And kanji with manga
Wednesday, May 3, 2017

「」『』 - Japanese Quotation Marks

In Japanese, there are four weird bracket symbols that like to show up from time to time: 「 and 」, and『 and 』. These corner brackets are actually the Japanese quotation marks and they work in a similar but slightly different way from the quotation marks we use in English.

What Are They Called?

To begin with, just like there are single quotes (', ‘ and ’) and double quotes (", “ and ”) in English, there are single "hook brackets" and "double hook brackets" in Japanese.
  1. kagikakko かぎ括弧
    「 and 」
    Literally "hook brackets"
  2. nijuu kagikakko 二重かぎ括弧
    『 and 』
    Literally "double hook brackets"

Writing Direction

Japanese can be written horizontally or vertically. Depending on the direction it's written, the shape of the quotation marks becomes different. In horizontal text the opening bracket is at top left and the closing bracket is at bottom right. In vertical text the opening bracket is at top right and the closing bracket is at bottom left. In both cases the opening and closing brackets match the reading direction.

The Japanese quotation marks in vertical and horizontal text.

Difference Between 「」 and 『』

The basic difference between 「」 and 『』 is that 「」 is the default and most widely used, while the other one is not. Just like we don't often use single quotes in English to... well, to quote people, in Japanese you don't normally use the double hook brackets. It sounds inverted, and it is, but that's how it works.

There is no difference between how 「」 and 『』 affect a phrase. They are both just quotation marks and don't impact the grammar, add nuance, or whatever. There is as much difference between them as there is difference between ' and ".

In English, if you have a quote inside a quote you should alternate quote marks. For example, in the phrase "she said 'yes'" there are double quotes around everything and single quotes for the "yes." In Japanese the same phrase would be "kanojo wa 'hai' to itta"「彼女は『はい』と言った」.

The rule above is the one known by most Japanese natives, it's taught in elementary school. There are other rules, which are lesser known, that'd allow using the nijuu kagikakko『』 outside of a kagikakko 「」 pair.

One of said rules is that, when quoting names of people or titles of things, you can use 『』 instead of 「」. This means that the "Weekly Shounen Jump," a shounen manga magazine, would be quoted as "shuukan shounen jyanpu" 『週刊少年ジャンプ』 for example.

Sometimes a 「」 wraps another 「」 if two characters say the same line at the same time. For example, when they both react in surprise to what someone said. In this case, sometimes a single 『』 is used instead.
  • "eeeeh?" 「「えええぇ?」」
  • "eeeeh?" 『えええぇ?』

In some cases 『』 is used instead of 「」 as matter of pure stylistic choice of the author. He may have just thought 『』 looked better and went with it. Sometimes there just isn't any special or deeper reason for it.

Other Marks & Brackets

Besides the hook quotation marks, the Japanese language also makes use of a number of other kinds of brackets and quotes from time to time.

″″, 〝〟

These look like English quote marks or French curly quote marks, but they're actually primes. In Japanese, ″″ and 〝〟, are called:
  • daburu-minyuuto ダブルミニュート
    Double minute.
    • This term comes from English "double" plus the french "minute." This is probably because the prime symbol, ′ , can be used to mark minutes in timing:
    • 3′5″
      3 minutes, 5 seconds.
    • As you can see above, the double prime, ″, marks the seconds, so it would make more second if this mark was called "second" in Japanese rather than "double minute." Regardless, it's called double minute.
  • chonchon ちょんちょん
    (probably ideophonic.)
  • nono-kagi ノノカギ
    (from shape, because " looks like ノノ.)
  • hige-kakko ひげカッコ
    Beard brackets. (this term is rather uncommon.)

The pair of double primes are used like quotes in Japanese. They're specially used to emphasize terms that carry special meaning.

An example in English would be: the "prime" is a symbol used in measurements. We could just say: the prime is a symbol used in measurements, without quotes. Why ever put quotes around "prime" then? To emphasize the term.

Quotation marks seen in manga Boku no Hero Academia 僕のヒーローアカデミア. Transcription: kono sekai ja... mezurashii nanno "kosei" om yadottenai kata da. In this world that's rare... no kind of "quirk" dwelling in you type.

‘’, “”

In Japanese, actual French quotes would be called:
  • kuooteeshon maaku
    Quotation mark. (literally.)
    This is a single-quote.
  • daburu kuooteeshon maaku
    Double quotation mark. (also literally.)
    This is a double-quote.

〈〉, 《》

In Japanese, the angle brackets, 〈〉, 《》, are called:
  • yamakakko 山括弧
    〈〉 "mountain brackets."
  • nijuu-yamakakko 二重山括弧
    《》 "double mountain brackets."
They often work to add emphasis to the text, given they're different, and being different means emphasis. It's the same effect of writing something in italic or bold, I suppose.

Sometimes, they can also be used for stylish quotes, specially for characters that speak weird.

