Writing System Hiragana

Beware: This guide is work in progress!
  • Japanese Writing System Hiragana – Syllabic Japanese script
    ひらがな (“Hiragana” written in Hiragana), meaning “smooth kana”.

Pronunciation of Hiragana Characters and Stroke Order

Now you should know what Hiragana is being used for in the Japanese language from the overview from previous chapter. Now we are going to take things further and actually learn the pronunciation and stroke order of each Kana. There are 46 basic Hiragana characters, as shown below (plus the old ゐ and ゑ characters that you can disregard). In the table below you can see that each has their own stroke order to it. These are important that you respect and not writing in your own order. Since this is Hiragana, it’s a fundamental piece of your Japanese skill.

Japanese Writing System Hiragana With Stroke Order

Hiragana Chart
Hiragana chart made originally by Karine WIDMER. escale-japon.com.

Note: ゑ and ゐ are not being used in modern Japanese.

Examples of words:

はじめまして ha-ji-me-ma-shi-te (nice to meet you)
よろしく yo-ro-shi-ku (best regards)
すし su-shi (sushi)
もも mo-mo (peach)
きらきら ki-ra ki-ra (glitter)

Try get used to a few words along with your character-studying since the goal is to try get used to the characters.

Study the characters

There are number of ways to study these characters. Choose what works best for you and start practice them frequently until they stick. Watch out for websites who try take money for you; pay for something that shouldn’t be paid for. These are simply characters you’re studying and are available here free. The studying process is straight to the point. Learn each character’s pronunciation and stroke order. Further down below we talk about how you can study these.

The recommendation: First study these Hiragana characters until you feel confident then continue with with the functional marks and diacritics (which isn’t as advanced as it sounds).

How and where to study

My advice would be to get yourself a good resource where you can see each character’s sound and stroke order, which is given to you above and at our Hiragana Characters Chart page. Then to study these you could go different ways. You could make your own flash cards, or study Hiragana through JapaneseGoi were they work as digital flashcards. This is good because then you can redo the quiz as many times as you want and try guess the stroke order as you are doing the test as well.

Another great practice is to try write down the Hiragana chart. Start out with a paper of a blank table were you have to fill in the missing Kanas. Then when you feel confident enough, start doing it again without any help from a table. Instead, you should have remember the table’s design. If you remember the vowels “a, i, u, e, o”, you can start grinding through each like “ka, ki, ku, ke, ko”, “sa, shi, su, se, so” and so forth. It’s a great method to practice stroke order as well.

Practical Study Methods

Functional Marks and Diacritics

japanesetenten

Sokuon: っ
Iteration mark (odoriji): ゝ
Dakuten: ゙
Handakuten: ゚

Let us shortly explain what these characters showed above are. The names aren’t so important, but their purpose is. All of this four marks are essential and should be learned along with the Kana scripts. It might take some time but they are important as they change the sound of how you read Hiragana. Dakuten (“ten-ten”) can make a た becoming だ, changing the sound from “ta” to “da” for example.

Recommendation would be to apply these marks and diacritics after you’ve learned the basic Hiragana characters. Nothing stops you learning these simultaneously though.

The little tsu っ

As seen from the picture from the left is “the little tsu”. It is named Sokuon, and called sometimes “chiisai tsu” (little tsu) in Japanese. This character is used whenever you want to make an longer consonant.

Example:

た (kitta)
きた (kita)
もつ (motsu)

Just for comparison the word motsu (もつ) is included for the purpose of showing the size difference of the big tsu (つ) and the small tsu (っ), and that they have no relation to each other more than that. Notice how kitta and kita are written differently with romaji because っ gives the sound another consonant. For easier pronunciation you could split the word up where as it almost becomes as a small pause between the small tsu and next character. If you would compare kit(make a small pause)ta and kita you would hear difference. Refer to this video if you want another example where the person goes over いっぷん and いぷん, that is with romaji: ippun and ipun. While making a short break in the middle (after i) for ippun as in ip pun, it sounds different from ipun.

Iteration mark ゝ

Iteration mark, could also be called “repetition marks” if you will, since their function is to duplicate previous character or word. There are Iteration marks for all writing systems, Hiragana (), Katakana () and Kanji (). The usage of the Kana’s repetition marks are not commonly used while for Kanji it can frequently be seen.

“While widespread in old Japanese texts, the kana iteration marks are generally not used in modern Japanese outside proper names, though they may appear in informal handwritten texts.”

Dakuten “ten-ten” ゙

Dakuten (濁点) means voicing mark, also commonly known as “ten-ten” which refers to “mark mark” (点点) in Japanese. It looks like a single citation sign putted above to the side of a Kana.

Example:

か -> が
き -> ぎ
く -> ぐ

And so forth. You can apply the ten-ten to many characters, but not all. Please see the chart further below with all possible Hiragana characters that has dakuten support.

Handakuten “maru” ゜

Handakuten is the circle formed symbol, also known as maru (meaning circle in Japnaese). It is only featured for a few of the characters found in Hiragana and Katakana: ba (ば). bi (び), bu (ぶ), be (べ) bo (ぼ). As you can see they all share a mutual property, they all start with the sound h. ha -> ba, hi -> bi and so forth.

は (ha) -> ぱ (pa)
ひ (hi) -> ぴ (pi)
へ (he) -> ぺ (pe)

Chart of Dakuten and Handakuten Hiragana characters.

Hiragana Dakuten and Handakuten Chart

How long time does it take to learn Hiragana?

It takes different amount of time for everyone, but one thing is for sure. It looks more difficult than it actually is. Sure there are quite a few of these Kanas when adding on dakuten, but it is a powerful skill to be able to read Hiragana. Personally it took around two weeks or so, but it is easy to say that you’re super fast just because you recognize the Kanas. The real skill is be able to read them fast and write them all correctly. I remember I had memorized them, except from how to write ふ (fu). Took me some time to get used to its form. Choose your phase (and then progress) and eventually learn the writing system. Don’t forget to actively start using it (reading and writing words/texts) instead of just knowing the Hiragana table itself.