About Hiragana

About Hiragana

(If you don’t have Japanese installed on your computer, some characters may display as squares or unreadable symbols)

So you want to learn Hiragana? Relax, it’s not as hard as you think.

The Japanese written language is comprised of three different writing systems: Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji. Hiragana and Katakana are both referred to as the Kana symbols.

Traditionally it is recommended that you Learn Hiragana first but with our learning systems you can learn Hiragana and Katakana right away at the same time.

Hiragana is used to write native Japanese words or to spell words or part of words that don’t have their own Kanji symbol. Kanji symbols are the busy looking characters derived from Chinese. Katakana is used mainly to write foreign words that have made their way into Japanese.

There is also Romaji, the romanized version of Japanese which is basically just the plain old alphabet we use in English everyday. The primary usage of rōmaji is on computers and other electronic devices that do not support the display or input of Japanese characters and in educational materials for foreigners.

Hiragana and Katakana each consist of 46 basic symbols which can be modified slightly to cover every syllable you need. A lot of Hiragana symbols resemble Katakana symbols so you are already on your way to mastering that too.

Let’s look at some examples:

This is ‘arigato’ which means ‘Thank you’ written in Hiragana. Note the smooth and rounded style:

This is the word ‘America’ written in Katakana, note the sharper and angular style:

This is the Kanji symbol for the word ‘sakaki’ which is a type of tree:

But it can also be written in Hiragana

So from these examples you can see that each Hiragana symbol represents a syllable. This is why the Kana are referred to as ‘syllabaries’ instead of alphabets.

As previously mentioned, the Japanese writing system consists of three types of symbols; Hiragana, Katakana (both referred to as Kana) and Kanji.

Hiragana: The rounded, curvilinear characters used for native words including those for which there are no Kanji, and particles such as から kara “from”, and suffixes such as さん ~san “Mr., Mrs., Miss etc.

Hiragana are the essential building blocks in learning to read and write Japanese.

Katakana: Used for words of foreign origin, for example “television” is written terebi (テレビ).

It is also used for scientific and technical terms, such as species of animals and plants. Katakana is also used for onomatopeia; the use of words to imitate sounds.

Kanji: Are the busy looking characters derived from Chinese.

There are 46 basic Hiragana symbols. These symbols can be slightly modified to cover every sound needed.

Download a free Learn Hiragana chart here and check out the Dr. Moku interactive Hiragana Learning console here

Modified Hiragana

DAKUTEN are the two small strokes that change the sound of symbols.

  • The ‘k’ sound becomes a ‘g’ sound (for example ‘ka’ か becomes ‘ga’ が .
  • The ’s’ sound becomes a ‘z’ sound (for example ’sa’ さ becomes ‘za’  ざ) .
  • The ‘t’ sound becomes a ‘d’ sound (for example ‘ta’ た becomes ‘da’ だ.
  • The ‘h’ sound becomes a ‘b’ sound (for example ‘ha’ は becomes ‘ba’ ば

HANDAKUTEN is a small circle that changes ‘h’ to ‘p’. So ‘ha’ は becomes ‘pa’ ぱ

YŌON uses smaller than usual versions of one of the three ‘y’ kana, ya, yu or yo to make a contracted word. For example kyō ( meaning “today”) is written きょう with the smaller ‘yo’ and kiyō, (meaning “skillful”) , which is written きよう has a full-sized ‘yo’.

SOKUON is a small tsu (っ or ッ in either Hiragana or Katakana respectively). This small tsu means that the consonant in the next character is ‘doubled’, and a slight pause results. For example, in the word ‘Yukkuri’ (ゆっくり), the word is pronounced ‘yu’ (a slight pause ) ‘kuri’. The っ (tsu) represents this slight pause.

CHŌONPU (rarely used in Hiragana) appears as a ー (a long dash shape) indicates the use of a long vowel sound in the preceding character.

Writing Hiragana

You can watch how each character is written in the learning console. Stroke order is important, the general rule is left to right and top to bottom.

There are three different ways to end a stroke: tome, hane and harai.

  1. Tome (means “stop”). You bring your pen to a complete stop at the end of a stroke.
  2. Hane (means “jump”). You end the stroke with a slight flick.
  3. Harai (means “sweeping”). This is the broad sweep at the end of a stroke.

Direction of Japanese writing

Traditionally, Japanese is written in columns going from top to bottom, with columns ordered from right to left. After reaching the bottom of each column, the reader continues at the top of the column to the left of the current one.

However, modern Japanese is horizontal and reads from left to right.

Ready to test your skills? Try a Hiragana quiz or practice with the Free Dr. Moku Hiragana Learning console.

Learn Hiragana

Learning Hiragana is not as hard as you think. You can Learn Hiragana in under a day with Dr. Moku, some people have managed to learn Hiragana in just one hour by using our mnemonic learning systems.


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