Reference page

3 writing systems

There are 3 types of writing systems in Japanese. They are called "Hiragana", "Katakana", and "Kanji". Around the 5th century, Japanese people started to use Chinese characters "Kanji" to represent Japanese language. Then, around the 9th century, they simplified shapes of certain Kanji and created "Hiragana" and "Katakana" which are phonetic letters (indicating just the sounds).
Today, Japanese writing consists of these 3 kind of characters.

   私    ビール みました

I drank a beer.

Kanji

Hiragana

Katakana

Kanji


- Each kanji represents a meaning and has several different pronunciations.
- They are used for nouns, adjectives, verbs etc.
- The number of commonly used kanji in Japan is about 2000 ! Japanese children learn about 1000 kanji in primary school and another 1000 kanji in junior high school.

Hiragana / Katakana


- Hiragana and katakana writings are phonetic letters (indicating just the sounds). Therefore, learning hiragana and katakana means learning Japanese pronunciation as well.
- There are 46 letters of hiragana and 46 letters of katakana, both representing the same 46 sounds. That means, each sound can be written in 2 ways (hiragana and katakana).
- Katakana is mainly used for words with foreign origins.

Rōmaji


There is an official way to transcribe Japanese sounds into the Roman alphabet (English alphabet) which is called Rōmaji. You can read all Japanese sentences on this site without having to learn the Japanese writing system, because all the Japanese sentences are transcribed in Rōmaji !

In Noriko's Japanese Lessons, you learn hiragana, katakana, and rōmaji.

You can learn hiragana and katakana at the same time. If it's too much, you can start with hiragana first, which is used more frequently.

On the Ninja level of this site, you will learn the verb conjugation. The verb conjugation is closely connected to the hiragana chart. This is why I highly recommend everyone to learn Hiragana. Knowing Hiragana will really help you when you learn verb conjugation !

At the beginning, the Japanese writing system may seem complicated to English speakers. But actually, it doesn't take a long time to memorize 92 letters (46 hiragana and 46 katakana). On the other hand, remember that there is no "irregular spelling" in Japanese words. Once you master the 92 letters, you can write words just as how you pronounce them. Simple ! Don't give up !

Punctuations

Punctuation

  equivalent to comma , : It's called "ten" and is used for the pause in a sentence.

あしたべんきょうします

Tomorrow, I study.

  equivalent to period . : It's called "maru" and is used to mark the end of a sentence.

すし たべました

I ate sushi.

 「」 equivalent to quotation marks " " : It's called "kagi kakko" and is used to quote.

いいですよ いいました

I said "Alright".

 ( ) equivalent to parentheses ( ) : It's called "kakko" and is used to add information.

とうきょう (にほんしゅと)

Tokyo (Capital of Japan)

aren't used in formal Japanese writing. However, they could be used in casual writing.

  Space

In Japanese sentences, there is no space between words. But on this site, the space is sometimes inserted between words in order to see the sentence structure more clearly.

Hiragana & Katakana Chart

There are 5 vowels in Japanese. Basic 46 Hiragana / Katakana chart shows the 5 vowels and 41 combination of consonants and vowel sounds. Click on letters to listen to the sounds.

Basic 46 Hiragana chart

5 vowels

K

S

T

N

H

M

Y

R

W

25 Hiragana with marks and °

G

Z

D

B

P

Additional 33 Hiragana combinations
(Contracted sounds)

K

きゃ

きゅ

きょ

S

しゃ

しゅ

しょ

C

ちゃ

ちゅ

ちょ

N

にゃ

にゅ

にょ

H

ひゃ

ひゅ

ひょ

M

みゃ

みゅ

みょ

R

りゃ

りゅ

りょ

G

ぎゃ

ぎゅ

ぎょ

J

じゃ

じゅ

じょ

B

びゃ

びゅ

びょ

P

ぴゃ

ぴゅ

ぴょ

How do I to write hiragana and katakana?

Click on the link below to download the worksheets. These sheets will help you learn the proper stroking and the formation of each character. Let's practice !

The following hiragana letters look different depending on the font being used. The examples are shown below. On this site, I only use the font, Handwriting style, because it most accurately represents the authentic handwriting of Japanese letters. Please use the font on this website (and my hiragana chart) as a model.

