(720 AD), considered by historians and archaeologists as the most complete extant historical record of ancient Japan, was written entirely in kanji.
Chinese characters first came to
Japan on official seals, letters, swords, coins, mirrors, and other decorative items imported from
China. The earliest known instance of such an import was the
King of Na gold seal given by
Emperor Guangwu of Han to a
Yamato emissary in 57 AD.
 Chinese coins from the first century AD have been found in
Yayoi-period archaeological sites.
 However, the Japanese of that era probably had no comprehension of the script, and would remain illiterate until the fifth century AD.
 According to the
Nihon Shoki and
Kojiki, a semi-legendary scholar called
Wani (王仁) was dispatched to Japan by the
Kingdom of Baekje during the reign of
Emperor Ōjin in the early fifth century, bringing with him knowledge of
Confucianism and Chinese characters.
The earliest Japanese documents were probably written by bilingual Chinese or Korean officials employed at the
 For example, the diplomatic correspondence from
King Bu of Wa to
Emperor Shun of Liu Song in 478 has been praised for its skillful use of
allusion. Later, groups of people called fuhito were organized under the monarch to read and write
Classical Chinese. During the reign of
Empress Suiko (593–628), the Yamato court began sending full-scale diplomatic missions to China, which resulted in a large increase in Chinese literacy at the Japanese court.
The Japanese language had no written form at the time Chinese characters were introduced, and texts were written and read only in Chinese. Later, during the
Heian period (794–1185), however, a system known as
kanbun emerged, which involved using Chinese text with
diacritical marks to allow Japanese speakers to restructure and read Chinese sentences, by changing word order and adding particles and verb endings, in accordance with the rules of
Chinese characters also came to be used to write Japanese words, resulting in the modern kana syllabaries. Around 650 CE, a writing system called
man'yōgana (used in the ancient poetry anthology
Man'yōshū) evolved that used a number of Chinese characters for their sound, rather than for their meaning. Man'yōgana written in
cursive style evolved into
onna-de, that is, "ladies' hand,"
 a writing system that was accessible to women (who were denied
higher education). Major works of
literature by women were written in hiragana.
Katakana emerged via a parallel path:
monastery students simplified man'yōgana to a single constituent element. Thus the two other writing systems, hiragana and katakana, referred to collectively as
kana, are descended from kanji.
In modern Japanese, kanji are used to write parts of the language (usually
content words) such as
stems, while hiragana are used to write
inflected verb and adjective endings and as
phonetic complements to disambiguate readings (
particles, and miscellaneous words which have no kanji or whose kanji is considered obscure or too difficult to read or remember.
Katakana are mostly used for representing
non-Japanese loanwords (except those borrowed from
ancient Chinese), the names of plants and animals (with exceptions), and for emphasis on certain words.