Easy Diacriticals in Hiragana: What are they and why are they there? ( " Dakuten and ⚬ Handakuten)

Throughout this post I will try my best to explain what the "(han)dakuten" are, the effect they have on the alphabet in Japanese and why they even exist. To do this, I am going to place examples occasionally within this post. Please understand that I intended this article to be a crash course into what "(han)dakuten" are, and as a whole this needed to by easily readable by those who are beginning learners. So for some of my intermediate or advanced counterparts, I ask that you understand, and not criticize, the fact that I will be using "Romaji" primarily (for pronunciation purposes) and almost no "Kanji" at all.


Diacritics in Japanese are seen within the two alphabet systems of "Hiragana-ひらがな” and "Katakana- ". Each character within the alphabets are individually called "kana", and represent a sound. The Kana either represent a standalone vowel (a,i,u,e,o) or a consonant and a vowel combination (ka,ki,ku,ke,ko... or ha,hi,fu,he,ho). The one exception is the that there is one symbol that represents only a consonant and that is the kana for "n- ん". As you learn the alphabet, you will quickly start coming across some kana that look just like previously learned ones, except above them there are small marks. This includes the entire set of five kana for each group they appear in and as an example. "K" characters can be seen: "Ka- か", "Ki- き", "Ku- く", "Ke- け", "Ko- こ" and then the "S" characters: "Sa- さ", "Shi-"し...etc. The full list of consonant/ vowel involving characters in which there exist a dakuten counterpart are: K, S, T, and H.

These small strokes above the kana are dakuten. Dakuten are used to change the way these consonants are pronounced. *Note, the consonant is typically the only part of each character that changes in pronunciation, the vowels should remain pronounced the same way as before (later as you explore the alphabet you will realize a few consonants kinda go rogue and make their own unique sound unlike any other character.

Example: even though it appears all the "S" consonants which become a "Z" sound with the dakuten added on, there is no "Zi?" in the Japanese language and instead it makes a "Ji- じ" sound. This later gets a little more confusing because "T" consonants become "D" consonants, but like above there is no "Di" (or "Ti", which is instead "Chi- ち") sound in Japanese. Funny enough, guess what "Chi- ち" becomes... if you guessed "Ji- ぢ" as well just like with the last consonant, then you are correct.

Handakuten is pretty much the same things the dakuten, but instead of a " stroke set being added to the consonant characters, it instead looks like ⚬. It is only found within one set of characters though, and that is the "H" set. However, unlike dakuten which make "H--> B" sound, it turns the "H--> P" sounds. Examples include: Ha-は , Hi- ひ, Fu- ふ, He-へ , Ho- ほ into Pa- ぱ, Pi- ぴ, Pu- ぷ, Pe- ぺ, Po- ぽ.

Full List of Dakuten ( だくおん ) and Handakuten ( はんだくおん ) Consonant Changes (Simplified):

Dakuten- だくおん:

K--> G: が- ga ぎ- gi ぐ- gu げ- ge ご- go

S--> Z: ざ- za じ- ji ず- zu ぜ- ze ぞ- zo

T--> D: だ- da ぢ- ji づ- zu で- de ど- do

H--> B: ば- ba び- bi ぶ- bu べ- be ぼ- bo

Handakuten-はんだくおん :

H--> P: ぱ- pa ぴ- pi ぷ- pu ぺ- pe ぽ- po

This does add an additional challenge into learning the language, but don't fret. In time you will seamlessly and without even realize it, start using and reading these dakuten with no additional headache or trouble.

Some other good news is that the dakuten, which exist in both Hiragana and Katakana, are written the same way, above the same characters which result in the same sounds. So "Ka- か" written as "Ga- が" in Hiragana is still pronounced like "Ka- カ" written as "Ga- ガ" in Katakana. This means once you learn how to speak and write the diacritic marks in one alphabet, the hardest part about learning the other is the simple fact the consonant character shapes are different, but you don't have to relearn dakuten all over again as a whole.

Hopefully this helps and if anyone has any comments, corrections, concerns or further input about this post, please feel free to share and good luck learning Japanese.

June 23, 2018


Thank you so much for explaining this! I've bookmarked and definitely will be checking back, although i've already worked passed it in terms of leaning them, knowing the logic behind it is super awesome personally-

And i can't thank you enough!!!!

June 27, 2018

Of course, I remember how confusing these were for me because I never got the why and how behind them and was being taught as if they were just other symbols. Once I saw the whole picture and looked into learning and teaching styles about this material, I felt confident in their use and not just regurgitative of the information.

July 2, 2018

Dakuten- だくおん

The hiragana reads 'dakuON. To clear this up, (to the best of my knowledge,) the marks (") are dakuten (ten meaning dot or mark), while the syllables are dakuon (on meaning sound).

June 1, 2019
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