Learning the hiragana alphabet is the very first step towards learning Japanese! If Japanese seems like a bunch of crazy squiggles you will never be able to read, don’t fret! Learning hiragana can be very easy with a few simple tools.
One of the first things to learn is that the hiragana alphabet is actually a syllabary. That means each character represents a syllable or sound rather than a single letter. The roman alphabet may combine t and a to get ta, but in hiragana, a new character is formed for each consonant + vowel pairing. There are 46 basic hiragana characters, and depending on how you look at it, up to 110 in total. Though when we talk about dakuten, you’ll understand why the number may change.
The next thing to remember when you’re learning hiragana is that the order of the strokes is very important. So before you practice your writing, make sure you’re following the correct stroke order. Stroke order and proper pronunciation of all the hiragana can be found in our free Introductory Lessons. Premium members can also download practice sheets to help perfect their hiragana handwriting! But we also have some additional resources to help you.
What’s a Dakuten?
Once you learn the basic hiragana, you can begin to learn compound hiragana and dakuten. Dakuten are small additions to characters that slightly change their sound. So す is su, and when we add the dakuten it becomes ず zu. There is also another dakuten that looks like a degree symbol ˚. This would change ぼ (bo) to ぽ (po). The dakuten are very small and can be easily overlooked, so make sure you keep an eye out for them when you start reading!
If you can memorize the Japanese hiragana chart below, you will be able to read most Japanese! Some pronunciations may change slightly in different circumstances, but all of those will be covered in our lessons. For now, let’s just get the basics down.
Japanese Hiragana Chart
|n||elongate consonant||duplicate and unvoice||duplicate and revoice|
|Compound Hiragana||Compound Dakuten|
|ya||き ゃ||し ゃ||ち ゃ||に ゃ||ひ ゃ||み ゃ||り ゃ||ぎゃ||じゃ||ぢゃ||びゃ||ぴゃ|
|yu||き ゅ||し ゅ||ち ゅ||に ゅ||ひ ゅ||み ゅ||り ゅ||ぎゅ||じゅ||ぢゅ||びゅ||ぴゅ|
|yo||き ょ||し ょ||ち ょ||に ょ||ひ ょ||み ょ||り ょ||ぎょ||じょ||ぢょ||びょ||ぴょ|
If you’re having some trouble learning by staring at a chart, then perhaps you’ll find these hiragana flashcards helpful!
Hiragana Flash Cards
Everyone learns differently, but flash cards are always a great way to learn when you need to memorize something quickly. You can download these free printable hiragana flashcards in PDF to help you get started! Once you print them, cut along the horizontal lines and then fold the flashcards in half so the hiragana is on one side and the English equivalent in on the back. You can then tape or glue them together to make sure your cards will stand the test of time! If you have packing tape you can enclose them in tape and cut around the edges to make them even more durable! Download just the basic hiragana to start, or jump in and go for the whole set!