The Japanese Alphabet
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Hiragana - ひらがな
The first step to learning the Japanese language is to learn the alphabet. Or, at least, to learn the sounds that exist in the language.
There are absolutely no "tones" in Japanese like in many other Asian languages, and there are only 2 exceptions within the alphabet which will be explained later. The Japanese alphabet does not contain letters but, instead, contains characters and, technically, they are not an alphabet but a character set. The characters in the chart below are called Hiragana. Hiragana is the main alphabet or character set for Japanese.
Japanese also consists of two other character sets - Kanji (Chinese characters), which we will get into later, and another alphabet/character set, Katakana, which is mainly used for foreign words. Katakana will be covered in Lesson 2.
Don't wait to move on until you have all Hiragana characters memorized - learn them as you continue to go through the other lessons.
There are 5 vowels in Japanese.
- (a), pronounced "ahh"
- (i), pronounced like "e" in "eat"
- (u), pronounced like "oo" in "soon"
- (e), pronounced like "e" in "elk",
- (o), pronounced "oh".
All Hiragana characters end with one of these vowels, with the exception of (n). The only "consonant" that does not resemble that of English is the Japanese "r". It is slightly "rolled" as if it were a combination of a "d", "r", and "l".
|あ a||い i||う u||え e||お o|
|か ka||き ki||く ku||け ke||こ ko|
|が ga||ぎ gi||ぐ gu||げ ge||ご go|
|さ sa||し shi||す su||せ se||そ so|
|ざ za||じ ji||ず zu||ぜ ze||ぞ zo|
|た ta||ち chi||つ tsu||て te||と to|
|だ da||ぢ ji||づ zu||で de||ど do|
|な na||に ni||ぬ nu||ね ne||の no|
|は ha||ひ hi||ふ fu||へ he||ほ ho|
|ば ba||び bi||ぶ bu||べ be||ぼ bo|
|ぱ pa||ぴ pi||ぷ pu||ぺ pe||ぽ po|
|ま ma||み mi||む mu||め me||も mo|
|や ya||ゆ yu||よ yo|
|ら ra||り ri||る ru||れ re||ろ ro|
|わ wa||を wo||ん n/m|
|きゃ kya||きゅ kyu||きょ kyo|
|ぎゃ gya||ぎゅ gyu||ぎょ gyo|
|しゃ sha||しゅ shu||しょ sho|
|じゃ ja||じゅ ju||じょ jo|
|ちゃ cha||ちゅ chu||ちょ cho|
|にゃ nya||にゅ nyu||にょ nyo|
|ひゃ hya||ひゅ hyu||ひょ hyo|
|びゃ bya||びゅ byu||びょ byo|
|ぴゃ pya||ぴゅ pyu||ぴょ pyo|
|みゃ mya||みゅ myu||みょ myo|
|りゃ rya||りゅ ryu||りょ ryo|
- The Hiragana は (ha) is pronounced "wa" when it immediately follows the topic of the sentence. This character is usually only pronounced "ha" when it is part of a word.
- The Hiragana へ (he) is pronounced "e" when it immediately follows a place or direction. Both of these are very simple to detect.
In the classic Japanese language the "h" sound was pronounced like "w", "h", and "f" all put together. The sound for the "ha", "hi", "fu", "he", "ho" evolved one way and the particles, which sounded closer to "wa" and "we", went a different route. They finally ended up taking sounds slightly different then the hiragana was normally pronounced which were also sounds already found in the Japanese language so these two exceptions are often very confusing to outsiders.
Note: You probably noticed in the chart above that there are 2 characters pronounced "zu" and 2 characters pronounced "ji". The characters づ (zu) and ぢ (ji) are very rarely used. づ (zu) only occurs when there is a つ (tsu) in front of it like in つづく (tsuzuku - to continue) or when a Kanji (Chinese character) that has a reading which starts with つ (tsu) is paired at the end with another character changing the つ (tsu) to a づ (zu). The same applies for the Hiragana ぢ (ji). Since they are used so rarely I wouldn't worry about them too much. I will let you know whenever we come upon a word in which they are used.
Some people wonder why "yi", "ye", "wi", "wu", and "we" are missing. There aren't characters for "yi", "ye", or "wu". There is a ゐ (wi) and a ゑ (we) but these were deemed obsolete in 1946 and were replaced by い (i) and え (e) respectively.
For more detailed help on the subject of Kana (Hiragana and Katakana), we always recommend this Japanese course.