第3課: Kana II: カタカナ Katakana

Katakana was once referred to as otokode (men's hand) because it was primarily used by educated men. The script comes from manuscript Kanji, which explains the shape of the characters. Nothing is different about the sounds in Katakana. It is simply another syllabary used in different situations.


It is important to reiterate that the sounds in Katakana are no different than they are in Hiragana. It is simply another syllabary for other situations. Because we have gone through the different kind of sounds, the Katakana letters will be grouped in the Table of Fifty Sounds (ごじゅうおんず gojuuonzu) but with all of the sounds together in one chart.  

  ア A イ I ウ U エ E オ O ャ YA
 ュ YU
 ョ YO
 K カ KA キ KI ク KU ケ KE コ KO キャ KYA
 キュ KYU キョ
 S サ SA シ SHI ス SU   セ SE ソ SO シャ SHA
 シュ SHU
 ショ SHO
 T タ TA チ CHI ツ TSU テ TE ト TO チャ CHA
 チュ CHU
 チョ CHO
 N ナ NA ニ NI ヌ NU ネ NE ノ NO ニャ NYA
 ニュ NYU
 ニョ NYO
 H ハ HA ヒ HI フ FU ヘ HE   ホ HO ヒャ HYA
 ヒュ HYU
 ヒョ HYO
 M マ MA ミ MI ム MU メ ME  モ MO ミャ MYA
 ミュ MYU
 ミョ MYO
 Y ヤ YA  ユ YU  ヨ YO

 R ラ RA リ RI ル RU レ RE ロ RO リャ RYA
 リュ RYU
 リョ RYO
 W ワ WA ヰ (W)I   ヱ (W)E  ヲ (W)O

      ン N'

 G ガ GA ギ GI グ GU ゲ GE ゴ GO ギャ GYA
 ギュ GYU
 ギョ GYO
 Z ザ ZA ジ^ JI ズ^ ZU ゼ ZE ゾ ZO ジャ JA
 ジュ JU
 ジョ JO
 D ダ DA ヂ^ DJI ヅ^ DZU デ DE ド DO ヂャ DJA
 B バ BA ビ  BI ブ BU ベ BE ボ BO ビャ BYA
 ビュ BYU
 P パ PA ピ PI プ PU ペ PE ポ PO ピャ PYA
 ピュ PYU

Usage Notes

1. ヲ is seldom used. In loanwords, "wo" is written as ウォ. 
2. The sound "wa" may be alternatively written as ウァ in loanwords, but this is uncommon.
3. ヱ and ヰ are obsolete and were once pronounced as "we" and "wi". When seen today, they are read as "e" and "i" respectively. You may still find these characters in names. For example, Yebisu ヱビス (pronounced as ebisu) is a name of a beer company. 

Practice (1)

Part I: Spell the following words in カタカナ. 

1. Piano        2. Tesuto (Test)          3. Gorufu (Golf)
4. Miruku (Milk)    5. Kamera (Camera)

Part II: Romanize the following words. Any system is fine so long as you are consistent.

1. スリル (Thrill) 2. シネマ (Cinema) 3. マスコミ (The media)     
4. キャビン (Cabin)  5. パリ (Paris)

Additional カタカナ for Foreign Phrases

      Although Hiragana isn't normally used to write foreign words, the same methods of making Kana extensions apply. Consonants not in Japanese are replaced with approximations. For instance, Japanese doesn't have a v sound. So, even when you use v-sound Kana, the pronunciation is still "b". 

 A   ヴァ      ツァ ファ クァ・クヮ グァ・グヮ
 I  ウィ ヴィ   ティ ディ  ツィ フィ  
 U   ヴ   トゥ ドゥ     
 E イェ ウェ ヴェ シェ ジェ   チェ ツェ フェ  
 O  ウォ ヴォ      ツォ フォ  

Curriculum Note: Visit Extra Katakana to see more Kana extensions for foreign transliterations. 

These are all "new" sounds in Modern Japanese, but many loanwords came into the language before these sounds were available exist. For instance, if a loanword had the "tu" sound, it would be represented with ツ (tour guide = ツアーガイド). You may find old spellings for some loans. For instance, whiskey was once spelled as ヰスキー before being spelled as ウィスキー.

1. ハイウェイ

2. モーツァルト

3. プレッツェル

4. カフェ

5. ファン
    Fan (Supporter)

Practice (2): Spell the following words in カタカナ.

