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Hiragana, The Basics of Japanese

LEarn Hiragana quickly with Ninja Penguin

First, if you use the free Anki flashcard program, click here to download a free Hiragana / Katakana deck. This was generously created by Scott.

Unless you are going to Japan next week (in which case, you may just want to learn a few basic phrases), we highly recommend spending a few hours memorizing hiragana and then a few days practicing the characters until you've learned them.

If you are serious about learning Japanese, you will need a textbook to keep your learning structured. And...most textbooks require hiragana prior to beginning. Therefore, hiragana truly is the starting point for most students. 


We have good news for you:

Before we get started, I want you to read the sentence above and believe it. Visualize yourself a week from now reading real Japanese. Yes, real Japanese.

While you will still need to learn katakana (easy as hiragana) and begin working with kanji (somewhat more complicated) in order to read native-level Japanese, hiragana is easy to learn and immediately (and forever) useful. 

Let's start with a few fun facts:

  • Hiragana, katakana, and kanji make up the Japanese writing system and all three can be used in a single sentence.
  • Hiragana is used with grammatical words, particles, sounds that follow after kanji, and for words that either don't have a kanji or the kanji is too difficult for the writer. Katakana is mostly used for foreign words or names and kanji represent core concepts.
  • Except the N sound (ん), every hiragana represents a single sound/syllable in the Japanese language. This is called a mora. This is different from the English alphabet. For example, か would be written in English with two letters k and a. But in Japanese, it is a single hiragana.
  • Furigana, the reading aid (usually) above kanji, is written with hiragana characters.
  • There are 46 base characters.
  • Small や, ゆ, and よ are added to the base characters to create new mixed sounds. Two small strokes called dakuten and a small circle called handakuten are also used to change the sound of a few rows of hiragana. 
  • The pronunciation of hiragana is remarkably standard. Three big exceptions are the particles は, を, and へ. These are pronounced as wa, wo, and e.
  • While writing isn't nearly as important as it used to be, here is a quick and dirty tip for stroke order: Stroke order usually starts from the upper left corner down to the lower right. Vertical lines are drawn from top to bottom and horizontal lines are left to right. Knowing this, you can guess how to write most characters.


In this free course, you will learn hiragana in three steps:

  • STEP 1: First, learn the sounds of the kana. (Kana is a word that refers to both hiragana and katakana; master the sounds in Japanese and you will be set for life!)
  • STEP 2: Next, use mnemonics and worksheets to memorize and practice the 46 main hiragana characters.
  • STEP 3: Lastly, we'll wrap things up with the dakuten (the mark that looks like "), the handakuten (the small circle mark), and the small やゆよ. (Don't worry about this just yet.) We'll also give you a short story to test your knowledge.

In each section, you will have a download link to grab the worksheets for that section. Every other section will have a quick quiz for you to test what you have learned.

But first, if you have a printer handy, click the image below and print out the hiragana chart so you can have it for easy reference.

5% Done!

To help gamify the experience, we will include a progress bar after each section. Congratulations! You've earned 5% progress points for reading the above and printing the chart (or at least keep the image file handy). Yeah!

Okay, let's get started to earn more points toward completion of the course.

Behold, STEP ONE!


1

The Sounds

Familiarize yourself with the sounds of Japanese

Wait! I want to read hiragana. Why do I have to...

Stop right there. Hiragana (and katakana) are all about sound. And if you don't get the correct sounds down from the beginning, you will create bad habits that will hamper your ability in the future. So, spend some time with this section. It will not only greatly help you learn hiragana but also Japanese in general.

View the videos below and listen to the sound files over and over until you get a good feel for the sounds.


If you look at the hiragana chart (you did download/print it, didn't you?), you will notice the first five characters (starting to the left) are the vowels a, i, u, e, o. 

First line of hiragana characters

Get your Hiragana Chart handy and watch the video below of Yumi pronouncing each of the vowels. Don't worry about the actual characters yet. Concentrate on the sounds.

