What languages are spoken in Japan?

Categories : Asian Cultures , Culture , Languages


  • From 2 main language families the languages are spoken by the people in Japan: the number one is Japonic languages and the 2nd one is the Ainu.
  • The Languages of Ryukyuan are part of number languages type mean they belongs to Japonic family even though they are un-intelligible to those people who speak standard Japanese.
  • In the country of Japan there are a lot dialects spoken and some are considered by the UNESCO to be endangered due to the introduction of the standard Japanese nationwide in schools.


Where does language come from or from where child used to learn language? Child make gurgles and grunts and babble incomprehensibly (things that cant be get easily) until 1 day, child suddenly come out with a few real words. Of course, they are imitating those words that are spoken around them and start learning the dominant language they hear. But still the question that are always in our minds where does language come from in the first place?

What is Japan’s dominant language? unsurprisingly, Japanese is the Japan’s dominant language, and there is no one really knows for sure how Japanese language sprang forth in the country. What we know is that ancient people who inhabited in this area long ago spoke a different kind of language that has been lost over time. Researchers think that what we now call Japanese language it was brought over by those people who migrated from continental Asia and/or the Pacific Islands, and as the Japanese culture developed, that somehow it took over as the dominant form of communication in the country.

Like other countries of the world, there are more than 1 language is spoken in the country of Japan. Almost everybody in Japan about 98%, is of ethnic Japanese origin and they speak Japanese as their nation language in the country. almost all of these individuals are 121 million people. And a very small number of people or we can say it that small minority of people in the country speak other languages, all of which belong to 2 language families: that we have already mentioned above the Japonic language family and the Ainu family. And within these 2 families lie various sub-families of dialects and languages that are spoken in different regions of the country.   

Japonic Languages 

In Japan the Japonic languages involve divergent forms of Japanese as well as the Ryukyuan languages. 

The standard Japanese (hyōjungo) accepted today as the Japan’s national language is that which was spoken by the upper class and the middle classes in the Yamanote area around the 1901. This is where Tokyo city is today—at the beginning of the 17thcentury Tokyo was known as the Edo when it became the country’s capital. Afterwards, in 1901, the Japanese Ministry of Education tried its best to create a common standard of language in the company of its people, and announced that the language spoken in the capital to be that which would be taught in schools everywhere in the country.

All these efforts helped to ensure there was a national standard for communication in the country, but sad to say, there was a downside to this procedure. There are a lot of other forms of the Japanese langauge that are still spoken in the country, and when Tokyo’s or Yamanote’s, Japanese was made as the standard, this meant that other kind of Japanese began to be examined dialects. A hierarchy was strengthen. Students who were studying the school and who spoke other “dialects” of Japanese at school began to be ridiculed and were punished for doing so. Because of this act inspire a sense of discomfort in people whose 1st language was something other than standard Japanese language. 

What are these other kind of dialects that were different from standard Japanese? Japan is split into 47 prefectures, and you could say there are countless varieties of Japanese language. Some most famous and prominent dialects include the Osaka, Kansai, Kyoto, and the Tohoku dialects. 

Ryukyuan Languages

Ryukyuan languages  is the 2ndsub family in the Japonic language group. In the data table that are prensted below these include all the other languages apart from the Ainu and standard Japanese. In the Rhukyu islands of the Japan these are considered as the native tongues and are mostly spoken in the Ryukyu islands. To get a detailed picture of how important these languages are, we can declare this: UNESCO has recognized 8 minority languages as being endangered in the country of Japan, and 6 of them are the Ryukyuan islands languages. 

Standardizing Japanese language has come at a cost. Since 1950s Japanese language has been the 1st language for those people who are living in the Ryukyuan islands, effectively and with the passage of time wiping out their native/mother languages. Approximately there are 750 local Ryukyuan islands dialects and amazingly, they don’t having any value like standard Japanese. Actually, they are mutually meaningless: those people who only speak them cannot easily understand standard Japanese, and vice versa, but these days they can translate it using Google translation but standard Japanese and these dialects are different that’s why people can’t understand them. 

Ainu Languages

Ainu Languages are the another language group exists in the country of Japan. Like some of the Ryukyuan islands languages that dialects also belongs to Ainu language,  By the UNESCO this group of languages are also classified as endangered. The small number of people who speak this group of language my mean Ainu languages generally live in the southwestern Hokkaido, and they are rapidly dying out. According to the survey in 2012, in Japan all the fluent native Ainu language speakers were said to be eighty years and older that’s why they are a very few in numbers and dying so quickly. And there were also some people who were semi-fluent speakers in their 60s at the time. Evidently, the language will pass from site if a concerted effort is not made to keep it alive and pass it on. 

Initially, there were about nineteen Ainu dialects, but today all other dialects are vanished and all that remains is the Hokkaido dialect. 

The Ainu people were some of Japan’s indigenous inhabitants who were living here since there birth and were hunter gatherers that worshiped the natural world.  

Language is a very important part of any country’s culture and keeping the cultures alive in all its diverse forms. Language can help contribute to a nation’s vibrancy. In the Country of Japan, many forms of Japanese, as well as the Ainu and Ryukyuan languages all have a bit divergent history that twist a rich tapestry. By reading and studying them, we can get a unique awareness how the country evolved as a whole. 

What Languages Are Spoken In Japan?

How many languages are spoken in Japan?



Number of Speakers in Japan (estimates)


Japanese language

121 million speakers


Ainu language

almost extinct speakers


Amami-Oshima, Northern language

10,000 speakers


Amami-Oshima, Southern language

1,800 speakers


Kikai language

almost extinct speakers


Kunigami language

5,000 speakers


Miyako language

67,000 speakers


Okinawan, Central (Okinawan) language

985,000 speakers


Oki-No-Erabu language

3,200 speakers


Toku-No-Shima language

5,100 speakers


Yaeyama language

almost extinct speakers


Yonaguni language

800 speakers


Yoron language

950 speakers



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