1. Fea (Fair) 2. Baiorin/vaiorin (Violin)  3. Wirusu/Uirusu (Virus)
4. Shefu (Chef) 5. Kariforunia (California) 6. Chesu (Chess) 


      Katakana is primarily used to write foreign expressions such as science terms. Katakana may also replace complicated Kanji. For instance, the word for skin is hifu. In Kanji it is spelled as 皮膚. Because the second character is considered to be complex, the word may be seen spelled as 皮フ. Usually, however, Hiragana is used to replace complicated Kanji. 

As Japanese doesn't allow final consonants or consonant clusters with exception to ン, vowels are inserted. U is often inserted, but o is used after t and d. There are exceptions likesūtsu ーツ (suit) and kēki ーキ (cake). 

6. ネコ


8. フェイク

 7. ホモ・サピエンス
    Homo sapiensu
    Homo sapiens

Punctuation Note: ・ separates unfamiliar loan words or options.

Application Note: You do not normally write out full sentences in カタカナ. This is, however, done in telegraphs (as all telegraph messages are written fully in カタカナ) and sometimes done artistically in titles of songs, products, etc. カタカナ is meant to stand out, so if you were to write everything out in カタカナ, it may give off a foreign impression or it may be used to essentially italicize the statement, which fits with what follows below.   

カタカナ is used for some Japanese companies. カタカナ is also used to write onomatopoeia (sound effects) and stylistically by authors to italicize words. This can be often seen on billboards.

9. トヨタ 10. ゴミ       11. ホンダ  12. メガネ
    Toyota      Gomi               Honda       Megane
    Toyota      Trash                             Honda                       Glasses

Practice (3): Transcribe (write out) the following words to the best of your abilities into カタカナ. 

1. Wikipedia 2. America 3. France 4. Mexico

カタカナ Stroke Orders

Be careful with stroke order for characters that look similar. Exercises: Do the same things you did for Hiragana with カタカナ. Review frequently.

Tip: Practice differentiating シ、ツ、 and ン.

Your Name

Namae なまえ means name. Japanese names are normally in Kanji, but some people have Kana in their names and surnames (myōji みょうじ). Foreign names are usually transliterated phonetically into カタカナ with the ordering of first and last name based on the original language. Chinese names are usually left in Kanji and read with Japanese readings, but they can also be read with nativized Modern Chinese readings. The latter choice is becoming more prevalent, but doing so requires a knowledge of newer Chinese readings.  

Consider the sounds closest to those in your name. Go by pronunciation rather than spelling. There can be several ways to render your name. Some names have standardized transliterations, and you may be instructed by your teacher to spell your name in a certain manner.

Spelling Note: Use ー to make a long vowel and ッ to make a long consonant.  

13. アウン・サン・スー・チー
      Aung San Suu Kyi

15. イエス・キリスト
      Jesus Christ

17. キム・ソン
      Seon Kim

19. カズオ・イシグロ
      Kazuo Ishiguro

14. ビル

16. バラック・オバマ
      Barack Obama

18. ニコラ・サルコジ
      Nicolas Sarkozy

19. オースティン

Name Note
: カズオ・イシグロ is a famous  Japanese English writer. His name is often written in カタカナ with a Western order.

Cultural Note: ~さん san after a name is like Mr. or Mrs. in English. ~さま sama  shows more respect, and ~ちゃん chan is a childish version of ~さん. Don't use these after your own name unless you refer to yourself in third person. Titles like sensei せんせい come after one's name. 


1. Try writing your full name in カタカナ. 

2. Find a Japanese name online and write it out in Hiragana.

3. Practice using "~さん (san)" in the real world. 

4. If you have a pet, start calling your pet "....~ちゃん (chan)."

5. If you haven't been calling your teacher with their surname + sensei せんせい, start. 

Next Lesson → 第4課: Kana III: Basic Kana Orthography


Practice (1)

Part I: 

1. ピアノ 2. テスト 3. ゴルフ 4. ミルク 5. カメラ 

Part II:

1. Suriru 2. Cinema 3. Masukomi 4. Kyabin 5. Pari

Practice (2)

1. フェア 4. ヴァイオリン・バイオリン 3. ウィルス・ウイルス 4. シェフ 5. カリフォルニア 6. チェス 

Practice (3)

1. ウィキペディア 2. アメリカ 3. フランス 4. メキシコ