Mimic her mouth movements and try your best to echo her pronunciation as perfectly as possible. Keep watching and repeating until you feel like you know the sounds and the order.


Did you watch the video several times? Did you mimic the mouth movements and the sounds? 



Great! Now, look at the next set on the Hiragana Chart. This is the "K" row. It follows the same vowel order as the first but adds a "k" sound to the vowel. Again, watch, mimic, and repeat. 

In this next set, you'll find one small surprise. You might expect し to be pronounced "si" but it is "shi" (sounds like the English feminine pronoun "she"). 

Japanese has very few pronunciation irregularities, but just take them in stride. As with the sets above, listen to them until the sounds and order are natural to your ears. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat!

Now that you have the hang of it, listen to the rest of the sets. Mimic Yumi's mouth position and the sounds. Repeat until you can say it naturally in order. (I mean it! Repeat until the sounds flow from your mouth like golden melted theater popcorn butter.)

In the next one, note that the "hu" sounds more like "fu": 


Can you say all the main sounds now? Try your best to learn all the sounds in order. Keep practicing until you can say each row correctly from memory.

Got it? Good. Now click on the sound button below and say the sounds with Yumi in order and with careful pronunciation.

20% Done!

2

The 46 Main Characters

Let's memorize the main hiragana.

Row One: あいうえお

aiueo

You will spend most of your time in this section. Step 3 will simply add to what you will learn here.

Let's start with the very first row--the vowels.

Remember the sounds? A-I-U-E-O

Can you say them correctly? ah-ee-oo-eh-oh

For each hiragana, we will give you a mnemonic. The trick is to come up with a mnemonic that you can visualize. The weirder and more personal the better. If you can think of something better for you, by all means, use that mnemonic.

We will also give you an example word made up of a hiragana you have already studied (not many to begin with!). Practice reading and listen to the sound file to make sure you got the correct pronunciation.

hiragana a
  • Rōmaji: A
  • Sounds like: fAther or cAr or Ah

​Mnemonic:

  1.  It looks like a cross with a sideways number 9. “Ah, number nine.”
  2. Ah! It looks like a “t” with a slanted "g.”
  3. If you look at the bottom left, you may see a lowercase "a." And if you look at the dead center, you may see a slanted capital "A."

3 strokes
Draw from left to right; top to bottom

Example Word:

  • ああ - ah! [The double sound simply makes the sound longer.]

  • Rōmaji: I
  • Sounds like:  fEEt

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like two dangling fEEt.
  2. It looks like a headless monster swinging his arms at you. EEk!

2 Strokes

Example Words:

  • あい - love [This makes a diphthong sound; instead of a-i, it sounds more like the English word, "eye." If you say a-i fast, you will hear it.]
  • いい - good [the double い makes the sound longer]

  • Rōmaji: U
  • Sounds like: fOOd or yOU

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like a nose and an opened mouth looking for fOOd.
  2. There is also a sideways "u" there to remind you of the sound.

2 Strokes

Example Words:

  • いう - to say
  •  あう - to meet (someone)

hiragana e
  • Rōmaji: E
  • Sounds like: Eh or Egg

Mnemonic:

  1. hEy! It’s a man running.

3 Strokes

Example Word:

  • え - picture; painting
  • いえ - house

hiragana o
  • Rōmaji: O
  • Sounds like: Oh nO

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like the あ but Oh! it is sO different.
  2. Oh, there is an "o" at the bottom left.

Don't confuse this with the first hiragana, あ. あ has a lowercase "a' at the bottom left area and the お has an "o" there.

3 Strokes

Example Word:

  • あおい - blue (color)
  • おおい - much; a lot

Congratulations! You've just added 5% more to your progress bar. While writing the characters in the worksheet isn't 100% necessary, it is recommended. If you write each kana, be sure to say the sound and mentally visualize the strange mnemonic you've come up for it as you write it. (Combining multiple senses helps with memory.)

25% Done!

Row Two: かきくけこ

Now that you have learned the vowels [あいうえお], let’s build from them!

