Recently, I was given a copy of Complete Course of Japanese Conversation-Grammar by Oreste and Enko Elisa Vaccari. As it dates back to 1967, I was expecting at least a few things to be a bit old-fashioned – which is not to say that I, as a beginner, would really notice when they are – but I am enjoying it so far. I like the way the authors set the lessons out, and, at least to my mind, they explain the rules and features of the language in a very clear and readable manner.

Even so, I have a query regarding a passage from one of the earlier lessons. Just need some additional information, really. The authors say:

The nominative case is generally indicated by the particle wa ハ (postposition) placed after the subjective word. As a rule, the syllable ハ is pronounced ha, but when indicating the nominative, it is pronounced wa as in the English word waft.

In all the Japanese learning resources I have read up to now, I have only encountered は as the wa-particle. Given the age of this book, am I right in thinking that writing は is a modern convention? Are there still some circumstances in which the katakana form is preferred?


2 Answers 2


this is some relevant information currently available on the wikipedia page for katakana:

Pre-World War II official documents mix katakana and kanji in the same way that hiragana and kanji are mixed in modern Japanese texts, that is, katakana were used for okurigana and particles such as wa or o.

Katakana were also used for telegrams in Japan before 1988, and for computer systems – before the introduction of multibyte characters – in the 1980s. Most computers in that era used katakana instead of kanji or hiragana for output.

... I realize there is a possibility that the wikipedia article is maintained by some of the same people who frequent this website. Hope I'm not stepping on anyone's toes referencing Wikipedia this way.


No, it's not a modern convention.

Hiragana has been in common use for over a thousand years. For example, "Genji Monogatari" was written in hiragana.

What has changed is that Japanese has been increasingly standardised. See the Meiji restoration and the end of World War 2 as being events that prompted moves for standardisation.

Before these events, the Japanese language was much more diverse than what it became in the subsequent decades.

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