The font used on this website.
Please use this font as a model.

Some fonts show certain hiragana
letters this way.

Let's transcribe these words in rōmaji.

Q1

わたし

watashi

Check

Q2

あなた

anata

Check

Q3

くるま

kuruma

Check

Q4

とけい

tokei

Check

Q5

みんな

minna

Check

Q6

ホチキス

hochikisu

Check

Q7

レタス

retasu

Check

Q8

ワイン

wain

Check

Q9

ネクタイ

nekutai

Check

Q10

  ココア  

kokoa

Check

Try again

Let's transcribe these words in hiragana.

Q1

tsukue

つくえ

Check

Q2

saifu

さいふ

Check

Q3

niwa

にわ

Check

Q4

otera

おてら

Check

Q5

musume

むすめ

Check

Try again

Let's transcribe these words in katakana.

Q1

shiatoru

シアトル

Check

Q2

karaoke

カラオケ

Check

Q3

resutoran

レストラン

Check

Q4

Maikeru

マイケル

Check

Q5

Maikurosofuto

マイクロソフト

Check

Try again

Marks and ゜

When you add the mark〝 (called "ten ten") to consonants K, S, T, H, they become G, Z, D, B.

 

The mark ゜(called "maru") can only be added to H. When the "maru" is added, the H becomes P.

These marks should be added on the upper right corner of each letter.

K

S

T

H

G

Z

D

B

P

" ji " and " zu "

You have 2 choices of letters describing the sounds "ji" and "zu". For the sound, "ji", the letter じ is most often used and ぢ is used in some exceptional cases. For the sound "zu", the letter ず is most often used and づ is used in some exceptional cases.

Let's transcribe these words in rōmaji.

Q1

ともだち

tomodachi

Check

Q2

びん

bin

Check

Q3

みず

mizu

Check

Q4

でんわ

denwa

Check

Q5

ごみ

gomi

Check

Q6

テレビ

terebi

Check

Q7

プリン

purin

Check

Q8

パソコン

pasokon

Check

Q9

ブルゾン

buruzon

Check

Q10

ベトナム

Betonamu

Check

Try again

Let's transcribe these words in hiragana.

Q1

kagi

かぎ

Check

Q2

kodomo

こども

Check

Q3

megane

めがね

Check

Q4

hanabi

はなび

Check

Q5

jikan

じかん

Check

Try again

Let's transcribe these words in katakana.

Q1

Gojira

ゴジラ

Check

Q2

pazuru

パズル

Check

Q3

gaido

ガイド

Check

Q4

piza

ピザ

Check

Q5

beruto

ベルト

Check

Try again

Contracted sounds

When one of the 3 letters, や(ya), ゆ(yu), よ(yo) is written small after "i" vowel letters (see below)...

"i" vowel letters

Hiragana

Katakana

Rōmaji

ki

shi

chi

ni

hi

mi

ri

They become contracted sounds.
They are pronounced as if you are pronouncing these two letters at the same time:

e.g: きゃ Try to pronounce "ki" and "ya" at the same time...! → kya

e.g: しゅ Try to pronounce "shi" and "yu" at the same time...! → shu

e.g: ちょ Try to pronounce "chi" and "yo" at the same time...! → cho

Let's transcribe these words in rōmaji.

Q1

ひゃく

hyaku

Check

Q2

きんぎょ

kingyo

Check

Q3

しゃしん

shashin

Check

Q4

しゅみ

shumi

Check

Q5

おちゃ

ocha

Check

Q6

シャツ

shatsu

Check

Q7

シャンペン

shanpen

Check

Q8

キャベツ

kyabetsu

Check

Q9

チュニジア

Chunijia

Check

Q10

ジョイス

Joisu

Check

Try again

Let's transcribe these words in hiragana.

Q1

kyonen

きょねん

Check

Q2

shujitsu

しゅじゅつ

Check

Q3

kaisha

かいしゃ

Check

Q4

chairo

ちゃいろ

Check

Q5

kyaku

きゃく

Check

Try again

Let's transcribe these words in katakana.

