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Beginner’s guide to the Japanese alphabet

Beginner’s guide to the Japanese alphabet

One of the top languages used globally and on the Internet, the Japanese language offers its speakers many benefits, especially to foreign nationals. Mastering the Japanese alphabet can open many doors for you professionally and personally. With many top-notch Japanese companies such as Sony, Suzuki, Mitsubishi Electric, Honda and Toyota, to name a few, setting their bases in India, and programs such as TITP and SSW constantly seeking to fill the employment gap in Japan, the need for skilled workers who speak Japanese is on the rise.

However, learning to read and write the Japanese alphabet is not an easy feat for beginners. But fret not, for in this article, we will show you all that you need to know about the Japanese alphabet.

Before we delve into the topic at hand, you need to know that there are three main Japanese writing systems:

  1. Hiragana (ひらがな)
  2. Katakana (カタカナ)
  3. Kanji (漢字)

Hiragana

Hiragana is a phonetic lettering system and is considered the basic way of writing in Japanese. It has 48 base characters, out of which are 8 singular vowels – あ [a], い [i], う [ɯ], え [e], お [o].

It is mainly used to write grammatical and functional words like particles, adverbs and names for plants or animals. In appearance, they look curly as they are shaped like English cursive. It is also used to replace Kanji.

Hiragana Script

あ い う え お

か き く け こ が ぎ ぐ げ ご

さ し す せ そ ざ じ ず ぜ ぞ

た ち つ て と だ   づ で ど

な に ぬ ね の

は ひ ふ へ ほ ば び ぶ べ ぼ

ま み む め も ぱ ぴ ぷ ぺ ぽ

や   ゆ   よ

ら り る れ ろ

わ   を   ん

Hiragana Combinations

きゃ きゅ きょ

ぎゃ ぎゅ ぎょ

しゃ しゅ しょ

じゃ じゅ じょ

にゃ にゅ にょ

ひゃ ひゅ ひょ

みゃ みゅ みょ

りゃ りゅ りょ

ちゃ ちゅ ちょ

びゃ びゅ ぴょ

ぴゃ ぴゅ ぴょ

Katakana

With each letter representing the sound of the syllable, Katakana is used for loan words that cannot be further translated into Japanese. These words may include names of companies or animals or countries. For example, Russia is written as ロシア.

While there are 46 basic Katakana (gojūon) in modern Japanese, there are also other modified scripts-

  • 20 dakuon
  • 5 handakuon
  • 36 yōon, 1 sokuon
  • 6 additional letters

Katakana characters appear sharper and block-ish, making them look more angular.

Katakana

ア イ ウ エ オ

カ キ ク ケ コ  ガ ギ グ ゲ ゴ

サ シ ス セ ソ  ザ ジ ズ ゼ ゾ

タ 千 ツ テ ト  だ ヂ ヅ ゼ ゾ

ナ 二 ヌ ネ ノ

ハ ヒ フ へ ホ  バ ビ ブ ベ ボ

マ 三 ム メ モ  パ ピ プ ぺ ポ

ヤ   ユ   ヨ

ラ リ ル レ ロ

ワ   ヲ   ン

Katakana Combinations

キャ キュ キョ

ギャ ギュ ギョ

シャ シュ ショ

ヒャ ヒュ ヒョ

ビャ ビュ ビョ

ピャ ピュ ピョ

ミャ ミュ ミョ

リャ リュ リョ

チャ チュ チョ

Kanji

Introduced to Japan in the 5th century, Kanji consist of over 50,000 characters and are mostly used to write adjectives, adverbs, verbs, and nouns. They are classified as Pictographic, Indicative, and Compound characters. They form words or ideas.

To learn Kanji, you would require four to six weeks in a Japanese learning school. Moreover, you would need to learn at least 100 kanji characters to clear the N5 level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT).

Kanji

心 こころ

愛 あい

人 にん・ひと

金 おかね・きん

夢 ゆめ

桜 さくら

私 わたし

本 ほん

食 たべる・しょく

円 えん

門 もん

筋肉 きんにく

写真 しゃしん

夜 よる

車 くるま

温 おんせん

山 やま

盆栽 ぼんさい

丼 どんぶり

時計 とけい

雪 ゆき

猫 ねこ

卵 たまご

足 あし

海 うみ

麺 めん

寺 てら

書 しょ

神社 じんじゃ

忍者 にんじゃ

動物 どうぶつ

魚 さかな

漫画 まんが

電車 でんしゃ

場 ゆ

歌 うた

船 ふね

城 しろ

防災 ぼうさい

刺身 さしみ

花 はな

冬 ふゆ

天気 てんき

侍 さむらい

滝 たき

玉 たま

卒業 そつぎょう

Difference Between Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji

The table below shows the main differences between Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji.

Hiragana Katakana Kanji
Mainly used for writing grammatical and functional words. Used to write loan words such as names of countries or companies. Used to write adverbs, verbs, nouns, and adjectives.
Phonetically spell out Japanese words. Phonetically spell out foreign words. Not a phonetic syllabary.
Characters are curly shaped like English cursive. Characters are sharp and look like blocks. Logographic Chinese characters.

Rōmaji

Apart from the three Japanese writing scripts, there is another script that is used occasionally called Rōmaji. Brought to Japan in the 16th century by the Portuguese, Rōmaji (also known as the Roman alphabet) is used to write the Japanese alphabet into Roman characters. In other words, it is a romanised spelling used to interpret Japanese.

Modern systems of Romaji include Hepburn romanisation, Nihon-shiki romanisation and Kunrei-shiki romanisation.

Free Hiragana And Katakana Resources

Thanks to the Internet, especially Youtube tutorials, there are many different ways to learn to read and write Hiragana And Katakana. Here, we have compiled a list of free resources that we believe will help you enhance your Japanese language skills.

Free Hiragana Resources For Beginners

Free Katakana Resources Beginners

Where To Learn Japanese Style of Writing In India?

Joining forces to ensure that Indian skilled workers get their dream jobs in Japan, the Indian and Japanese governments have started many programs such as TITP (Technical Intern Training Program) and SSW (Specific Skilled Workers Program). Under such programs, not only will you be taught the Japanese language along with the rich cultural heritage of the Land of the Rising Sun, but you will also get the opportunity to live and work in Japan.

Located in Gautum Nagar, New Delhi, Akal Japanese Academy offers the best scope and education for those who wish to migrate to Japan for an opportunity of a lifetime. With a team of Japanese language experts who dedicate their time and energy to providing the best education to the students and trainees, there is no better place to learn the Japanese alphabet in India.

Conclusion: Learning a new language can be challenging and time-consuming, especially a language as complex as Japanese. However, if you put in the time and effort, we are confident that you will master the language soon enough. Also, we advise that you set aside at least an hour or two to focus solely on your Japanese alphabet everyday.

We hope this article helps you in your journey to achieving your next goal.

We will leave you here with our best wishes!

Until next time, Sayonara for now!

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