WHAT IS HIRAGANA?

Hiragana is one of the three Japanese writing systems used to write native Japanese words. Learning Hiragana is essential if you want to read, write, or pronounce Japanese properly. The other writing systems in Japan just as a reference are the following…

  1. Hiragana – consisting of all the basic Japanese syllables.
  2. Katakana – used to write foreign words such as… フライドポテト (fried potato).
  3. Kanji – the first writing system to ever exist in Japan! These symbols require a great deal of study to master.
  4. * Romaji – is when English lettering is used to write Japanese words. My favourite…

Kanji can take years to master. However, learning the basics can be extremely helpful as it is used all over Japan.

Learn Essential Kanji Here

HIRAGANA VOWELS

In Hiragana, each character represents an entire syllable, not just the individual sound of a letter such as in English. Also in most cases, the vowels are all the same throughout each group of characters…

CHARACTER GROUPS

Hiragana consists of mainly 8 groups of characters (a, ka, sa, ta, na, ha, ma, ra) with of course some extras. Each group is pronounced very similarly. Just place the group’s letter in front of the vowels listed above and cycle through. For example, take a look at the ka group below.

A – HiraganaA – RomajiKa – HiraganaKa – Romaji
ak-a
ik-i
uk-u
ek-e
ok-o

DAKUTEN

Dakuten appears as two small lines ” on the top right of characters. When you see this marking, it simply makes the following modifications to the listed groups of characters.

Without DakutenWith Dakuten Becomes
か (ka)が (ga) K > G
さ (sa)ざ (za) S > Z
た (ta)だ (da) T > D
は (ha)ば (ba) H > B
* し (shi)じ (ji)
* つ (tsu)づ (zu)

HANDAKUTEN

The next marking we come across is a small circle seen on the top right corner. This is only used on H/F sounds, such as… ha, hi, hu, fu, he, ho. When you see this marking it changes the H/F sound to a P sound.

Without HandakutenWith Handakuten
は (ha)ぱ (pa)
ひ (hi)ぴ (pi)
ふ (fu)ぷ (pu)
へ (he)ぺ (pe)
ほ (ho)ぽ (po)

SMALL FORM CHARACTERS.

When you see a small Hiragana character placed between regular-sized characters it changes the way you read the word. Either by extending or combining syllables. Take a look at how this works below.

SMALL TSU (っ).

The small tsu (っ) extends the sound of the character directly after it. At first, this may sound like a subtle difference when heard, but pay attention as these subtle differences can make a huge difference in what you are saying. Take a look at the following example to see how this works. As you will see the small tsu doubles the hold of the P sound of the ぷ (pu) character.

  • WITH – きっぷ (ki-p-pu)
  • WITHOUT – きぷ (ki-pu)

YA, YU, YO, COMBINING SYLLABLES

Next is the combination of the small ya (や), yu (ゆ), and yo (よ) with other characters. This one is hard to explain but easy to demonstrate. When you see a regular character followed by a small ya (や), yu (ゆ), or yo (よ) it merges these syllables from two to one. Take a look at the following example to see what I mean using the word Kyo (today).

  • Two Syllables, きよ(ki-yo)
  • One Syllable, きょ(kyo)

Written as きよ both characters full size, this would be pronounced as ki-yo, with each character pronounced as one individual syllable. Which is wrong… All the character’s sounds are supposed to blend into the space of one syllable (kyo). By writing the yo (よ) in a small form (きょ – kyo). We successfully combine these characters into one syllable. Got it?

HOW TO GET BETTER AT HIRAGANA.

  • Dedicate a portion of your practice time to writing practice.
  • Lookup the proper stroke order of each character.
  • Try using an app such as RoboKana to practice.
  • Practice writing words you are currently learning in Hiragana only.
  • Use the worksheets provided below to practice writing.

Hiragana Practice Worksheets