Q1

chaperu

チャペル

Check

Q2

kyandoru

キャンドル

Check

Q3

Jon

ジョン

Check

Q4

manikyua

マニキュア

Check

Q5

anchobi

アンチョビ

Check

Try again

Double vowels / Double consonants

Double vowels

In Japanese, there are double vowels (long vowels) and single vowels (short vowels). Double vowels are transcribed as follows:

In Rōmaji

Put a straight line mark ( ‾ ) on top of double vowels.

ブル

pronounced as "teeburu"

pronounced as "ruuru"

In Hiragana

Add a double sound vowel letter.

おかさん

おにさん


おねさん

おとさん

for double vowel "O", add う instead of お.

In Katakana

Add a double sound vowel letter.

タクシ

The distinction between double vowels and single vowels is very important because double or single vowels make a completely different word !

いえ


おばさん

おばさん

Double consonants

To transcribe the double consonant sound ( kk, tt, ss, pp, etc), write a small つ right before the letter of which the consonant should be doubled.This つ is not pronounced, but indicates that the following consonant is doubled. This rule applies to both hiragana and katakana.

こう


ター

Let's transcribe these words in rōmaji.

Q1

ぼうけん

bōken

Check

Q2

きっぷ

kippu

Check

Q3

くうこう

kūkō

Check

Q4

まあまあ

māmā

Check

Q5

いっかげつ

ikkagetsu

Check

Q6

ゲーム

gēmu

Check

Q7

アップルパイ

appuru pai

Check

Q8

グーグル

gūguru

Check

Q9

カーテン

kāten

Check

Q10

ロック

rokku

Check

Try again

Let's transcribe these words in hiragana.

Q1

nichiyōbi

にちようび

Check

Q2

massugu

まっすぐ

Check

Q3

yukkuri

ゆっくり

Check

Q4

  obāsan  

おばあさん

Check

Q5

  yūki  

ゆうき

Check

Try again

Let's transcribe these words in katakana.

Q1

Robāto

ロバート

Check

Q2

kurippu

クリップ

Check

Q3

    sūpā    

スーパー

Check

Q4

sakkā

サッカー

Check

Q5

daietto

ダイエット

Check

Try again

Exception

Exceptional use of hiragana for certain particles

Case 1

To transcribe the particle of subject/topic "wa", the letter は is used. In this case, is exceptionally pronounced as "wa".

わたし

せんせい

です

I am a teacher.

Case 2

To transcribe the particle of destination "e", the letter is used. In this case, へ is exceptionally pronounced as "e".

わたし

にほん

いきます

I go to Japan.

Case 3

The letter is used exclusively as the particle of the direct object. You can't use お in this case even though the pronunciation is the same.

わたし

パン

たべます

I eat bread.

Other exceptional pronunciations

To transcribe foreign sounds which do not exist in Japanese, we write these vowel combinations in small letters in katakana. In rōmaji, these foreign sounds are written as follows in parentheses.

チェックイン

ディナー

ファックス

フェイスブック

フィットネス

フォント

ジェファ

ティ

ミルクシェイク

ウォルマート

ウェブサイト

ウィンドウズ

Let's practice some more !

Let's transcribe these words in rōmaji.

Q1

びょういん

byōin

Check

Q2

いっぷん

ippun

Check

Q3

ぎゅうにゅう

gyūnyū

Check

Q4

やっきょく

yakkyoku

Check

Q5

しゃかい

shakai

Check

Q6

スイッチ

suicchi

Check

Q7

スポーツ

supōtsu

Check

Q8

コーラ

kōra

Check

Q9

ポケット

poketto

Check

Q10

メッセージ

messēji

Check

Try again

Let's transcribe these words in hiragana.

Q1

Chūgoku

ちゅうごく

Check

Q2

ryokō

りょこう

Check

Q3

benkyō

べんきょう

Check

Q4

chotto

ちょっと

Check

Q5

yūbinkyoku

ゆうびんきょく

Check

Try again

Let's transcribe these words in katakana.

Q1

erebētā

エレベーター

Check

Q2

Yūchūbu

ユーチューブ

Check

Q3

chokorēto

チョコレート

Check

Q4

magukappu

マグカップ

Check

Q5

bābekyū

バーベキュー

Check

Try again

How did you do on the Japanese writing system ?
Take your time to master them. It's worth it !
Now, let's move on to Basic grammar !

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