The remaining hiragana (except one) are sounds we would write with two or more letters (one consonant and one vowel) in English.

This chapter begins the “k” row. For example, か is “k” + “a” or “ka.” See? With the alphabet, it would be written with two letters. But in hiragana, it is just one character.

  • Rōmaji: KA
  • Sounds like: CAr

​Mnemonic:

  1.  It looks like a a "K" with the top falling off. Just remember to add the "A" sound: KA

3 strokes

Example Words:
  • かお - face
  • いか - squid

  • Rōmaji: KI
  • Sounds like: KEY

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like a skeleton KEY.
  2. It is a tree with the roots exposed (Tree in Japanese is き).

4 Strokes [Note: sometimes the bottom is written connected and sometimes it isn't. Both are correct.]

Example Words:

  • えき - (train) station
  • おおきい - big
  • かき - persimmon (fruit)

  • Rōmaji: KU
  • Sounds like: COOl

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like paKU man (Pac-man™)
  2. It is the opened beak of a pigeon COOing.

1 Stroke (start from the top and go down)

Example Words:

  • いく - to go
  • くうき - air; atmosphere (sounds like "cookie")

  • Rōmaji: KE
  • Sounds like: CAve

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like a broken old KEttle.
  2. It is the entrance of a dark CAve.

3 Strokes

Example Word:

  • け - hair
  • いけ - pond

  • Rōmaji: KO
  • Sounds like: COla

Mnemonic:

  1. It is a COla can rolling on its sides.

2 Strokes

Example Word:

  • こい - love or carp (fish)
  • くうこう - airport [the う here extends the previous vowel sound. So it is pronounced "kuu koo"]

Congratulations! You've just added 5% more to your progress bar. 

Before you move on, spend a few minutes reviewing the above hiragana. Repeat and visualize the strange mnemonic and practice saying the sound of the hiragana you see as you scroll up this page. When you are ready, click the Practice graphic below to take a quick quiz. 

Did you miss any of the questions? If so, mark those down for further review. If you got 80% correct, feel free to move on. Otherwise, spend more time reviewing the mnemonics for each character.


35% Done!

Row Three: さしすせそ

Be sure you know the above ten hiragana before moving on. This set includes one hiragana that looks similar to a previous one. It also includes our first irregular pronunciation. Nothing too crazy!

If you are ready, read on.

  • Rōmaji: SA
  • Sounds like: SOlitude; SIgn

​Mnemonic:

  1. It is a SArgeant barking orders.
  2. It looks like a き, but no! It is a SIgn stuck in the ground.

Note: Don't confuse this with ki き. Like き, however, sometimes the bottom is attached (as in the stroke image below) and sometimes it isn't (as in the main image).


3 strokes

Example Words:
  • あさ - morning
  • かさ - umbrella

  • Rōmaji: SHI
  • Sounds like: SHE; SHEEt

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like a girl with wind in her hair. SHE has beautiful hair.

NOTE: You may (should) be expecting "si" instead of "shi." Just note this exception.

1 Stroke

Example Words:

  • うし - cow
  • しか - deer (animal)

  • Rōmaji: SU
  • Sounds like: SUE; SOUp

Mnemonic:

  1. It is a girl named SUE wearing a hat.

2 Strokes 

Example Words:

  • すし - sushi
  • すき - to like

  • Rōmaji: SE
  • Sounds like: SAy; SEt

Mnemonic:

  1. It is a person with a hat and an open mouth SAYing something.

3 Strokes

Example Word:

  • せき - cough
  • あせ - sweat; perspiration

  • Rōmaji: SO
  • Sounds like: SO; SOld

Mnemonic:

  1. It is SO abstract, it could be a picaSO.

1-2 Strokes [This is sometimes written with the first top stroke by itself and the rest as the second stroke (see the alternate writing below). Or sometimes it is written as a single stroke. Either is fine.]

