Katakana and Japanese National Identity. The Use of Katakana for Japanese Names and Expressions

Naoko Hosokawa

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.12775/sijp.2020.56-59.7


This paper examines Japanese names and expressions written using katakana in the contemporary Japanese media and their relation to Japanese national identity. In modern Japanese, katakana is normally used for Western loanwords as well as certain mimetics and phonetic annotations. However, it is observed that today some Japanese  words are also written in katakana. They include place names associated with past tragedies such as Hiroshima, Nagasaki, or Fukushima, as well  as  names  and  expressions  associated with internationally renowned Japanese culture such as Kurosawa, Kitano, Murakami, samurai, etc. The use of katakana for these words reflects the awareness of the Japanese that they are known to the world outside Japan. Such words are treated as if they were ‘re-imported’ to Japan following their acceptance as loanwords abroad. It  also involves a change in perception of certain historical events or cultural products from something seen and discussed within Japan to something that is exposed to external eyes. In other words, when the script type is shifted to katakana, the gaze looking at Japan from within is replaced by a gaze looking at Japan from without. This shift is important in understanding the current dynamics of Japanese identity negotiation. Drawing on media accounts, the paper will analyse recurrent wordings in the news media to reveal: 1) the types and characteristics of Japanese words and expressions written in katakana, 2) how those specific words are associated with Japanese national consciousness and 3) images of Japanese identity suggested by the use of katakana. It will be argued that Japanese words in katakana represent images that the Japanese themselves project onto the eyes of the external world. Through the examination of the primary data extracted from media sources, the ultimate goal of the paper is to contribute to the understanding of Japanese national identity and its representation in contemporary media.

Słowa kluczowe

discourse; media; identity; katakana; loanwords; translation

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