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第2課: Kana I: ひらがな Hiragana

Japanese has three different writing systems intertwined with each other. Two of these systems are called Kana, which consist of characters that stand for a consonant + vowel (CV) or a vowel (V) with one exception. The two systems of Kana are called Hiragana and KatakanaChinese characters called Kanji are also used, but we'll look at just Hiragana first and the basic rules for using it. 

Pitch Note: High pitch will be represented in bold.  

Hiragana ひらがな

Kana represent the morae of Japanese. Remember that a mora is an equal time unit of speech and is more correct than syllable in referring to Japanese. A sentence written entirely in Hiragana would look something like:

Kare wa kankokujin desu.
He is Korean. 

 Unvoiced Sounds

Kana can be organized into the Gojuuonzu, which means the table of 50 sounds despite the fact that it is a few shy of 50. Extensions include the rest of the important sounds. First, we will simply look at the basic sounds, which are all unvoiced (seion), of Japanese. 

 あ A か KA さ SA た TA な NA は HA ま MA や YA ら RA わ WA ん N'
 い I き KI し SHI ち CHI に NI ひ HI み MI  り RI ゐ (W)I* 
 う U く KU す SU つ TSU ぬ NU ふ FU む MU ゆ YU る RU  
 え E け KE せ SE て TE ね NE へ HE め ME  れ RE ゑ (W)E* 
 お O こ KO そ SO と TO の NO ほ HO も MO よ YO ろ RO を (W)O 

Usage Notes:

1. * marks obsolete sounds no longer in Standard Japanese. However, you'll still see them in literature, so it's nice to at least know that they're out there.
2. を is usually pronounced as "o". Some people still pronounce it as wo", especially when singing and theatre.
3. ん can't begin a word in Standard Japanese, but it's the only consonant that can end a word.


たち (Form; shape) ↓ (Dream) ん (Japan) つう (Usual) わり (End)

Voiced Sounds

 The next sounds are called voiced sounds (dakuon) because they are made by vibrating one's vocal folds. They are all written with a character from above plus ゛(theだくてん/にごり↓, )  or ゜(the はんだくてん). 

 G Z D B P
 が GA ざ ZA だ DA ば BA ぱ PA
 ぎ GI じ JI ぢ (D)JI び BI ぴ PI
 ぐ GU ず ZU づ (D)ZU ぶ BU ぷ PU
 げ GE ぜ ZE で DE べ BE ぺ PE
 ご GO ぞ ZO どDO ぼ BO ぽ PO


ケモン (Pokemon)   だいがくせい (College student) ず (Number) 

Palatal Sounds

Palatal sounds utilize the roof of the mouth. They can either be voiced or not voiced. They are written with an i-sound Kana and a small ゃ, ゅ, or ょ. 

 きゃ KYA ぎゃ GYA  じゃ JA ぢゃ DJA にゃ NYA ひゃ HYA びゃ BYA ぴゃ PYA みゃ MYA りゃ RYA
 きゅ KYU ぎゅ GYU じゅ JU ぢゅ DJU にゅ NYU ひゅ HYU びゅ BYU ぴゅ PYU みゅ MYU りゅ RYU
 きょ KYO ぎょ GYO じょ JO ぢょ DJO にょ NYO ひょ
 びょ BYO ぴょ PYO みょ MYO りょ RYO

Usage Notes

1. ぢゃ, ぢゅ, & ぢょ are normally pronounced as ja, ju, and jo but are usually replaced with じゃ, じゅ, & じょ. 

2. The ry-sounds tend to be the most difficult for learners to make. 


Part I: Change the following words in Rōmaji into ひらがな.

1. Kemuri (smoke)           2. Amagumo (rain cloud)             
3. Uta↓ (song) 4. Sekai (world)
5. Karate 6. Hajimemashite (Nice to meet you)

Part II: Change the following words in ひらがな into Rōmaji.

1. のじょ (She)            2. しょだな (Bookshelf)        
3. にほんご (Japanese language) 4. さかな (Fish)            
5. にんげん (Human)           6. だいがく (College)
7. ひ (Person) 8. こんにちは↓ (Good afternoon)
9. あした↓ (Tomorrow)

Pronunciation Note: The は in #8 is actually pronounced as わ. 


Hiragana is used for words (normally) not written in Kanji, except loanwords. Kana used in conjugation are called okuriganaFurigana/rubi are kana used to show how Kanji are read.

Note: The complicated and not so commonly used Kanji spelling is 皺.        

()わらない = To not change    (おくりがな)   

漢字(んじ) Kanji      (ふりがな)

Question: Get a dictionary and give the readings of the following words in Hiragana.

1. 顔 (Face)       2. 韓国語 (Korean)       3. 鳥 (Bird)        4. 友達 (Friend)

Punctuation Note: There are no spaces because the mixed script and grammar make word boundaries obvious. The period is 。, the comma is 、, and the quotation marks are「」.

Terminology Note: Furikanji also exists. This is printing Chinese characters as ruby characters. You will rarely see this, but it does get used every now and then.  

ひらがな Stroke Orders

  Handwriting Notes:

1. Make sure that the end of the second stroke in あ is crossing the curve of the final stroke.  
2. Make sure that い is written such that the two sides go up to the right hand corner diagonally. 
3. Make sure that the final stroke in け is slightly farther down than the first.
4. For せ, the second stroke usually doesn't have a hook.  
5. For い, こ, た, ふ, り, and ゆ, it is generally not accepted to connect the strokes together in manuscript.
6. For む, if you connect stroke 2 and 3 together, you do not add another dot.
7. Make sure the stroke 3 for お is not positioned far away from the rest of the character.
8. In more proper handwriting, the last stroke in さ and き is not connected with the rest, and there is a small hook on the preceding stroke leading to the final stroke.  


1. Make flashcards with the ひらがな on the front and the Rōmaji on the back. 

2. Find something in Japanese and see if you can read all the ひらがな!

3. しりとり is a game where the next word starts with the last かな of the last word. Try it.

Next Lesson → 第3課: Kana II: Katakana カタカナ



Part I:

1. けむり 2. あまぐも 3. うた 4. せかい 5. からて 6. はじめまして

Part II: If you have been taught to use other conventions in romanization, go by what you're teacher says to do. There are plenty of correct ways to romanize Japanese.

1. Kanojo 2. Shodana 3. Nihongo 4. Sakana 5. Ningen 6. Daigaku 7. Hito 8. Kon'nichi wa
9. Ashita 


1. かお  2. かんこくご  3. とり  4. ともだち

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