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This page assumes you've learned hiragana. If you prefer to learn katakana first, no problem, but first go through the first section of our hiragana pages (the sounds) before starting this page. 

A FEW POINTS

  • Katakana is known as the more "masculine" of the Japanese writing systems. This is because most of the characters are rigid and have sharp turns.
  • Katakana is mainly used for foreign loan-words, non-Japanese names, and onomatopoeia (sound effects). For example: Cola is コーラ ko-ra. You will notice the dash in the middle. This makes the コ ko longer in sound. If this were to be written in Hiragana, it would look like: こうら koura. (In Hiragana the u lengthens the previous character) Other than that, Hiragana and Katakana work and sound in the same way.
  • Most sounds in Japanese are found also in English. Unlike English, the "letters" in Japanese only have one sound, with a few exceptions that will be mentioned later on.
  • Please download the sound files to get a feel for the sounds before beginning (see last page).
  • In modern Japanese, there are 45 main katakana, one less than hiragana since the "wo" katakana isn't used much today.
  • The most important to master are the vowels (the first row). These sounds are all found in English and they are the same as the vowel sounds in Spanish.

THE CHART Spend a few moments and you should be able to see a clear pattern. The columns are the vowels and the rows are the consonants. The first row has no consonant, so those characters represent only vowel sounds: A, I, U, E, and O. The second row is the "K" row, so the order would be KA, KI, KU, KE, and KO. There are only a few exceptions which we will get to.

Katakana

アイウエオ

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

Mnemonic:

  1.  It looks like a capital A leaning over (doing exercises).

2 strokes


  • Rōmaji: I
  • Sounds like:  i - as in "fEEt"

Mnemonic:

  1.  It looks like a lowercase “i” with a hat on instead of a dot.

2 strokes


  • Rōmaji: U
  • Sounds like:  as in "fOOd"

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like a mouth about to eat fOOd.

You may be tempted to write this next one in two strokes but try to follow the correct stroke order.

3 strokes


  • Rōmaji: E
  • Sounds like:  "eh?" or "hAte"

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like a capital “I” but it really is an Eh sound.

2 strokes


  • Rōmaji: O
  • Sounds like:  o - as in "knOw"

Mnemonic:

  1.  It looks like someone kicking something "OH OH!"

3 strokes

Chapter Test

How do you read the following Katakana characters? These are all English words.

Click Here for Answers


カキクケコ

  • Rōmaji: KA
  • Sounds like: CAr

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like the hiragana ka か just remove the hanging line.

2 strokes


  • Rōmaji: KI
  • Sounds like: KEY

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like a hiragana ki き without the base.

2 strokes


  • Rōmaji: KU
  • Sounds like:  COOl

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like a guy giving a thumbs-up. That's COol!

You may be tempted to write this next one in two strokes but try to follow the correct stroke order.

2 strokes


  • Rōmaji: KE
  • Sounds like:  KAY or CAke

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like someone's CApe.

3 strokes


  • Rōmaji: KO
  • Sounds like:  COld

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like a refrigerator door; that's COld!

2 strokes

Chapter Test

How do you read the following Katakana characters? These are all English words.

Click Here for Answers


サシスセソ

  • Rōmaji: SA
  • Sounds like: SOlitude

Mnemonic:

  1.  It looks like a squished SAw blade.

If you know hiragana, be careful with this one. It looks like a backwards hiragana se せ.

3 strokes


  • Rōmaji: SHI
  • Sounds like:  SHE

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like someone pulling down a SHEEt from a closet.
  2. SHE always smiles, tilting her head.

Here is the first irregular pronunciation. You would think it would be "si" and Japanese often Romanize it as "si," but it is pronounced as "shi" (like the English pronoun "she").

3 strokes


  • Rōmaji: SU
  • Sounds like:  SUE

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like SUE standing with her legs apart.

2 strokes


  • Rōmaji: SE
  • Sounds like:  SAY

Mnemonic:

  1. Say, it looks like someone with a huge mouth SAYing something.

2 strokes


  • Rōmaji: SO
  • Sounds like:  SO

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like someone is touching something on a pedestal. It's SO pretty.

Be careful with this one. There is another katakana (the ン n character) that looks very similar. ソ so is an abbreviation of the そ (hiragana so) therefore the longer stroke starts at top. The stroke for ン n starts at the bottom.

