The Japanese language has always played a significant role in Japanese culture. Spoken mainly in Japan but also in some Japanese emigrant communities around the world, it is an agglutinative language and the sound inventory of Japanese is relatively small but has a lexically distinct pitch-accent system. Early Japanese is known largely on the basis of its state in the 8th century, when the three major works of Old Japanese were compiled. The earliest attestation of the Japanese language is in a Chinese document from 252 A.D.
Japanese is written with a combination of three different types of scripts: Chinese characters Kanji, and two syllabic scripts, Hiragana and Katakana. The Latin alphabet, rōmaji, is also often used in modern Japanese, especially for company names and logos, advertising, and when inputting Japanese into a computer. The Hindu-Arabic numerals are generally used for numbers, but traditional Sino-Japanese numerals are also commonplace.
Painting has been an art in Japan for a very long time: the brush is a traditional writing tool, and the extension of that to its use as an artist's tool was probably natural. Native Japanese painting techniques are still in use today, as well as techniques adopted from continental Asia and from the West.
The flowing, brush-drawn Japanese language lends itself to complicated calligraphy. Calligraphic art is often too esoteric for Western audiences and therefore general exposure is very limited. However in East Asian countries, the rendering of text itself is seen as a traditional artform as well as a means of conveying written information. The written work can consist of phrases, poems, stories, or even single characters. The style and format of the writing can mimic the subject matter, even to the point of texture and stroke speed. In some cases it can take over one hundred attempts to produce the desired effect of a single character but the process of creating the work is considered as much an art as the end product itself.
This artform is known as Sumi-e and involves making ink by grinding a solid ink stick on a special stone, and mixing it with water.