Essential Japanese Punctuation Marks you Need to Know!

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There are similar punctuation marks in Japanese and English like the question mark and the exclamation mark but there are other punctuation marks you’ve probably never seen or used before! 

Punctuation helps us express ourselves and show emotion in our writing but did you know that it wasn’t a part of the Japanese language until the Meiji era? 

That’s right, Japanese punctuation was practically non-existent until 1946 when the Ministry of Education made it compulsory! 

Nowadays, punctuation is a huge part of the Japanese language especially with the rise of instant messaging. Most Japanese used in casual writing like text and online messaging is full of punctuation marks, and some of them are used more by girls than boys!

Punctuation in general is known as 句読点 / kutouten in Japanese, but Japanese punctuation marks are specifically called 役物 / yakumono (occasionally 役物記号 / yakumono kigo). 

Let’s take a look at the different types of Japanese punctuation marks so you can add some flavor to your writing! 

A note on half-width vs. full-width characters in Japanese

If you’ve ever had to fill out an online form in Japanese, you would have come across the concept of ‘half-width’ (半角 / hankaku) vs ‘full-width’ (全角 / zenkaku) characters. 

This simply refers to the vertical and horizontal ratio of the characters: half-width characters are half as wide as they are high, while full-width characters are equal in width and height. Japanese, Korean and Chinese characters are full-width by default. 

Full-width characters include spaces and punctuation in Japanese – so there is a larger space between Japanese characters and punctuation than there is in English. 

For example when using an exclamation point, the Japanese punctuation mark takes up a full-width space compared to the English exclamation point:

すごい! as opposed to すごい!

If you are on a computer, you can try highlighting each of the exclamation marks above with your mouse to see the difference in spacing for full-width (left) and half-width (right) characters!

Now, on to the punctuation marks:

。Ten (点) or Maru (丸)  – Period

Just like in English, Japanese uses the period or full stop punctuation mark (depending on where you’re from!) to end a sentence. 

Note that the Japanese period is more of a small circle instead of a dot (。vs . ).

The proper name for the Japanese full stop is kuten (句点) but it’s usually just called ten and sometimes maru. 

As mentioned above, the Japanese ten is a full-width character, meaning you don’t need to add a space after it to begin a new sentence like we do in English. 

So if you’re typing, you can immediately begin the next sentence without a space, it will be there already:

Wakarimashita. Ashita de ne!
わかりました。明日でね!
わかりました。あしたでね!
All right. See you tomorrow!

、Touten (読点)Comma

The use of the Japanese comma is the same as in English, except the shape is a little different! You can see the difference here (the Japanese one is first):

、and ,

Comma usage is more common in Japanese than English and there’s a lot more freedom around when and where you can use them. 

When Japanese is written vertically, the comma is placed at the bottom right:

A photo of a Japanese book with writing in vertical lines. The Japanese comma marks are highlighted with red circles. Learn about Japanese punctuation marks at TeamJapanese.com.
Note how Japanese commas are placed in vertical text. In this example, you can also spot ten (period) and kagi kakko (Japanese quotation marks)!

Kantanfu (感嘆符)Exclamation mark 

The Japanese exclamation mark is called kantanfu (also bikkuri maku / ビックリマーク) and is used much in the same way as English. 

The only difference between the Japanese and the English exclamation mark is that there is a larger space around the Japanese punctuation mark due to the full-width spacing of Japanese characters. 

Ohayou! Junbi dekita?
おはよう!準備できた?
おはよう!じゅんびできた?
Morning! Are you ready?

A Japanese woman in a red and white checkered smock holds up a red exclamation mark. Learn about Japanese punctuation marks at TeamJapanese.com

?Gimonfu (疑問符)Question mark

Even though Japanese has the interrogative particle か (ka) for questions, the question mark (gimonfu) is now used in Japanese writing just like it’s used in English!

Also known as hatena maku (はてなマーク)and kueschon maku (クエスチョンマーク) it can be placed at the end of a sentence to indicate a question and as you would have guessed by now, it also takes up a full-width space: 

Paatii ni iku no?
パーティーに行くの?
パーティーにいくの?
Are you going to the party?