Sometimes, also, the eye looks down at something with so (ソ). With n (ン) it is usually tilted horizontally. While it is easy to confuse the two, you'll find it easier to discern as you learn their individual usages.

2 strokes

Chapter Test

How do you read the following Katakana characters? These are all English words.

Click Here for Answers


タチツテト

  • Rōmaji: TA
  • Sounds like: TOm

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like an invisible TOm boy hitting a TAmbourine (the American pronunciation of "tambourine" is a little off but say it with a "tah" pronunciation).

3 strokes


  • Rōmaji: CHI
  • Sounds like:  CHEEze

Mnemonic:

  1. It is a CHEAp and CHEEzy umbrella turned inside out.

3 strokes


  • Rōmaji: TSU
  • Sounds like:  caT SOUp

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like someone politely smiling at you after hearing you say "cat soup" thirty times really fast.

And now we come to perhaps the hardest character to pronounce in Japanese! It is also irregular. You would expect this to be tu but it is tsu. This is the sound in "tsunami" (a loanword from Japanese). A good way to get this sound is saying "Cat Soup" quickly. The "T Sou" part is the approximate sound but listen to the sound file and mimic what you hear.

3 strokes


  • Rōmaji: TE
  • Sounds like:  TApe

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like someone is putting down a roll of TApe.

3 strokes


  • Rōmaji: TO
  • Sounds like:  TOE

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like someone is kicking something with their TOE.

2 strokes

Chapter Test

How do you read the following Katakana characters? These are all English words.

Click Here for Answers


ナニヌネノ

  • Rōmaji: NA
  • Sounds like: NOt

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like someone is NOdding off for a nap.

2 strokes


  • Rōmaji: NI
  • Sounds like:  NEAt or KNEE

Mnemonic:

  1. It is someone on his KNEEs getting ready to write the ChiNEse kanji for the number two.

If you remember, the number two in Japanese is "ni." This character has two lines. In fact, the kanji for the number two looks pretty much the same as the katakana.

2 strokes


  • Rōmaji: NU
  • Sounds like: NEW

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like a brand-NEW scythe.

2 strokes


  • Rōmaji: NE
  • Sounds like: NEIGHbor

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like a cross-section of a NAval ship. Or an arm growing out of your NEIGHbor's NAvel.

4 strokes


  • Rōmaji: NO
  • Sounds like:  NO

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like the curve of someone's NOse.

1 stroke

Chapter Test

How do you read the following Katakana characters? These are all English words.

Click Here for Answers


ハヒフヘホ

  • Rōmaji: HA
  • Sounds like: HA!

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like a capital "H" laughing "HA!" so loud that its middle fell off.

2 strokes


  • Rōmaji: HI
  • Sounds like:  HE

Mnemonic:

  1. HE is sitting down with his arms out.

2 strokes


  • Rōmaji: FU
  • Sounds like:  FOOd

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like the end of someone's FOOt.

1 stroke


  • Rōmaji: HE
  • Sounds like:  HEY!

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks the same as the hiragana HE!

This one-stroke character is pretty much the same as the hiragana (although your computer actually uses a different character when typed). It is also used as a directional marker: I'm going to the store. mise he ikimasu. (but when used as a marker, it tends to sound more like e than he.

1 stroke


  • Rōmaji: HO
  • Sounds like:  HOE

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like two people scraping a HOE into the ground in a field.

If you are familiar with the kanji for tree 木 (ki), you can make some mnemonic with that. But remember the two branches do not touch the trunk of the HO tree.

4 strokes

Chapter Test

How do you read the following Katakana characters? These are all English words.

Click Here for Answers


マミムメモ

  • Rōmaji: MA
  • Sounds like: MAMA

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like MAma kicking someone out with her foot.

2 strokes


  • Rōmaji: MI
  • Sounds like: MEEt

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like a MEteor shower.

If you know the kanji for the number three (三), this is similar. Also, one of the pronunciations to say the number three is "mi." This katakana has three strokes and three lines.

3 strokes


  • Rōmaji: MU
  • Sounds like:  MOOd

Mnemonic:

  1. It is an upside-down katakana ma マ, pronounced mu.

2 strokes


  • Rōmaji: ME
  • Sounds like:  MAY

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like a man with his legs tied. He MAY fall if he doesn't stop leaning over.
  2. Perhaps you can remember this one as a line through the katakana no character: ノ

2 strokes


  • Rōmaji: MO
  • Sounds like: MOE

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like a lawn MOWer.

