tori gate  


The kana

Hiragana and katakana are the syllabic Japanese scripts, the so called kana. Each syllable is represented uniquely with one character or a combination of two characters (e.g. kyu, see the extended chart). In Kanji many glyphs can have the same pronunciation, while in the kana every character has different pronunciation. Unlike Kanji, the characters don't have any meaning. Each basic set contains 46 characters. With each of the scripts, all sounds in the Japanese language can be expressed.

Both of the kana are descendants of ancient Chinese writing.



Historically it was considered to be the writing of women. One of the classic works of Japanese literature, The Tale of Genji, was written in this script by the female author Murasaki Shikibu in the 11th century.

Today it is used to write:

  • particles, like wa, de, o, mo
  • verb conjugations, like "speak", "spoke"
  • simple words like "to be","frog"
  • instead of any Kanji that is not known to the person writing

Every Japanese word can be written with hiragana, but using it instead of kanji is considered to be lack of education. It is the first script that Japanese children learn in school.

The basic hiragana chart:

Beside the basic signs, there are the derived and the composed. From the syllables starting with k the ones starting with g are derived in the following way:

likewise h transforms to b and p; t transforms to d:

Finally there are the hiragana that are composed of two others like:

Here you can find the full list of hiragana.



This form of writing consists of straight strokes with sharp corners unlike the smooth hiragana.

Katakana is used when writing:

  • foreign names like "Paris"
  • company names, like "toyota", "yamaha"  
  • foreign words in Japanese "tv-set", "bus"
  • newly created words, like "karaoke"

The basic katakana chart:

Here you can find the full list of katakana.


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