Basics: Characters

Hiragana

Hiragana is the first of the three Japanese alphabets to learn. Hiragana is a phonetic alphabet, where each character represents a syllable. Hiragana is generally the first of the alphabets used, and is used for many purposes. Until one broadens their knowledge of kanji, they can use hiragana in place of the kanji they don’t know. Additionally, hiragana is used as particles, and is also used as accompanying characters to verbs, called okurigana. There are also some words that do not have kanji and are thus written in hiragana alone.

‘n’ ‘w-’ ‘r-’ ‘y-‘ ‘m-‘ ‘h-‘ ‘n-‘ ‘t-‘ ‘s-‘ ‘k-‘    

‘n’

‘wa’

‘ra’

‘ya’

‘ma’

‘ha’

‘na’

‘ta’

‘sa’

‘ka’

‘a’
‘a’
   
‘ri’
 
‘mi’

‘hi’

‘ni’

‘chi’

‘shi’

‘ki’

‘i’
‘i’
   
‘ru’

‘yu’

‘mu’l

‘fu’

‘nu’

‘tsu’

‘su’

‘ku’

‘u’
‘u’
   
‘re’
 
‘me’

‘he’

‘ne’

‘te’

‘se’

‘ke’

‘e’
‘e’
 
‘wo’

‘ro’

‘yo’

‘mo’

‘ho’

‘no’

‘to’

‘so’

‘ko’

‘o’
‘o’
Extended Consonant Syllables
‘p-‘ ‘b-‘ ‘d-‘ ‘z-‘ ‘g-‘  

‘pa’

‘ba’

‘da’

‘za’

‘ga’
‘-a’

‘pi’

‘bi’

‘ji’

‘ji’

‘gi’
‘-i’

‘pu’

‘bu’

‘dzu’

‘zu’

‘gu’
‘-u’

‘pe’

‘be’

‘de’

‘ze’

‘ge’
‘-e’

‘po’

‘bo’

‘do’

‘zo’

‘go’
‘-o’
Modified Syllables: Consonant combined with ‘ya,’ ‘yu,’ or ‘yo’
‘p-‘ ‘b-‘ ‘j-’ ‘g-‘ ‘r-‘ ‘m-‘ ‘h-‘ ‘n-‘ ‘ch-‘ ‘sh-‘ ‘k-‘  
ぴゃ
‘pya’
びゃ
‘bya’
じゃ
‘jya’
ぎゃ
‘gya’
りゃ
‘rya’
みゃ
‘mya’
ひゃ
‘hya’
にゃ
‘nya’
ちゃ
‘cha’
しゃ
‘sha’
きゃ
‘kya’
‘-ya’
ぴゅ
‘pyu’
びゅ
‘byu’
じゅ
‘jyu’
ぎゅ
‘gyu’
りゅ
‘ryu’
みゅ
‘myu’
ひゅ
‘hyu’
にゅ
‘nyu’
ちゅ
‘chu’
しゅ
‘shu’
きゅ
‘kyu’
‘-yu’
ぴょ
‘pyo’
びょ
‘byo’
じょ
‘jyo’
ぎょ
‘gyo’
りょ
‘ryo’
みょ
‘myo’
ひょ
‘hyo’
にょ
‘nyo’
ちょ
‘cho’
しょ
‘sho’
きょ
‘kyo’
‘-yo’
Long Vowels
oo ee uu ii aa
おお ええ うう いい ああ

Double Consonants: kk, pp, tt, etc. are expressed in hiragana as a small "tsu" (っ) before the kana. For example, chotto meaning "a little" is written as ちょっと.

Katakana

Katakana is the second phonetic Japanese alphabet. Katakana, unlike hiragana is written with straight lines. Generally, katakana is used for writing words of foreign origin.