3 strokes

Chapter Test

How do you read the following Katakana characters? These are all English words.

Click Here for Answers


ヤユヨ

  • Rōmaji: YA
  • Sounds like: hiYA!

Mnemonic:

  1.  It looks like a YAk that stepped on something.

This row only has three characters. This is because yi and ye are not used in modern Japanese.

2 strokes


  • Rōmaji: YU
  • Sounds like: YOU

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like a number one: YOU are #1!

2 strokes


  • Rōmaji: YO
  • Sounds like: YO!

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like a backwards E. YO, what's up with that?

3 strokes

Chapter Test

How do you read the following Katakana characters? These are all English words.

Click Here for Answers


ラリルレロ

  • Rōmaji: RA
  • Sounds like: hoRAH!

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like a monster yelling, "RAA!"

2 strokes


  • Rōmaji: RI
  • Sounds like:  REal

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like a REpeat of the hiragana い i but flipped around.

2 strokes


  • Rōmaji: RU
  • Sounds like:  RUE

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like someone putting his or her foot out to trip someone. How RUde!

2 strokes


  • Rōmaji: RE
  • Sounds like: RAY

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like a RAY of light.

1 stroke


  • Rōmaji: RO
  • Sounds like:  ROW

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like a tunnel on the ROad.

The kanji for "mouth" looks very similar to the katakana ro—just a box.

3 strokes

Chapter Test

How do you read the following Katakana characters? These are all English words.

Click Here for Answers


ワヲン

  • Rōmaji: WA
  • Sounds like: WAnd

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like a baby with only one tooth crying, "WA!!!"

Be careful with the katakana u sound (ウ); they are very similar. wa doesn’t have a hat on.

2 strokes


  • Rōmaji: WO
  • Sounds like:  WOE

Mnemonic:

  1.  It looks like a double-bladed sword; WOE to the enemy!

This character isn't used much, but you may see it in place of を when a whole sentence is written in katakana (like an old-fashioned telegram).

2 strokes


  • Rōmaji: N
  • Sounds like:  nnnN

Mnemonic:

  1. It looks like a one-eyed joker just smiliN'

2 strokes

Chapter Test

How do you read the following Katakana characters? These are all English words.

Click Here for Answers


Wrapping up Katakana Part I

Adding the Ten Ten

A "ten-ten" looks like a double quote ("). It changes the sound of the character to a harder sound. You can ONLY "ten-ten" the "K" row, the "S" row, the "T" row, and the "H" row.

A "maru" is the tiny circle that makes H sounds a P sound. This can only be added to the H row.

Look at the chart below. Notice how the "ten-ten" makes the sounds harder:

  • The K row becomes G
  • The S row becomes Z
  • The T row becomes D
  • The H row becomes B with a ten-ten or P with a maru.

It may take some time, but once you allow it to sink in, it will eventually seem natural.



Wrapping up Katakana Part II

Some Finishing Touches...

Remember:

  • There are only five vowel sounds.
  • All other characters (except ンn) are made of a consonant and one of the vowel sounds.
  • The not-so-logical irregular characters are CHI チ, TSU ツ, and FU フ.
  • The R sounds are pronounced somewhere between the R and L sounds in English.
  • N cannot be used to begin a word.
  • A small TSU causes a slight pause or break between syllables. For example, in English, we say a slight pause after the "boo" in "book club."
  • You cannot "ten-ten" vowels.
  • You can only use the "maru" with the H row.

And lastly, the small YA, YU, and YO. We briefly mentioned this when introducing the YA, YU, and YO characters, but they are often used to combine sounds (and thus, create new katakana characters)

Study this chart. It lists every possible combination.

To pronounce any of these, just start with the consonant, drop its vowel sound, and then say "YA," "YU," or "YO."

For example, the first one (top, left) is KI + YA. That would be KYA. Say it as a single sound (KYA) and not “KIYA.”

The last one is RI + YO and that would be RYO.

And don't forget combining the ten-ten with the small ya-yu-yo:

  • ギャ ギュ ギョ
  • ジャ ジュ ジョ
  • ビャ ビュ ビョ
  • ピャ ピュ ピョ



If you 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.

Once you are comfortable reading any of these, you can safely say you know katakana! Congratulations!



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