A couple of days ago I purchased an old book published in 1908.

It uses a strange orthography I haven't encountered before. Everything that is not in kanji is written in katakana, including particles, inflections, etc.

Was this the normal way, or one of the normal ways, of writing Japanese at that time?

The book is a handbook of the Okinawan language for Japanese speakers. All the Okinawan is written in katakana while all the Japanese is written in Kanji plus katakana. So it could be that the author of the handbook made a stylistic choice because of the type of book and didn't use the normal Japanese orthography of the day.

Here's a tiny sample:

Japanese orthography sample using katakana

My camera is terrible at macro shots so here's my attempted transcription:

和泉{イヅミ}屋ニテ 買ヒマシタ。

  • @Ringil I don't think this is about obsolete-kana, but rather about obsolete usage of extant kana. Commented Feb 16, 2019 at 7:58
  • @MathieuBouville The tag should probably be changed, BUT the Japanese term is literally like Historical Ways of Using Kana.
    – Ringil
    Commented Feb 16, 2019 at 13:57
  • @Ringil I started a thread in meta: japanese.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1946 Commented Feb 16, 2019 at 15:51

1 Answer 1


Yes, it's common to write in that way.

Writing いみ instead of いみ and 買 instead of 買 are a part of the Historical Kana Orthography (歴史的仮名遣).

Writing katakana instead of hiragana is considered more formal in old days.

See 歴史的仮名遣 and 片仮名

歴史的仮名遣とは ... 明治から第二次世界大戦終結直後までの公文書や学校教育において用いられたものであり、平安時代初期までの発音を反映した表記であると仮想されたものを基点としている。 The Historical Kana Orthography was used in pre-World War II official documents and schools.

平仮名に比べ学問的傾向が強いので、戦前の日本ではより正式な文字とみなされ、法令全書その他の公文書で用いられ、教育面でも平仮名に先行して教えられた。 Before World War II, Katakana was considered more formal and used in official documents. It was taught before hiragana in schools.

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