Note, this can also be written like this:

Example Word:

  • うそ - lie; untruth; (you're) kidding
  • そこ - there

Congratulations! You've just added 5% more to your progress bar. 

Before you move on, spend a few minutes reviewing the above hiragana. Repeat and visualize the strange mnemonic and practice saying the sound of the hiragana you see as you scroll up this page.

40% Done!

Row Four: たちつてと

Previously, you experienced a mild irregularity. し is shi and not si. This row has two major irregularities. Pay attention to ち and つ.

If you are ready, read on.

  • Rōmaji: TA
  • Sounds like: TOddler; TOmmy

​Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like a TOddler reacher for a toy.
  2. It looks like a "t" and half an "a": TA!


4 strokes

Example Words:
  • うた - song
  • たこ - octopus

  • Rōmaji: CHI
  • Sounds like: CHEAt; CHEAP

Mnemonic:

  1. It is a CHEAp version of the number 5.

NOTE: You may (should) be expecting "ti" but it is "chi."

2 Strokes

Example Words:

  • いち - one; 1
  • ちち - father
  • くち - mouth

  • Rōmaji: TSU
  • Sounds like: TSUnami

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like a TSUnami wave.

Again, you may be expecting "tu" but it is "tsu." This pronunciation is tricky. Listen to the sound files. Say the words “cat” and “soup” together quickly to approximate it: caTSOUp

We will bring it up again in Part III, but a small っ causes a pause or skip in sound in certain words. Just note the small っ exists and we'll look at it closer soon.

1 Stroke

Example Words:

  • いつ - when
  • あつい - hot

  • Rōmaji: TE
  • Sounds like: TAme; TAke

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like a TErrible #7
  2. It looks like a cursive T. Surely, the next letter is an "e": TE

1 Stroke [We broke it down into two below, but write it with one stroke.]

Example Word:

  • て - hand
  • すてき - nice

  • Rōmaji: TO
  • Sounds like: TOE; TOW

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like someone's big TOE.

2 Strokes

Example Word:

  • おと - sound
  • さとう - sugar
  • とおい - far

Congratulations! You've just added 5% more to your progress bar. Now you are ready for another practice exercise.

Did you get 80% or more correct? If so, continue on. If not, spend more time visualizing the strangest mnemonics your brain can come up with.

45% Done!

Row Five: なにぬねの

Now we come to the "n" row. There should be no surprises here. Just come up with solid mnemonics and learn them.

If you are ready, read on.

  • Rōmaji: NA
  • Sounds like: KNOt; KNOck

​Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like a tangled KNOt.


4 strokes

Example Words:
  • なつ - summer
  • なな - seven; 7

  • Rōmaji: NI
  • Sounds like: KNEE; NEAt

Mnemonic:

  1. It is a person sitting on his KNEEs.

3 Strokes

Example Words:

  • なに - what
  • にし - west
  • いし - stone; rock

  • Rōmaji: NU
  • Sounds like: NEW; NUke

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like an あ, but it has a tail and a NEW hat.

2 Strokes

Example Words:

  • いぬ - dog
  • たぬき - raccoon; tanuki

  • Rōmaji: NE
  • Sounds like: NEck

Mnemonic:

  1. If you look carefully, you will see a "1," a "+," and a "2," but NAY, you will not see a "3." 
  2. It looks like a cat (NEko in Japanese) with a curled tail.

3 Strokes

Example Word:

  • ねこ - cat
  • ねつ - fever

  • Rōmaji: NO
  • Sounds like: NO

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like a #9 on its side. German for "no" is nein (pronounced "nine").

1 Stroke

Example Word:

  • この - this
  • あの - that
  • かのう - possible; potential

Congratulations! You've just added 5% more to your progress bar. 

Before you move on, spend a few minutes reviewing the above hiragana. Repeat and visualize the strange mnemonic and practice saying the sound of the hiragana you see as you scroll up this page.

50% Done!

Row Six: はひふへほ

Two of these hiragana (は and へ) are used both as sounds and as particles. When used as a particle, they both have a different sound.

