Today we'll be learning all about Hiragana - one of the two Japanese phonetic character sets. The other set is Katakana which you can learn about here. Both Hiragana and Katakana were invented to better fit the Japanese language, instead of depending on the Chinese characters (Kanji) alone.
Resources for further reading:
Each of the 46 Hiragana characters represents a syllable or "sound cluster":
A I U E O
あ い う え お
The 46 Hiragana characters are shown in the table above are in 'alphabetical' or 'dictionary order.' In this table, the characters are read from left to right, beginning from the top row. So, あ-い-う-え-お (a-i-u-e-o) then か-き-く-け-こ (ka-ki-ku-ke-ko) and so on.
Hiragana came to be used mainly in the Japanese language in conjunction with kanji, and katakana came to be reserved for foreign original words.
Since these two sets are phonetic, anything you can say you can write down using these characters (within the sound system of Japanese).
Are you ready to try pronouncing these Hiragana characters? The most important pronunciations are those of the five vowels. As long as you can distinguish the five vowels clearly, you’ll be alright! All other syllables consist of consonants and these vowels. Let's give them a try:
Rocket Record lets you perfect your Japanese pronunciation. Just listen to the native speaker audio and then use the microphone icon to record yourself. Once you’re done, you’ll get a score out of 100 on your pronunciation and can listen to your own audio playback. (Use a headset mic for best results.) Problems? Click here!
You can easily read the table above by learning the vowel order, あ い う え お (a i u e o), shown on the top row, and the order of the syllables in the first column on the left: か さ た な は ま や ら わ ん (ka sa ta na ha ma ya ra wa n). Now, you simply combine the consonants of the first column, with each of the vowels (except the special 'n') - and you can read out the Hiragana table whenever you need.
Of course, there are some irregular ones in there - such as the blank spots. Do you spot them? Two in the 'y' row and 3 in the 'w' row (the 'n' row is a special one). The 5 Hiragana that appear to be missing originally did exist, however the sounds of these Hiragana are no longer used in modern Japanese as they are almost identical to the syllables in the 'a' row. (For example, the pronunciation of 'yi' is very similar to 'i', 'ye' is similar to 'e', etc).
In this lesson we'll start with the first row, which are all vowels: あ い う え お (a i u e o). Memorize this vowel order and I assure you it will help you in learning your 46 Hiragana characters. Also, one of the best ways to learn and to read Hiragana is to practice writing them - learning the proper order of the strokes helps!
The video above shows you how to write the first Hiragana character in the 1st row - aka, the 'a' line - あ pronounced 'a' (like the a in father):
The second Hiragana character is い pronounced 'i' (like the i in macaroni):
Next we have う pronounced 'u' (like the u's in zulu):
Here's the fourth Hiragana - え pronounced 'e' (like the e in get):
And the fifth character of the Hiragana sequence is お pronounced 'o' (like the o's in solo):
That's it for today! If you want more lessons on Hiragana, check out our full Rocket Japanese course here.
To get started on the second set of Japanese phonetic characters, Katakana, check out this free lesson.
Here are a few recommended Japanese lessons to try next!
Sayaka Matsuura: Rocket Japanese