こういう時は困った時の『大賢者』 早速質問してみた 《解。スライムの身体は魔素のみで動いています。酸素は必要ではない為、呼吸は行っておりません 》 そういえば…、意識してなかったが、呼吸なんてしていなかった。 quote from web novel Tensei Shitara Suraimu Datta Ken 転生したらスライムだった件 (chapter 2)
Web Novel: Tensei Shitara Suraimu Datta Ken 転生したらスライムだった件 (chapter 2) [02話 ファーストコンタクト -, 2019-01-28]
  • Context: the slime falls in water, but doesn't suffocate. He asks the great sage about it, who speaks like an artificial intelligence.
  • kouiu toki wa, komatta toki no "dai kenja"
    In times like these, the "great sage" of troubled times. (it's a good idea to consult with her.)
  • sassoku shitsumon shite-mita
    [I] tried asking [her] promptly.
  • "kai. suraimu no karada wa masou nomi de hataraiteimasu.
    sanso wa hitsuyou dewanai tame, kokyuu wa okonatte-orimasen"
  • 《解。スライムの身体は魔素のみで動いています。酸素は必要ではない為、呼吸は行っておりません 》
    "Answer. The body of a slime moves by magic particles alone. Since oxygen isn't necessary, [the act of] breathing isn't being performed."
  • souieba..., ishiki shitenakatta ga, kokyuu nante shiteinakatta.
    [Now that you mention it...], [I hadn't paid attention] but, [I] hadn't been breathing.


In Japanese, the "lenticular brackets," 【】, are called:
  • sumi-tsuki-kakko 隅付き括弧
    Brackets with corners.

They're often seen surrounding the reading of kanji, in place of furigana, specially in dictionary websites.
  • kakko [kakko] 括弧【かっこ】
    括弧 is read かっこ

Or the kanji of a word.
  • かっこ【括弧】

In all sorts of websites where users upload content, 【】 surrounds a keyword or category. Example:
  • [Jiko Shoukai] Hajimemashite! Kizuna Ai desu
    [Self-introduction] Nice to meet you! I'm Kizuna Ai
  • Kizuna Ai via, accessed 2019-01-28. (the English title may show instead if your language is set to English.)


The "parentheses,"(), are called:
  • maru-kakko 丸括弧
    Round brackets.
  • shou-kakko 小括弧
    Small brackets.
  • paaren パーレン

In Japanese, parentheses are, well, parentheses. They're used in a number of ways,

When you have parentheses around a number in Japanese after someone's name, it's often showing the age of a character that's just been introduced.
  • Hayashi, san-juu-ichi 林(31)
    Hayashi (31 [years old].)

The parentheses can mean a part of a phrase is optional.
  • kowaru (wa) nai
  • "Not afraid."
  • kowakunai 怖くない
    kowaku wa nai 怖くはない
    The variants above, with and without wa, mean basically the same thing.

The parentheses are also used in internet slangs to express emotions.

And this comes from an older usage, in which it's used to express actions of characters in stories, as opposed to their "lines" of dialogue, serifu 台詞.

王 (嘲笑う)生意気な! わたしのマントルの力を見るが好い。
Book: "The Three Treasures," Mittsu no Takara 三つの宝 (Page 148)
Author: Akutagawa Ryūnosuke 芥川龍之介
Published: Year 3 of the Shouwa 昭和 era, a.k.a. 1922. (see years and eras.)
Source of the image: 三つの宝 - 国立国会図書館デジタルコレクション -, accessed 2019-03-22.
The book in plain text, slightly different: 三つの宝 芥川龍之介 -, 2019-03-22.
  • ou (aza-warafu.) namaiki na! watashi no mantoru no chikara wo miru ga ii.
    王 (嘲笑ふ。)生意気な! わたしのマントルの力を見るが好い
    King: (sneers.) naive, [aren't you]! [You shall] see the power of my mantle!

The parentheses can associate the reading or kanji of words just like 【】.
  • 括弧(かっこ)
  • かっこ(括弧)

How To Type

To type 「」 using a Japanese IME software you have to press the two keys to the right of the P letter, between the P letter and the enter key. Most likely, if your keyboard has an English International layout, those two keys will be [ and ]. If your keyboard has a Brazilian layout like mine, the keys would be ´ and [. Anyway, they are to the right of the P key.

To type 『』 you must use the IME conversion to convert 「」 into 『』. There is no way to type the nijuu kagikakko 『』 directly from the keyboard. You must type the single kagikakko 「」 then press space and convert it to 『』.

Vocabulary & Grammar

The kagi かぎ in the word kagikakko かぎ括弧 comes from kagi 鉤, which means "hook," and not from the other, more common kagi 鍵 that means "key." The kakko 括弧 part means "parenthesis" and is often written with katakana instead: kakko カッコ. kagikakko かぎカッコ.

The act of "quoting" is called in'you 引用. In a quotation, you "surround," kakomu 囲む, words or sentences with the quotation marks.

Necessity of Quotes

Quotation marks are necessary to literally quote something, but in practice you can quote phrases without using literal quotes.

Just like in English you can write "she said yes" without using quotes around the word she said, in Japanese you can write kanojo wa hai to itta 彼女ははいと言った without quotes.

In either case this is not a good practice, you should use quotes when you quote people so it's easier to read, but some authors happen to write this way.

Furthermore, the grammar particles to と and tte って are used to refer to something someone said, usually this something will be surrounded by quotes, but not always. For example: "hai" tte 「はい」って would mean "[he/she/you/they/etc. said] 'yes.'" or "[it's written] 'yes'."

Anime Wordplay

Finally, the most important thing of all, in the light novel and anime No Game No Life ノーゲーム・ノーライフ (NGNL) the genius duo Sora 空 and Shiro 白 share the pseudonym kuuhaku 「」.

Normally, the word kuuhaku 空白 means a "blank space" and is written with the kanji for "sky," sora 空 and the color "white," shiro 白. In the series, however, kuuhaku is written as 「」, as if it's using quotation marks around nothing.

This probably mimics what'd happen if you left your name blank in a game when asked to type it and then the game tried to put quotes around your blank name.

Further Reading



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  1. Replies
    1. With Google IME, type 「」 then press space. It lets you convert that too ()【】『』[]〈〉 and so on.