If you are ready, read on.

  • Rōmaji: HA
  • Sounds like: HOt; HArd

​Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like a man with a hat smoking a HOt pipe. HA!

NOTE: This hiragana is "ha," however, when used as the topic particle, it is pronounced as "wa."


3 strokes

Example Words:
  • はこ - box
  • はと - dove

  • Rōmaji: HI
  • Sounds like: HE; HEat

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like a smiley face laughing, "HEE HEE".

1 Stroke

Example Words:

  • ひと - person
  • ひたち - Hitachi (the company)

  • Rōmaji: FU
  • Sounds like: FOOd

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like a snake looking for FOOd.

NOTE: the bottom two dashes are sometimes written as a single horizontal line as in the stroke diagram.

Sometimes this is written as "hu" (especially by native Japanese speakers), but the sound is closer to a "fu."

4 Strokes

Example Words:

  • ふね - boat
  • ひふ - skin
  • とうふ - tofu [the う makes the と longer]

  • Rōmaji: HE
  • Sounds like: HEY; HEad

Mnemonic:

  1. HEY! It's an upside down V.

NOTE: When used as a directional particle, this is usually pronounced as "e."

3 Strokes

Example Word:

  • へた - unskilled; not good at

  • Rōmaji: HO
  • Sounds like: HOE; HOle

Mnemonic:

  1. HO OH! It is more complicated than は.

Don't confuse this with は (ha). ほ is the only one that has a horizontal line at the very top. The top line in は and ま and も are down a little.

4 Strokes

Example Word:

  • ほし - star
  • ほしい - to want [the い makes the し longer]

Congratulations! You've just added 5% more to your progress bar. Let's review with a quick practice quiz.

As always, if you got 80% correct, you can move on. If not, spend a little more time associating the mnemonic, hiragana, and its sound.

55% Done!

Row Seven: まみむめも


If you are ready, read on.

  • Rōmaji: MA
  • Sounds like: MAMA

​Mnemonic:

  1. Look MA! I caught a dragonfly.

NOTE: Don't confuse this with ほ (ho) or は (ha). ま has two horizontal lines and no vertical line to the left.


3 strokes

Example Words:
  • いま - now
  • まち - town
  • たま - ball
  • しまうま - zebra [the う is pronounced rather than making the previous hiragana longer]

  • Rōmaji: MI
  • Sounds like: ME

Mnemonic:

  1. To ME, it looks like a 2 over a 4.

2 Strokes

Example Words:

  • ひみつ - secret
  • いみ - meaning
  • みち - road

  • Rōmaji: MU
  • Sounds like: MOO; MOvie

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like an old film projector showing a MOvie.
  2. It is a cow wagging its tail and saying MOO.


3 Strokes

Example Words:

  • のむ - to drink
  • さむい - cold

  • Rōmaji: ME
  • Sounds like: MAY; MAke

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like a half-closed eye. (In Japanese, eye is pronounced "me.")

2 Strokes

Example Word:

  • まめ - beans
  • あめ - rain

  • Rōmaji: MO
  • Sounds like: MOW; MObile

Mnemonic:

  1. A man with a hat resting after MOWing his yard.

3 Strokes

Example Word:

  • もも - peach
  • いも - potato

Congratulations! You've just added 5% more to your progress bar. 

Before you move on, spend a few minutes reviewing the above hiragana. Repeat and visualize the strange mnemonic and practice saying the sound of the hiragana you see as you scroll up this page.

60% Done!

Row Eight: やゆよ


This row only has three characters, but learn these well. In the next section, we'll see how these hiragana can be combined with other hiragana to produce new sounds. There are no yi or ye sounds in modern Japanese. 

