Hiragana

Today we'll be learning all about Hiragana - of the two Japanese phonetic character sets. The other set is Katakana which you can learn about here. Both Hiragana and Katakana, which were invented to better fit the Japanese language, instead of depending on the Chinese characters (Kanji) alone.
 

Hiragana ひらがな chart

Each of the 46 Hiragana characters represents a syllable or "sound cluster":
    A I U E O
     あ   い   う   え   お 
k  
s  
t  
n  
h  
m  
y      
r  
w        
n          

The 46 Hiragana characters are shown in the table above are in 'alphabetical' or 'dictionary order'. In this table, the characters are read from left to right, beginning from the top row. So, あ-い-う-え-お (a-i-u-e-o) then か-き-く-け-こ (ka-ki-ku-ke-ko) and so on.

Hiragana came to be used mainly in the Japanese language in conjunction with kanji, and katakana came to be reserved for foreign original words.

Since these two sets are phonetic, anything you can say you can write down using these characters (within the sound system of Japanese).
 

Pronouncing Hiragana  ひらがな

Are you ready to try pronouncing these Hiragana characters? The most important pronunciations are those of the five vowels. As long as you can distinguish the five vowels clearly, you’ll be alright! All other syllables consist of consonants and these vowels. Let's give them a try:

あ 

い 

う 

え 

か 

き 

く 

け 

さ 

し 

す 

せ 

た 

ち 

つ 

て 

な 

に 

ぬ 

ね 

は 

ひ 

ふ 

へ 

ま 

み 

む 

め 

や 

ゆ 

ら 

り 

る 

れ 

わ 

Reading Hiragana  ひらがな

You can easily read the table above by learning the vowel order, あ い う え お (a i u e o), shown on the top row, and the order of the syllables in the first column on the left: か さ た な は ま や ら わ ん (ka sa ta na ha ma ya ra wa n). Now, you simply combine the consonants of the first column, with each of the vowels (except the special 'n') - and you can read out the Hiragana table whenever you need.

Of course, there are some irregular ones in there - such as the blank spots. Do you spot them? Two in the 'y' row and 3 in the 'w' row (the 'n' row is a special one). The 5 Hiragana that appear to be missing originally did exist, however the sounds of these Hiragana are no longer used in modern Japanese as they are almost identical to the syllables in the 'a' row. (For example, the pronunciation of 'yi' is very similar to 'i', 'ye' is similar to 'e', etc).

Learning to Write Hiragana  ひらがな

In this lesson we'll start with the first row, which are all vowels: あ い う え お (a i u e o). Memorize this vowel order and I assure you it will help you in learning your 46 Hiragana characters. Also, one of the best ways to learn and to read Hiragana is to practice writing them - learning the proper order of the strokes helps!

The video above shows you how to write the first Hiragana character in the 1st row - aka, the 'a' line - pronounced 'a' (like the a in father):

a

The second Hiragana character is pronounced 'i'  (like the i in macaroni):

i

Next we have pronounced 'u' (like the u's in zulu):

u

Here's the fourth Hiragana - pronounced 'e' (like the e in get):

e

And the fifth character of the Hiragana sequence is pronounced 'o' (like the o's in solo):

o

That's it for today! If you want more lessons on Hiragana, check out our full Rocket Japanese course here

To get started on the second set of Japanese phonetic characters, Katakanacheck out this free lesson

Here are a few recommended Japanese lessons to try next!

Until next time!
 

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Sayaka Matsuura
Rocket Japanese