A question mark in neon lights at the end of a tunnel. Learn about Japanese punctuation marks at TeamJapanese.com

Chōonpu (長音符) Long sound symbol

The punctuation mark for indicating a long sound in Japanese, particularly a vowel sound, is the long dash ー called chōonpu (長音符 literally long sound symbol).

The measurement of the duration of a sound in Japanese is called morae, and a single unit is known as a mora. One katakana character is equal to one mora, and one chōonpu (ー) also equals one mora

The chōonpu is most frequently used in words written with katakana characters because they are foreign words meaning they usually have longer vowel sounds than regular Japanese vowels. 

For example ‘coffee’ is written as コーヒー (koo-hii) and ‘table’ becomes テーベル (teeh-beh-ru) in katakana. This means the vowel sounds have an extra mora (an extra unit of duration).

The chōonpu punctuation mark can also be used in casual writing to express enthusiasm or an affectionate greeting. 

For example: 

へー! (heehh! – the Japanese sound for interest / surprise) 

元気ですかー? (genki desu kaa? / How are youu?)

かわいー。(kawaiii / cuuute)

If you haven’t heard from a friend in a while, you can use many chōonpus in a row to show your excitement:

レベッカーーーー! (Rebeccaaaa!)

Be careful not to confuse the chōonpu (ー)with a hyphen (-) which is way smaller. 

〜 Nami dashu (波ダッシュー) Wave dash

And the award for cutest Japanese punctuation mark goes to the wave dash 〜(namidashu)!

The wave dash is kind of like the chōonpu because the most common use is to show a long, drawn-out sound (almost as if the person is singing the sound) as in:

おはよ〜!(ohaiyooo! / Good mooorning!)

Much like how we can add extra vowels to a word in English, namidashu shows an affectionate, warm feeling from the person writing. The difference between chōonpu and namidashu is that the wave dash has a feminine feeling to it.

The wave dash can be accompanied by the musical note mark ♪ (音符 / onpu) to add more of a kawaii nuance:

おはよ〜!♪

The wave dash is also used to show time range for example 2時〜4時 in which case it would be read as …kara…made (so 2時〜4時 would be read にじから よじまで). Other uses of namidashu are to replace a colon or ellipses, surrounding words to replace brackets or parentheses and to distinguish a title from a subtitle. 

…Santen rida (三点リーダー)Ellipsis (the dot-dot-dot!) 

Santen rida is the ellipsis punctuation mark in Japanese or what we call the dot-dot-dot. We know san (三)is the word for 3 and ten (点) is the word for ‘period’ or ‘full stop’ so together we get ‘3 full stops’. 

In Japanese, the ellipsis is mainly used to show silence, a pause or contemplation as it is in English and the actual punctuation mark used is the same as the English period. 

For example:

Naruhodo… ashita demo ii!
なるほど…明日でもいい!
なるほど…あしたでもいい!
I see… but tomorrow is okay too!

・ Nakaguro (中黒)Interpunct 

The interpunct (nakaguro) is unique to Japanese and is mainly used to divide foreign words which are written in katakana (for this reason some people call it the kana splitter). 

For example, the two words that make up the rock band’s name ‘Led Zeppelin’ would be divided by the interpunct in Japanese:

レッド・ツェッペリン
Reddo・tsu-epperin

Or each word in the name of the Beatle’s song, ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’: 

ルーシー・イン・ザ・スカイ・ウィズ・ダイアモンズ
Rūshī・in・za・sukai・u-izu・daiamonzu 

The interpunct is used in foreign names too: 

Angelina Jolie
アンジェリーナ・ジョリー
Anjerīna・Jorī 

Other uses of the interpunct include as a comma to separate listed items as in: 

1・2年生 (First and second-year students)
小・中学校 (Elementary and junior high school)

And to separate titles and names for example:

会長・石川 (President Ishikawa)

The interpunct can sometimes be used to replace hyphens, colons and dashes when writing Japanese vertically.

( )Marukakko(丸括弧)Parentheses 

Parentheses and brackets deserve a post of their own but the regular round parentheses we have in English are also used in Japanese in the same way! 