We'll look at the small や ya, ゆ yu, よ yo closer in Part III, but here is a quick overview:

o These small “y” kana are combined with a full-sized hiragana. For example: き ki + small や ya = きゃ kya
o Although one and a half kana long when written, the length of the sound is still only one mora. (kya instead of “kiya”)
o Therefore とうきょう (Tokyo) is Tou – kyou [both syllables (“tou” and “kyou”) are long and the “kyo” is a single syllable. It isn’t “To - ki - yo” but “Tou – kyou”]
o じゆう jiyuu (freedom) -> じゅう jyuu* (ten) [*I normally would write “jyuu” in rōmaji as “juu” because that is how it sounds, but “jyuu” allows us to see the combination clearly; also, note the number of moras: ji-yu-u (freedom - three moras) versus jyu-u (ten - two moras)]

  • Rōmaji: YA
  • Sounds like: YAcht

​Mnemonic:

  1. A YAcht with its sail blowing in the wind.



3 strokes

Example Words:
  • やさしい - kind; nice
  • やね - roof

  • Rōmaji: YU
  • Sounds like: YOU

Mnemonic:

  1. If you look closely, you may see a "y," "o," and "u." That spells "you."


2 Strokes

Example Words:

  • ゆき - snow
  • ゆめ - dream

  • Rōmaji: YO
  • Sounds like: YO-YO

Mnemonic:

  1. It is a fancy YO-YO trick.

2 Strokes

Example Word:

  • よこ - side
  • たいよう - sun [the う makes よ longer.]

Congratulations! You've just added 5% more to your progress bar. 

Before you move on, spend a few minutes reviewing the above hiragana. Repeat and visualize the strange mnemonic and practice saying the sound of the hiragana you see as you scroll up this page.

65% Done!

Row Nine: らりるれろ

Pay special attention to the R sounds. These are the hardest for native English speakers to master. 

o These sound like a mixture of R’s and L’s and D’s.
o In English, to make a slightly exaggerated “ra” sound, your tongue slaps against the roof of your mouth. Go ahead and try it a few times. See what I mean?
o To make a “da” sound, your tongue slaps against the bottom of your top teeth.
o The Japanese sounds are somewhere in between. Place your tongue on the roof of your mouth just before teeth and say RA – RI – RU – RE – RO.

  • Rōmaji: RA
  • Sounds like: RAmen

​Mnemonic:

  1. Looks like a RAttled #5.



3 strokes

Example Words:
  • いらいら - irritated
  • らく - easy

  • Rōmaji: RI
  • Sounds like: REAd

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like two arms REAching for something

Note: this can be written as two separate lines (the main example) or connected (as in the stroke example).

2 Strokes

Example Words:

  • りか - science
  • くり - chestnut
  • りす - squirrel

  • Rōmaji: RU
  • Sounds like: RUde

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like a ROOt


1 Stroke

Example Words:

  • いる - to exist (living things)
  • くる - to come

  • Rōmaji: RE
  • Sounds like: RAY

Mnemonic:

  1. It is almost the shape of a RAInbow.
  2. It is a snake REsting on a branch.

2 Strokes

Example Word:

  • あれ - that
  • れつ - line

  • Rōmaji: RO
  • Sounds like: ROW

Mnemonic:

  1. A man ROWing his boat.

Don't confuse this with る. When you ROW your boat, you don't need a loop at the end.

2 Strokes

Example Word:

  • ろうそく - candle [The う makes the ろ longer]
  • いろ - color

Congratulations! You've just added 5% more to your progress bar. 

Before you move on, spend a few minutes reviewing the above ten hiragana. Repeat and visualize the strange mnemonic and practice saying the sound of the hiragana you see as you scroll up this page.

70% Done!

Row Ten: わをん


And now we have come to the last row. Make sure you have memorized all 46 main characters before proceeding.

  • Rōmaji: WA
  • Sounds like: WAsh

​Mnemonic:

  1. It is a bulging WAshing machine.

Don't confuse this with れ or ね. The わ does not have a loop and the bulge comes inside instead of out.


3 strokes

Example Words:
  • わし - eagle
  • わたし - I; me
  • かわ - river

  • Rōmaji: O or WO
  • Sounds like: OH

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like a person carefully stepping into a cold pond -- OH! It's so cold!

