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Use Simple Methods on Writing to Compose a Japanese Letter to a Friend

written by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • edited by: Sarah Malburg • updated: 8/2/2012

What better way to practice Japanese writing skills than writing a Japanese letter to a friend? Learn the different ways that the class can do this lesson, what supplies they will need and who they can write a letter to.

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    In Japanese, letter writing as an art. The letter, or 手紙 (tegami), is a great way to practice both writing skills, calligraphy and interactions with other people. Writing a letter in Japanese is different from writing a letter in English. While students may find it difficult first, they will start having fun once they get into it.

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    Writing Supplies

    Example of Japanese Letter, copyright: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch Example of Japanese Letter, copyright: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch When writing a Japanese letter to a friend, nice stationery should be used. The two photos are examples of letters from Japanese pen pals. The letter in red is written from left to right, in the same way that an English letter is written. The letter in white is written going down from left to right, which is the more traditional way of writing a Japanese letter. Newer Japanese students may have an easier time writing from left to right, but teachers should encourage them to try writing the traditional way as well.

    When starting to write the letter, students should practice on regular paper first. Ed Halley's Nihon Studies provides a practice template, called げんこうようし, for writing letters. To start, students should write their letters on this type of paper. Then teachers can make any corrections. Once the letter has been finalized, students can write it on the nicer stationery.

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    Finding People to Write to

    When doing Japanese letter writing, teachers have two options for the recipient of the letter. The first is other members of the class or other students taking more advanced Japanese classes. If choosing other students at the school, encourage each student to write a letter to each other. If the recipients of the first letter are from a more advanced Japanese class, teachers should emphasize that their response letter should be written in a level of Japanese that the beginner students can understand.

    Another option is doing pen pals with the Japanese school. Teachers can look into schools in Japan who would like to correspond with American students. They should organize it so each student has a Japanese pen pal. Teachers should have the American students write to the Japanese students first, and then have the Japanese students respond back in Japanese. If the Japanese school requests, the second correspondence may be done in English.

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    Phrases to Use

    Japanese letter writing requires certain phrases to be used in the introduction and ending. This website provides several different types of phrases that can be used in letter writing. Certain phrases are seasonal. For example, if students are writing a letter around New Year's, they may include a phrase such as 新年おめでとうございます (shinnen omedetou gozaimasu). If a student is writing a letter to a friend who has an upcoming birthday, an appropriate phrase to include is 誕生日おめでとう (tanjoubi omedetou).

    If students write to a pen pal in Japan, they should start off the letter by introducing themselves. A standard phrase for introduction is 初めまして (hajimemashite). Students can talk about what year in school they are, what they are studying, what the weather is like where they live and interests they have. When students get a response from their Japanese pen pals, teachers should go over any words that students do not understand.