Other types of brackets include {  } nami kakko (波括弧 / wavy brackets), [  ] kakku kakko(核括弧 / square brackets) and < > yama kakko (山括弧 / angle brackets literally ’mountain bracket’), which are not to be confused with the less than and equal to signs (< >).

All of these brackets are used to emphasize titles, phrases and sentences you want to highlight.

It’s common to see multiple brackets used in promotional content such as texts, emails and advertisements.

For example, an Uber promotional I received yesterday read:

<再送>【重要】Uber Eats リニューアブルパス及びパートナーパスに関する契約条件の改定について
<Resend> [Important] Revision of contract terms for Uber Eats Renewable Pass and Partner Pass

【 】Sumitsuki (住み着き)Lenticular brackets

Another punctuation mark unique to Japanese are lenticular brackets (sumitsuki kakko) which like the above brackets are used for highlighting parts of a sentence that you want to stand out.  

The difference is that lenticular brackets are not used in English but they are frequently used in Japanese. 

You can use lenticular brackets to put a catch-phrase at the beginning of a title, to highlight the key points of a message or even in the same way as quotation marks. 

For example:

【新発売】コンビニスイーツまとめ
[New Release] Convenience store sweets round up 

Lenticular brackets are very common in Japanese marketing material such as product titles and promotional content.

「 」Kagi kakko (鉤括弧)Single quotation marks

For English speakers, the Japanese quotation marks take some getting used to because they look so different!

Known as kagi kakko, these are used when quoting anything and can be rotated 90 degrees to suit Japanese when written vertically.

An example of Japanese quotation marks used within a news article: 

大学の一年生は「水筒が使いやすくなると思います」と話しました。
A first year university student said “I think the water bottle will be easier to use.”

『 』Niju kagi kakko (二重鉤括弧) Double inverted commas

The Japanese double inverted commas are called niju kagi kakko and they are used to quote something within a quote so you will find them within kagi kakko (「『』」).  

「お母さんが言ってた『早く帰れって』ね」
‘Mom said, “Be home early”.’

 ※ Komejirushi (米印)Asterisk 

Komejirushi is the Japanese asterisk and it literally means rice symbol due to its resemblance with the kanji character for rice(※ / 米).

A little bigger than the English version of the asterisk, the komejirushi is an X with a dot in each space surrounding it and is used to add annotations, notes and precautions in reference to or within a body of text. 

The komejirushi can be placed within (  ) parentheses for ease of reading:

パスワードを入力 
画面の指示に従い、下記パスワードを入力して 「ログイン」ボタンをクリックしてください。(※全て半角数字、アルファベット小文字)
Enter the password 
Follow the instructions on the screen, enter the password below, and click the “Login” button. (All in half-width numbers, lowercase letters)

It’s also used to highlight key information you don’t want someone to miss because it’s visually appealing: 

午前9時から午後3時まで営業 ※祝日はのぞく
ごぜん9じからごご3じまでえいぎょう ※しゅくじつはのぞく
Open from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm * Except for holidays

A neon sign on a brick wall, reading 'This is the sign you've been looking for'.

Japanese punctuation and more

As you can see, there are many similarities between English and Japanese punctuation – but there are also some unique Japanese punctuation marks you might not have come across!

Punctuation doesn’t often feature in language courses for beginners, but if you spend just a little time familiarising yourself with some of the most common symbols, you won’t be so baffled when you see them in the wild.

If you’re ready to take your Japanese study further, our top recommended course for beginners is JapanesePod101!

It’s free to join and you can dive right in with hundreds of audio lessons. Or download some of their useful tools, such as the free kanji workbook or printable hiragana and katakana practise sheets.

Do you know any more Japanese punctuation symbols? Did any of these surprise you? Let us know in the comments!


Francesca Rex-Horoi

Francesca is a freelance copywriter and teacher, who moved to Tokyo from New Zealand at age 24. A linguistics and ESL major, she spent 3 years teaching at an all-boys high school. Now based in France, she remains a self-confessed Japanophile who loves kanji, cooking, cats and the outdoors.

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