‘n’ ‘w-’ ‘r-’ ‘y-‘ ‘m-‘ ‘h-‘ ‘n-‘ ‘t-‘ ‘s-‘ ‘k-‘    

‘n’

‘wa’

‘ra’

‘ya’

‘ma’

‘ha’

‘na’

‘ta’

‘sa’

‘ka’

‘a’
‘a’
   
‘ri’
 
‘mi’

‘hi’

‘ni’

‘chi’

‘shi’

‘ki’

‘i’
‘i’
   
‘ru’

‘yu’

‘mu’l

‘fu’

‘nu’

‘tsu’

‘su’

‘ku’

‘u’
‘u’
   
‘re’
 
‘me’

‘he’

‘ne’

‘te’

‘se’

‘ke’

‘e’
‘e’
 
‘wo’

‘ro’

‘yo’

‘mo’

‘ho’

‘no’

‘to’

‘so’

‘ko’

‘o’
‘o’
Extended Consonant Syllables
‘p-‘ ‘b-‘ ‘d-‘ ‘z-‘ ‘g-‘  

‘pa’

‘ba’

‘da’

‘za’

‘ga’
‘-a’

‘pi’

‘bi’

‘ji’

‘ji’

‘gi’
‘-i’

‘pu’

‘bu’

‘dzu’

‘zu’

‘gu’
‘-u’

‘pe’

‘be’

‘de’

‘ze’

‘ge’
‘-e’

‘po’

‘bo’

‘do’

‘zo’

‘go’
‘-o’
Modified Syllables: Consonant combined with ‘ya,’ ‘yu,’ or ‘yo’
‘p-‘ ‘b-‘ ‘j-’ ‘g-‘ ‘r-‘ ‘m-‘ ‘h-‘ ‘n-‘ ‘ch-‘ ‘sh-‘ ‘k-‘  
ピャ
‘pya’
ビャ
‘bya’
ジャ
‘jya’
ギャ
‘gya’
リャ
‘rya’
ミャ
‘mya’
ヒャ
‘hya’
ニャ
‘nya’
チャ
‘cha’
シャ
‘sha’
キャ
‘kya’
‘-ya’
ピュ
‘pyu’
ビュ
‘byu’
ジュ
‘jyu’
ギュ
‘gyu’
リュ
‘ryu’
ミュ
‘myu’
ヒュ
‘hyu’
ニュ
‘nyu’
チュ
‘chu’
シュ
‘shu’
キュ
‘kyu’
‘-yu’
ピョ
‘pyo’
ビョ
‘byo’
ジョ
‘jyo’
ギョ
‘gyo’
リョ
‘ryo’
ミョ
‘myo’
ヒョ
‘hyo’
ニョ
‘nyo’
チョ
‘cho’
ショ
‘sho’
キョ
‘kyo’
‘-yo’
Long Vowels
A long vowel that follows a consonant can be represented with a dash symbol after the kana. For example koohii, which is “coffee” in Japanese, would be written as コーヒー
oo ee uu ii aa
オー エー ウー イー アー

Double Consonants: kk, pp, tt, etc. are expressed in katakana as a small “tsu” (ッ) before the kana For example, shotto, meaning “shot” is written as ショット.

 There are small versions of “ア,” “イ,” “ウ,” “エ,” and “オ” that are “ァ,” “ィ,” “ゥ,” “ェ,” and “ォ.” These are used in conjunction with some other characters to create characters for sounds that were not originally covered by the original set of hiragana/katakana.

  • “ti” and “tu” sounds now commonly written as “ティ,” and “トゥ.”
  • “di” and “du” sounds, are now commonly written as “ディ,” and “ドゥ.”
  • Combining the small “ァ,” “ィ,” “ゥ,” “ェ,” and “ォ” with “フ,” gives character combinations “ファ,” “フィ,” “フェ,” and “フォ” for “fa,” “fi,” “fe,” and “fo” respectively.
  • “wi,” “we,” and “wo” are written as “ウィ,” “ウェ,” and “ウォ.”
  • As the “v-“sound did not originally exist, the “ヴ” character was created to provide that sound. Now, “va,” “vi,” “vu,” “ve,” and “vo” can be written as “ヴァ,” “ヴィ,” “ヴ,” “ヴェ,” and “ヴォ” respectively.
  • For “je,” “she,” and “che,” “ジェ,” “シェ,” and “チェ”are used for them respectively.

Other Alphabets

Kanji: Kanji are the characters that were imported from China. Each kanji character generally has two readings – an onnyomi or音読み (おんよみ), which is the original Chinese reading of the character, and the kunnyomi or 訓読み (くんよみ), which is the Japanese adaptation of the character. Something to note is that characters can have more than one 音読み or 訓読み or both.

Romaji: Romaji is the writing of Japanese phonetic characters as Roman letters. Sometimes it helps with pronunciation of words when learning Japanese.

Punctuation
The symbols for punctuation look slightly different in Japanese compared to English
English . ,
Japanese