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Hiragana - limited use for practical communication

Having spent some time learning Hiragana (without any knowledge of Kanji or Katakana) I now find that I have very little ability to read any thing more complicated than a simple menu or a few words in a longer sentence.

The reason is that it appears that all three written languages are needed together to be able to communicate effectively. I might be able to learn the Katakana script, but Kanji will always be beyond my ability.

I only need enough language ability to travel in Japan and I can get by with the limited vocabulary I have now, but any conversation beyond "Konichiwa. Wa-ka-ri-ma-sen" requires much sign language.

Is Hiragana alone sufficient for a traveller in rural Japan?

February 12, 2018



Probably not. You might be able to get away with limited kanji knowledge if you can speak quite well (you'll end up asking a lot of questions), but if you can't, then you need to be able to read well, and that includes kanji. You don't need to know a whole lot, but knowing almost none is not sufficient. I'd recommend learning the kanji for names of the locations you're planning on visiting, at least.


I agree with this. I would suggest working on simplifying the way you speak English by focusing on spoken speed, cadence, using simple vocabulary, non-emphasis of relatively unimportant grammar, enunciation, and pronunciation.

Some Japanese can understand pretty well but don't have confidence speaking. Try to make your English more accessible.

Many other Japanese have studied English for a long time, but have practically no practice speaking or listening.

Mix in Japanese words that you are familiar with if necessary to create a 'pidgin-English' of sorts.

If all the above fails, say 'Eigo hanaseru hito wa imasu ka?'


Unfortunately, being an Australian, my English is often not understood in England ! I get by in Japan by saying "Konichiwa .... Genki Des Ka" .... and then a lot of sign language.


In that case, 'Oosutoraria eigo hanaseru hito wa imasu ka?' might be better ;)-

Just kidding, of course. I find that, in most cases, Australians have a much better ability to evaluate and modify their speaking habits to be intelligible than many other English-language natives (although it did take me a while to understand that 'ta' means 'thank you').


Thanks for your advice. I have found it useful to use my mobile phone during the planning stages of an excursion to take photos of the Kanji place names and I can then reference the photos to Guide Signs and other key information. For example, directions from a railway station to a particular Ryokan are often displayed with a map. Whole pages of Kanji can be photographed if I know ahead of time that this is what I need.


Fortunately, with technology available today, it can be much easier to get around Japan than a decade ago (map accessibility, translation apps, etc.). It sounds like you are doing some good preparation work.


It's not sufficient for reading it at all, but hiragana is pretty much the core. Kanji are built up from hiragana, and also katakana is just another writing.

Master hiragana first, then you can learn katakana more easily and you'll learn the kanji when you learn words


I highly recommend katakana for travelers because menus often have a lot of katakana words which, if you can sound them out, are based on English so it's easy to know what you are ordering.

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