Japan is an independent island country in East Asia. The country is situated in the Pacific Ocean and lies off the eastern coastline of the Asian mainland. It extends from Okhotsk Sea in the north to Taiwan and the East China Sea in the southwest.
Japan is a pretty small nation, but with numerous smaller islands that people do not know of their existence. Most of these islands develop their own languages thus contributing to the number of languages spoken in the Japan country. There are about eight known languages that are unique to Japan, and many others that are no longer in existence.
Languages in Japan are categorized into two main dialect families: Japonic languages and Ainu languages. The Japonic languages are divided into Japanese language and Ryukyuan languages. Japanese language, the main language in the country has four dialects: Kyushu Japanese, HachijoJapanese, Western Japanese and Eastern Japanese. Ryukyuan languages are also divided into two categories. The first is the Northern Ryukyuan languages, made up of Okinawa, Kunigami, and Amami languages. The second is the Southern Ryukyuan languages, consisting of Mikayo, Yonaguni, and Yaeyama languages. Ainu languages, on the other hand, consist of the Hokkaido Ainu language, Kuril Ainu language, and Sakhalin Ainu language. The last two have become extinct.
Ainu language is spoken by the Ainu people who reside in the country’s northern region. Hachijo is spoken in the islands of Hachijo and Aogashima. Amami and other Ryukyuan languages are spoken in a number of islands south of Kyushu. The dialects are different from one island to the other. Mikayo language is spoken in the Miyako islands which are located south of the country.Yaeyama language is spoken in the Yaeyama islands in the southernmost region of Japan. This language is very different from standard Japanese which has five vowels (a, i, u, e, o). Yaeyama has only three (a, i, o). In Yonaguni islands, residents speak the Yonaguni language.
Another common language is the Japanese Sign Language (JSL). This shares a few components with spoken Japanese but it is a completely different dialect altogether. There are other minority languages spoken by the Chinese and the Koreans who make up 0.4% and 0.5% of the nation’s population respectively. Classical Chinese (Kanbun) is used as a language of diplomacy and literature in Japan. This is a compulsory subject taught in most secondary schools across the country and it has left a permanent mark on the words of the Japanese language.
Most people speak Japanese as their first language. In Japanese writing, a person uses two sets of kana (radical of kanji and syllabaries founded on the cursive script) and kanji (Chinese characters). Arabic numerals and Latin alphabet are also used when writing.
The sad thing to note is that most of these languages are slowly becoming extinct as their last speakers die out. This is, however, not to say that Japan is transforming into a place where everyone speaks the way; the languages are in fact becoming more distinct and different.