Anyway, getting back to the topic of the series, Japanese is unusual in (at least) one more way: it does not use case at all. Well, not technically, anyway. Instead, Japanese has about ten half-cases indicated by postposition (the opposite of prepositions) particles.
The emphatic nominative case (my name for it) is indicated by the postposition "ga", as in "anata wa watashi ga doko nimo inai to omotteru" ("You think that I don't exist"; you can get additional meaning out of this sentence after reading the next paragraph). This is like the nominative case, but it carries an additional property - it serves to emphasize the subject as opposed to the predicate (this is not clearly illustrated in the example).
The referential case (also my name; sometimes called the absolute case) is indicated by "wa". The referential case can be used in several ways. It can be used for the subject of the sentence, where the predicate is more important than the subject; kind of a "non-emphatic nominative" case. But it can also be used to set the point of reference of the sentence, which might not be the same as the subject; this would be translated as "with regard to" or "as for". This distinction is beautifully illustrated by "anata wa kodoku ga koko kara kieru to omotteru" ("I think that the loneliness [that] you [feel] will disappear from now on"; more literally, "for you, [the] loneliness will disappear from now on, [I] think").
"no" indicates the genitive case. Fully understanding the Japanese genitive case requires a small shift in paradigm. The genitive case conveys the general thought of "of", in its various meanings. This can either be in terms of possession (e.g. "hoshi no michibiki" - "star's guidance"), origin (e.g. "hontou no watashi" - "real me" or "me of reality") or distinguishing quality (e.g. "mizuiro no lute" - "light blue lute" or "lute of light blue"), reason or benefactor (e.g. "oya no mo" - "mourning for parents" or "mourning of parents"). The first three are nothing we haven't seen before in other common languages, but the last two (known as the benefactive or causative cases in other languages) are not like the genitive of previous languages.
The accusative case is indicated by "wo" (or "o"). This is trivial, and exactly like what we've seen previously (e.g. "tamashii no hanashi wo kikasete yo" - "Tell [me] the story of your soul"; "yo" indicates a request). However, when translating between English and Japanese, this can be a bit tricky, because we are used to some English verbs being intransitive and requiring a preposition, where the corresponding verbs are transitive in Japanese, and do not require a postposition.
"ni" indicates the locative case. This case represents the idea of being at some general position in space or time - either at, in, on, or around. This has a couple meanings. With verbs of existence, the meaning of position is used (e.g. "sora ni aru tobira" - "door [that is] in the sky").
This idea of position is applied in a similar but slightly different manner to yield the second meaning - that of recipient. In English we have the concept of having something on you - that is, possessing something; Japanese does, as well. In Japanese, "ni" is also used to indicate the target of a verb of transfer of possession. Think about it like this: in Japanese, you don't give something to someone - you put it on someone. In other words, the locative case is used where other languages would use the dative case (e.g. "kodomo ni yaru" - "give to [the] child").
(part 2 of 3)