Japanese Newspaper Headlines

By Michael Gakuran | | Japan | 28 Comments |

Have you ever wondered how to read the headlines in Japanese newspapers? They’re so chock-a-block full of kanji that it seems like an insurmountable wall to scale. And that’s not to mention the split sentences. What do all those mysterious sentences that end on a particle mean?! I take you through some examples.

mainichiWhy bother to learn about understanding headlines? Because it can save you a lot of time in reading, that’s why! If you understand more or less what you are about to read, you can make an informed decision about whether or not you really want to read it (or more gravely, if you have to!) Let me stress before getting started though that a great many headlines require understanding of the current events and kanji in order to think of the correct word(s) that complete the sentence, but all is not lost! There are a few ‘key words’ that you can try tagging on the end of sentences if you are having trouble that might help you make more sense out of them!

Alrighty, so let’s get stuck in. I find the best way to learn is by doing, so we’ll be analysing some newspaper headlines to try and get a sense for what is going on. Be warned, this is a lesson in comprehension, not vocab-learning, so you will need to be on top of your kanji in order to get the most out of it. If you are stuggling, you can always stick the sentences in Jim Breen’s quick online translator! (Jim Breen’s Online J-Dictionary)

Headlines ending in を

新型インフル 警戒かつ冷静に対応を

(2009年4月29日 中日新聞)

Okay. Straight into the thick of it! We have a nasty little katakana word that seems to be mutilated, along with a few advanced kanji compounds all dusted off with a strange grammar expression and the trademark split-sentence you often find in headings.

First up, let’s sort those words out:

インフル = インフルエンザ (Influenza)
かつ   = そして/同時に/と

So the sentence so far is:

  • New-type Influenza. Be vigilant and calmly a response…(を)
  • And now that nasty little を on the end… What does を stand for? It marks a direct object (and that’s where the grammatical explanation will end). Basically you’ll be looking to do something with the previously mentioned things. In this sentence we are talking about being vigilant and calming doing something with a ‘response’. Now, what would we be doing?

    (NB: ‘Response’ is a bit of a mis-translation – 対応 actually means ‘way of dealing with something’ in this context)

    It may not seem obvious to a Japanese speaker who hasn’t breathed in the culture for many years (it certainly wasn’t for me at first), but the general style of these sentences is to recommend a course of action using べき. We might try completing the sentence with these type of endings:


    So the sentence becomes:

  • New-type Influenza. Remain vigilant and calmly think of the best way to deal with the situation
  • New-type Influenza. Remain vigilant and act calmly
  • Headlines ending in か

    3人乗り自転車 公認するほど安全か

    (2009年4月20日 毎日新聞)

    Okay, not quite the beast the last one was, but I figured we needed a breather. Most learners will know that a sentence ending in か signifies a question. Surprise! This is exactly what it does here as well.

    Firstly, a quite note on the grammar, just to help those intermediate students who may not have come across it yet:

    ほど = to the extent of


  • Bicycles ridden by 3 people. Safe to the extent that is officially recognisable?
  • Bicycles ridden by 3 people. Safe enough to be officially recognised?
  • (NB: The kanji 公認 means ‘official approval’, so you can drop the ‘official’ part and just write ‘authorised’ or ‘recognised’, so long as you understand it means formally – i.e. government – approved)


    Headlines ending in で

    温暖化防止目標 産業構造変える覚悟で

    (2009年4月19日 毎日新聞)

    Oh. My. God. This is what I’m talking about. Kanji nightmares like this. Is that a 7-kanji compound followed by a hefty 4-er? I do believe it is. Jim Breen it if you aren’t sure on the words, as only knowing them will help you here.

    We have something like this:

  • Targets for the prevention of Global warming. Industrial structure changes readiness…(で)
  • What’s coming after the で?? Again, most likely is some sort of recommendation, necessity or state of affairs. Let’s have a look at some endings:

    いないといけない (must exist in this state of affairs)
    取り組むべき (should grapple with)
    臨まなければならない (must face-up to)


  • Targets for the prevention of Global warming. (We) must be ready to change the structure in industry
  • Targets for the prevention of Global warming. Readiness to grapple with changing industrial structure
  • Targets for the prevention of Global warming. (We) must be prepared to face up to changing the structure of industry
  • As you can see, the general idea of the sentence has not changed much from the addition of the extra words, but they do give it a bit more clarity.

    (NB: Note that the verb is 変える and not 変わる. This is your transitive vs. intransitive malarkey that I never quite understood in English. Basically, transitive verbs take an object, intransitive do not. What you need to remember is to think of transitive verbs as have as subject doing something to an object. So in the above example, the changes aren’t just happening passively (intransitive), someone (namely ‘we’) are preparing to make those changes to an object (the industry structure). Yes we can!)

    Headlines ending in に

    風刺漫画問題 事態収拾へ互いが冷静に

    (2006年2月7日 神戸新聞)

    Ah, the lovely に. Home to なるs and things that happen as if by God’s hand. I jest. A little. に is usually used in combination with なる which means ‘to become’, and it notoriously used in situations where the speaker wants to wiggle out of accepting responsibility for his or her actions. Instead of saying ‘I decided to act’ (私は活動することにした), they may say ‘It came to be that I would act’ (私は活動することになった). This way, they place the responsibility for their acting in the hands of fate, or perhaps a Divine Hand if that’s your bag.

    Anyway. It works for us too. When considering headlines ending with に, think of なる. So:

  • Problems with satirical comics. To bring the state of affairs under control, both parties calmly…(に)
  • Add なる or one of our previous examples, like べき or なければならない:


  • Problems with satirical comics. In order to bring the state of affairs under control, both parties must become calm
  • Problems with satirical comics. Both parties must talk to calm the situation
  • And there we have it! A reasonable guess at what the article is going to be about!


    Okay, so that was the crash course in how to read Japanese newspaper headlines! I’m by no means an expert, but after having this lesson myself last week, I understand quite a bit more. The key point to remember:

    When trying to work out the meaning of a split-sentence, try tagging one of the following terms on the end:

  • べき (recommending a course of action)
  • なければならない (must do something)
  • なる (will become something)
  • Remember, though, to consider the particle before and context of the headline! It’s no good just throwing the words about randomly – they are just guidelines ^^.

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