Learn Hiragana – ひらがな

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Hiragana – ひらがな

The first step to learning the Japanese language is to learn the alphabet. Or, at least, to learn the sounds that exist in the language. There are absolutely no “tones” in Japanese like in many other asian languages and there are only 2 exceptions within the alphabet which will be explained later. The Japanese alphabet does not contain letters but, instead, contains characters and, technically, they are not alphabets but character sets. The characters in the chart below are called Hiragana. Hiragana is the main alphabet or character set for Japanese. Japanese also consists of two other character sets – Kanji (Chinese characters), which we will get into later, and another alphabet/character set, Katakana, which is mainly used for foreign words. Katakana will be covered in Lesson 2. Don’t wait to move on until you have all Hiragana characters memorized – learn them as you continue to go through the other lessons.

There are 5 vowels in Japanese. (a), pronounced “ahh”, (i), pronounced like “e” in “eat”, (u), pronounced like “oo” in “soon”, (e), pronounced like “e” in “elk”, and (o), pronounced “oh”. All Hiragana characters end with one of these vowels, with the exception of (n). The only “consonant” that does not resemble that of English is the Japanese “r”. It is slightly “rolled” as if it were a combination of a “d”, “r”, and “l”.

あ 
a
い 
i
う 
u
え 
e
お 
o
か 
ka
き 
ki
く 
ku
け 
ke
こ 
ko
が 
ga
ぎ 
gi
ぐ 
gu
げ 
ge
ご 
go
さ 
sa
し 
shi
す 
su
せ 
se
そ 
so
ざ 
za
じ 
ji
ず 
zu
ぜ 
ze
ぞ 
zo
た 
ta
ち 
chi
つ 
tsu
て 
te
と 
to
だ 
da
ぢ 
ji
づ 
zu
で 
de
ど 
do
な 
na
に 
ni
ぬ 
nu
ね 
ne
の 
no
は 
ha
ひ 
hi
ふ 
fu
へ 
he
ほ 
ho
ば 
ba
び 
bi
ぶ 
bu
べ 
be
ぼ 
bo
ぱ 
pa
ぴ 
pi
ぷ 
pu
ぺ 
pe
ぽ 
po
ま 
ma
み 
mi
む 
mu
め 
me
も 
mo
や 
ya
ゆ 
yu
よ 
yo
ら 
ra
り 
ri
る 
ru
れ 
re
ろ 
ro
わ 
wa
を 
wo
ん 
n/m

Combinations

きゃ 
kya
きゅ 
kyu
きょ 
kyo
ぎゃ 
gya
ぎゅ 
gyu
ぎょ 
gyo
しゃ 
sha
しゅ 
shu
しょ 
sho
じゃ 
ja
じゅ 
ju
じょ 
jo
ちゃ 
cha
ちゅ 
chu
ちょ 
cho
にゃ 
nya
にゅ 
nyu
にょ 
nyo
ひゃ 
hya
ひゅ 
hyu
ひょ 
hyo
びゃ 
bya
びゅ 
byu
びょ 
byo
ぴゃ 
pya
ぴゅ 
pyu
ぴょ 
pyo
みゃ 
mya
みゅ 
myu
みょ 
myo
りゃ 
rya
りゅ 
ryu
りょ 
ryo

Here is a Printable Hiragana Chart (PDF – get Adobe Acrobat Reader).


Click here if you’d like to know why these two exceptions exist.1. The Hiragana は (ha) is pronounced “wa” when it immediately follows the topic of the sentence. This character is usually only pronounced “ha” when it is part of a word.
2. The Hiragana へ (he) is pronounced “e” when it immediately follows a place or direction. Both of these are very simple to detect.

Note: You probably noticed in the chart above that there are 2 characters pronounced “zu” and 2 characters pronounced “ji”. The characters づ (zu) and ぢ (ji) are very rarely used. づ (zu) only occurs when there is a つ (tsu) in front of it like in つづく (tsuzuku – to continue) or when a Kanji (Chinese character) that has a reading which starts with つ (tsu) is paired at the end with another character changing the つ (tsu) to a づ (zu). The same applies for the Hiragana ぢ (ji). Since they are used so rarely I wouldn’t worry about them too much. I will let you know whenever we come upon a word in which they are used.

Some people wonder why “yi”, “ye”, “wi”, “wu”, and “we” are missing. There aren’t characters for “yi”, “ye”, or “wu”. There is a ゐ (wi) and a ゑ (we) but these were deemed obsolete in 1946 and were replaced by い (i) and え (e) respectively.

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