Japanese Stuff – Alphabets

As part of my (attempted) learning of Japanese I’m going to do a few blog posts relating to the language. I’ve already studied bits and bobs but as it’s been a few months since I’ve looked at any of it I’m just going to start again from scratch.

I know most of it won’t actually be interesting to a lot of you but learning something myself and then typing a post explaining it to others (in a basic form) helps me catalogue things in my mind!

Basically my first step is to refresh myself on the Japanese alphabets – This is a good step to start with as it helps with pronunciation of all Japanese works.

So there are 4 alphabets to look at…



This is basically the Romanisation of the Japanese written word and it’s what we are used to seeing from certain words such as Sushi, Sumo, Karate, etc.

‘Learning’ this is pointless as it’s not really used and only exists for foreigners; also because English/Romanisation isn’t phonetic there are different ways to interpret words thus leading to miss pronunciation and mistakes.

Hiragana ひらがな

46 ‘base’ Hiragana characters, 25 Dakuten (modified Hiragana) and 36 Combo Hiragana (2 Hiragana combined to create a new sound).

That’s 107 characters and sounds to learn. Might sound like a lot but that’s basically it. As Japanese is a phonetic language once you learn those sounds you’re sorted!

Hiragana is used for some kanjiless (not a word but shhh) words, particles, suffixes and inflections.

It’s a very good place to start learning Japanese and something I need to brush up on (couldn’t even remember how to write ひらがな)

Katakana カタカナ

Basically a 2nd set of characters for the 107 sounds of Hiragana. These are pretty similar most of the time just drawn straight & sharp instead of rounded & flowing like Hiragana.

Used for foreign words, scientific words, onomatopoeia (Boom! Roar! Moo!) and sometimes used for emphasis like we would use italics. 

Kanji 漢字

This is the painful one. 2000 (in day to day use) complex characters that can have multiple pronunciations attached to them. I haven’t started on these and like most that start learning Japanese I’m really not looking forward to it.

University students learn about 500-700 a year during their 4 year courses.


Ok so there you have it… 4 alphabets!

It’s not as bad as it looks – Romaji is pointless to learn and Kanji is being put to the side for the moment so that leaves Hiragana & Katakana and those aren’t that bad if you consider the following:

  • 46 base Hiragana to learn.
  • 25 combo Hiragana which is basically 2 Hiragana next to each other. (ひ Hi & や Ya becomes ひや Hya)
  • 36 Dakuten which just adds a small “ next to a character to modify its sound. (か Ka becomes が Ga)
  • 107 Katakana which are the same sounds and similar looking to their Hiragana partners.

Ok when typing that out it sounded worse than it is but honestly it’s not that bad.

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