を is technically a “wo” but most of the time it is pronounced “o.” It is also only used as a grammatical particle (direct object marker).


3 Strokes

Example Words:

  • すしをつくる - to make sushi
  • ゆめをみる - to see (have) a dream

  • Rōmaji: N
  • Sounds like: N (sometimes M)

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like a cursive "n":

This is the only hiragana with no vowel sound.

1 Stroke

Example Word:

  • あんしん - calm; reassured
  • はんにん - criminal

Congratulations! You've gone through all of the 46 main characters. You've made considerable progress and you only have a little more to go. Do the practice below to test your reading ability of the above 46 characters. If you get 80% or more correct, go to Step Three.

75% Done!

3

Beyond the 46 - Wrapping Things Up

The small characters, small dashes, and circles.

  1. The small っ- (adds a short pause between sounds)
  2. The small や, ゆ, and よ - (adds a ya, yu, or yo sound to a consonant)
  3. Dakuten (quote-like marks) - (makes a sound harder: "ka" becomes "ga")
  4. Handakuten (circle mark) - (makes a p sound: "ha" becomes "pa")

The Small っ

a small つ tsu is used to cause a short pause or break between syllables. For example, in English we have a slight pause after “black” in “black car.” Here is a good example to show how important this small つ is.

がっき gakki - musical instrument [with a slight pause] and がき gaki - brat, annoying kid [without the pause]

Remember: The small つ is not pronounced, but causes a short hiccup between sounds



The Small や, ゆ, and よ

There is a pattern.

In every case, a consonant sound is combined with a small や ya, ゆ yu, or よ yo. And the consonant sound has already been decided for you! It is always those under the “i” column. Look at the chart we gave you earlier. Starting with the “k” row, we see き, し, ち, に, ひ, み, and り are used. (all i’s)

Now, notice the sound changes. き ki + や ya = きゃ kya [just remove the "i"]

Easy isn’t it? You can think of the smaller や, ゆ, or よ as taking away the “i” sound in the first character. You may be saying, “What is the difference between きや kiya and きゃ kya?” First, the sound is different. “KI YA” (two syllables) versus “KYA” (one syllable). Second, the meaning can be totally different.

Ya Yu Yo chart

NOTE: We didn’t write the し and ち rows with a “y” in the romaji. If we were to write sya (as many Japanese people do) the sound to the foreigner will be different. Both ways are correct—One being more “correct” to the Japanese understanding of the writing system and the other being more “correct” to the pronunciation.



Dakuten & Handakuten

The dakuten or “ten ten” makes a soft sound harder. For example, it makes a “k” sound a hard “g” sound (“g” as in good). “s” becomes “z,” “t” becomes “d,” and “h” becomes “b.”


The o or “maru” makes the “h” become a “p” sound. The other consonant sounds are not affected by the maru, only the “h” group. That’s all there is to it!


See how easy it is? All you have to remember is:

"k" becomes "g"


"s" become "z"
(note the じ sounds like "ji" instead of "zi")


"t" becomes "d"
(note the ぢ and づ have irregular pronunciations; also, to write these two characters, type them as if they were pronounced according to the pattern: di = ぢ and du = づ)


h “ b


h o p

NOTE: There are two sets with the same pronunciation with the ten ten. じ & ぢ are both pronounced ji’ and ず & づ are both zu. While all four characters do appear in words (and are not interchangeable) the じ is more common than ぢ and the ず is more common than づ. Think of ji as じ and zu as ず and learn the exceptions as you come to them.

100% Done!

You did it!

To solidify what you've learned, try reading this story here. You can read the story in hiragana (with spaces) or in full Japanese with beginner-level kanji.

And if you like that story or would like to have more practice (in addition to getting instant access to several books on beginner-level Japanese), check out our Beri- Beri- Shoshinsha Beginner's Bundle over at TheJapanShop.com. It is only $16 and includes a dozen resources to take your Japanese to the next level.


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