Hiragana and Katakana

Hiragana: The First Japanese Alphabet

Any intensive Japanese course includes study of the Hiragana and Katakana. Also known as the Japanese syllabary, Hiragana is a primary component of the Japanese writing system (along with kanji, katakana, and the Latin alphabet). Pronounced hee-ra-GA-na, it is the most useful and the simplest to write.

Writing Basics Hiragana are parts of words and sentences (like “and” or “is”), and they are used in kids’ story books. Japanese children learn Hiragana first, then moving steadily through Katakana and kanji.

The 46 Hiragana letters are sounds that make up syllables. For instance, the first 5 Hiragana letters are A, I, U, E and O. The remaining letters are built from the first 5 vowels. As soon as you master the vowels, the pronunciation of the rest of the letters will follow the same pattern. For example, the next 5 letters are ka, ki, ku, ke and ko.

Hiragana are usually arranged in groups of 5. Although Ks are constant, some groups aren’t. The 3rd group, for instance, is sa, shi, su, se and so. Shi is obviously different: a Japanese letter for Si doesn’t exist. This can be confusing and intimidating at first, but with constant practice, you’ll remember them easily. Some other inconsistencies:

  • Ta, chi, tsu, te and to. Tu and Ti don’t exist.
  • Ha, hi, fu, he and ho. Hu is not a letter.
  • The W (only wo and wa) and Y (ya, yu, and yo) groups

N, the last letter, is the only one that doesn’t have a vowel. In Japanese writing, all words end N or a vowel.

Practice, Practice, Practice! There are other rules for writing Hiragana. If you plan to enroll in an intensive Japanese course, learn one Hiragana letter daily and practice writing it thoroughly. Get used to writing these Japanese characters and you will become a pro in no time.

For more on Hiragana visit KCP’s Kana page here.