物語), written in the 11th century by Murasaki Shikibu, a noblewoman. Today, it is still a landmark of Japanese literature, and it has influenced modern authors such as the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges.
Thanks to the popularity of Japanese culture in Western countries, including in the UK and the US, a number of Japanese words have been incorporated into everyday English. Examples include anime, bonsai, karaoke, origami, sudoku, tofu, tsunami and tycoon.
Not only Japan is home to one of the most famous bullet trains, the Shinkansen (新幹線), but Japanese is also one of the world’s fastest spoken languages, with an average rate of 7.84 syllables per second, compared to 6.19 syllables per second for English and 5.18 syllables per second for Mandarin, according to a study performed by the Université de Lyon in France.