Hiragana and Katakana 2017-08-21T13:27:35+00:00



Learn Japanese - How to Read and Write Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji

Learn How to Read and Write Japanese

In Japanese, we use three scripts (also called “alphabets” or “syllabaries”).  In this section I am going to teach you those scripts, which include Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji.  These are all very important to you if you want to learn Japanese.  It becomes even more important if want to tattoo them onto your body, as many foreigners have done!  Before you spend an entire paycheck on tattoo removal when you discover it doesn’t translate the way you thought it would, spend some time reading this section first.  If you use this learning guide as your primary tool, it won’t be long before you will be reading and writing Japanese like a master!  Let’s start by taking a closer look at each writing system. 

There are three types of Japanese writing

Hiragana is the main writing system used to represent every possible Japanese sound that will ever reach your ears.  Because it lays the foundation of the entire language, you will be learning Hiragana first.  You’re not alone – every Japanese child had to start the same way!  Your first step as a student should be learning to read at least some Hiragana.

Katakana represents the same sounds as Hiragana, but is used primarily for foreign names and words of foreign origin.  If you are not Japanese, then chances are your name, home country and favorite local restaurant would be written in Katakana as well!  It is also used as an onomatopoeia.  In case you don’t know what that is, I can give you my favorite example – a Japanese “meow” is an onomatopoeia and is spelled with Katakana.  😉 Any word that directly imitates a sound will fall under this category as well, and I should let you know now that there are a lot of them in Japanese!

Kanji represents entire words and meanings.  Originally created by the Chinese, these were “modified” to adapt with the Japanese language.  The pronunciation of kanji became a mixture of Japanese readings and Chinese readings.

Hiragana and katakana are much easier than kanji, since they only have 46 characters each.  Compare this to the thousands of Kanji in existence.  What’s that, you say?  You want to save the Kanji for last?  That’s what I thought.  🙂  Let’s learn Hiragana first!

How to read Hiragana

The first thing you will need is a Hiragana chart.  Use it as a reference and have it handy at all times, especially when you’re browsing other sections of JapaneseMEOW.  Study these sounds and practice saying them daily.  I will be adding audio within the next couple days.

 

Japanese Hiragana Chart

Let’s talk more about those small marks next to the symbols in the bottom half of the chart.  The “ten-ten” mark, technically called the “dakuten”, looks like a quotation symbol.  This is added to some Japanese syllables to alter the sound.  The “maru” mark, technically called the “handakuten”, looks like a degree symbol °.   As you can see, this changes the sounds of our syllables as well.  This should be great news to any beginner who is learning Japanese – this means less base symbols to work with.  You only have to remember the new sounds if you have already memorized the original characters.  

If you think you have a good handle on the Hiragana chart above, go ahead and test your memory by playing the JapaneseMEOW Hiragana Game.  You can play it directly in your web browser, or by downloading the Android app.  It’s totally free, and is a great way to finish off a daily study session.  If you make it to the top, I’ll even give you a 50% discount off a private Skype Lesson!

 Games for Learning Japanese

How to write Hiragana

If you’re on mobile, click on one of these Hiragana to watch me write it.  Fancy desktop users can simply hover their mouse over to see the magic.  If you follow the correct stroke order, your writing will tend to look much nicer.  Grab a piece of paper and try it out along with the demonstration below.
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"a"

"a"

"a"

"i"

"i"

"i"

"u"

"u"

"u"

"e"

"e"

"e"

"o"

"o"

"o"

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"ka"

"ka"

"ka"

"ki"

"ki"

"ki"

"ku"

"ku"

"ku"

"ke"

"ke"

"ke"

"ko"

"ko"

"ko"

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"sa"

"sa"

"sa"

"shi"

"shi"

"shi"

"su"

"su"

"su"

"se"

"se"

"se"

"so"

"so"

"so"

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"ta"

"ta"

"ta"

"chi"

"chi"

"chi"

"tsu"

"tsu"

"tsu"

"te"

"te"

"te"

"to"

"to"

"to"

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"na"

"na"

"na"

"ni"

"ni"

"ni"

"nu"

"nu"

"nu"

"ne"

"ne"

"ne"

"no"

"no"

"no"

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"ha"

"ha"

"ha"

"hi"

"hi"

"hi"

"fu"

"fu"

"fu"

"he"

"he"

"he"

"ho"

"ho"

"ho"

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"ma"

"ma"

"ma"

"mi"

"mi"

"mi"

"mu"

"mu"

"mu"

"me"

"me"

"me"

"mo"

"mo"

"mo"

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"ya"

"ya"

"ya"

"yu"

"yu"

"yu"

"yo"

"yo"

"yo"

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"ra"

"ra"

"ra"

"ri"

"ri"

"ri"

"ru"

"ru"

"ru"

"re"

"re"

"re"

"ro"

"ro"

"ro"

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"wa"

"wa"

"wa"

"wo"

"wo"

"wo"

"n"

"n"

"n"

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As you might have noticed, I didn’t include any of the Hiragana with the ten-ten or maru marks.  I wanted to demonstrate the “base” characters, but you can add the marks if you want extra practice.    If you think you’ve got it, proceed to the Katakana section.

How to read Katakana

 You will need a Katakana chart as a reference too, right?  Here you go – I’ve provided one for you below!  Unfortunately I haven’t developed the Balloon Game for this one yet as I did with the Hiragana, but it’s on the way.  You won’t be able to bounce off these balloons with your feline friend quite yet!
Katakana Chart for Learning Japanese

How to write Katakana

Once again, select any of these Katakana characters to watch me demonstrate the stroke order.

     
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"a"

"a"

"a"

"i"

"i"

"i"

"u"

"u"

"u"

"e"

"e"

"e"

"o"

"o"

"o"

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"ka"

"ka"

"ka"

"ki"

"ki"

"ki"

"ku"

"ku"

"ku"

"ke"

"ke"

"ke"

"ko"

"ko"

"ko"

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"sa"

"sa"

"sa"

"shi"

"shi"

"shi"

"su"

"su"

"su"

"se"

"se"

"se"

"so"

"so"

"so"

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"ta"

"ta"

"ta"

"chi"

"chi"

"chi"

"tsu"

"tsu"

"tsu"

"te"

"te"

"te"

"to"

"to"

"to"

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"na"

"na"

"na"

"ni"

"ni"

"ni"

"nu"

"nu"

"nu"

"ne"

"ne"

"ne"

"no"

"no"

"no"

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"ha"

"ha"

"ha"

"hi"

"hi"

"hi"

"fu"

"fu"

"fu"

"he"

"he"

"he"

"ho"

"ho"

"ho"

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"ma"

"ma"

"ma"

"mi"

"mi"

"mi"

"mu"

"mu"

"mu"

"me"

"me"

"me"

"mo"

"mo"

"mo"

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"ya"

"ya"

"ya"

"yu"

"yu"

"yu"

"yo"

"yo"

"yo"

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"ra"

"ra"

"ra"

"ri"

"ri"

"ri"

"ru"

"ru"

"ru"

"re"

"re"

"re"

"ro"

"ro"

"ro"

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"wa"

"wa"

"wa"

"wo"

"wo"

"wo"

"n"

"n"

"n"

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The sounds are all the same as Hiragana, as I explained earlier.  You will notice that there are more straight lines in Katakana compared to it’s curvy cousin, right?  It’s a different style for sure!
Keep checking back for an all new Kanji section that I’m working on now.  If you think I should add or change anything to make it easier for you, please let me know!