【Learn Japanese from scratch】What alphabets do Japanese people use?

Alphabet
Alphabet
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On this page, you can learn the basic information of Japanese alphabets.

Three types of Japanese alphabets

There are three types of Japanese alphabets: Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji. You should learn them in the order.

アシスタント
アシスタント

Japanese people say Kana to indicate both Hiragana and Katakana.

Romaji

Romaji is used to write the sound of Japanese alphabets in Roman alphabets (a, b, c, d to z).

せんせい
せんせい

Romaji is convenient if you know English alphabets and just want to learn spoken Japanese.

For example, Romaji for the Japanese word 「はは」 which means ‘mother’ is ‘ha ha‘ as the Japanese alphabet は sounds ‘ha’.

Example

Romaji is in bold below.

  • father: ちち → chi chi
  • car: くるま → ku ru ma
  • station: えき → e ki
  • salt: しお → shi o

Japanese writing system

Let’s watch a video (up to 1 minute and 30 seconds) to understand how Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji characters are used.

Japanese sound system

In English, the same alphabet can be pronounced differently in a word.

For example, the word ‘Australia’ has three ‘a’ in the word which are pronounced all differently.

This does not happen in Hiragana or Katakana.

Example
  • かかし is pronounced ‘ka ka shi’ which means scarecrow. か is always ‘ka’.
  • トマト is pronounced ‘to ma to’ which means tomato. ト is always ‘to’.

Basic rule for writing a Japanese alphabet

When you write a Japanese alphabet, it is important to remember that you write them:

  • from left to right
  • from top to bottom

For example, when you write い, the first stroke is the left line and the second stroke is the right line.

Another example is う. The first stroke is the short line at the top and the second stroke is the curve line, which you need to write from top to bottom as well.

This rule applies to Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji symbols.

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