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Japanese Lesson 2: Writing Systems

This is super important, before we begin with learning words and sentences.

Japanese has 3 writing systems so to speak. Two of them are syllabaries, you may refer to them as "Alphabets", and the third writing system is sort of symbol based, like Chinese.

There's also ROMAJI. Which we'll be using to help you learn sounds and to speak. But please, work on learning the syllabaries as soon as possible. Romaji is terrible for many reasons, including the fact that everyone and their mother writes Romaji in a different way. You may notice that my Romaji is different than some others you've come across. So again. Try to get away from it as soon as possible. Don't be afraid. I know you can do it!

We'll start with Kana, namely Hiragana as you'll be seeing it the most.


Hiragana is used mainly for native Japanese words. You will see Hiragana everywhere. So you'll be wanting to learn that first.

A:あ I:い U:う E:え O:お

Ka:か Ki:き Ku:く Ke:け Ko:こ

Sa:さ Shi:し Su:す Se:せ So:そ

Ta:た Chi:ち Tsu:つ Te:て To:と

Na:な Ni:に Nu:ぬ Ne:ね No:の

Ha:は Hi:ひ Fu:ふ He:へ Ho:ほ

Ma:ま Mi:み Mu:む Me:め Mo:も

Ya:や Yu:ゆ Yo:よ *yes there are only 3 of these

Ra:ら Ri:り Ru:る Re:れ Ro:ろ

Wa:わ Wo:を *yes there's only 2 of these


Okay, now some of these characters get whats called a "Dakuten" that's a little " or ゜that's next to the Hiragana that changes it's sound. those are as follows:

Ga:が Gi:ぎ Gu:ぐ Ge:げ Go:ご

Za:ざ Ji:じ Zu:ず Ze:ぜ Zo:ぞ

Da:だ Zi:ぢ Dzu:づ De:で Do:ど

Ba:ば Bi:び Bu:ぶ Be:べ Bo:ぼ

Pa:ぱ Pi:ぴ Pu:ぷ Pe:ぺ Po:ぽ

ぱ ぴ ぷ ぺ ぽ are the only ones that use the ゜dakuten.

You'll notice that 「ぢ」sounds like "zi" ... or "dzi"... and not "di" and that 「づ」sounds like "dzu" and not "du" ... that's.... that's a pain in the butt but it is what it is. In order to get the "di" sound it's written 「でぃ」"de" and a little "i" makes "di" ... and actually you'll probably only ever see that written in Katakana 「ディ」

Which brings me to the next part. Little vowels and Little Y sounds.

We covered some of the little y sounds last lesson. You'll see more little Ys than little vowels. The biggest thing you need to remember about little Ys is that they're always stuck to an "-i" character.

Kya:きゃ Kyu:きゅ Kyo:きょ Gya:ぎゃ Gyu:ぎゅ Gyo:ぎょ

Sha:しゃ Shu:しゅ Sho:しょ Ja:じゃ Ju:じゅ Jo:じょ

Cha:ちゃ Chu:ちゅ Cho:ちょ

Nya:にゃ Nyu:にゅ Nyo:にょ

Hya:ひゃ Hyu:ひゅ Hyo:ひょ Bya:びゃ Byu:びゅ Byo:びょ 

Pya:ぴゃ Pyu:ぴゅ Pyo:ぴょ

Rya:りゃ Ryu:りゅ Ryo:りょ

You'll notice some of these don't have "y"s in the romaji reading. Don't freak. That's just how it works. And is part of the reason I don't like Romaji.

Like I said you'll also see little vowels: ぁ ぃ ぅ ぇ ぉ but like with 「ディ」"di" you'll probably only ever see them in Katakana. Here's a few anyway:

Fa:ふぁ Fi:ふぃ Fe:ふぇ Fo:ふぉ

She:しぇ Je:じぇ Che:ちぇ Ti:てぃ Di:でぃ

Finally there's little "tsu" っ this little symbol DOUBLES the next consonant!

っか = kka っさ = ssa

etc. a っ can be near any other kana it doesn't really have a restriction besides not coming before あ, い, う, え, お, or ANY of the "N"s

If you come across a double n it will be written with the lone N first 「ん」 followed by one of the Ns with a vowel next to it.

Ex: Konnichiwa = こんにちは

Like English the double consonant doesn't change the sound, it just lengthens it by a fraction (if even that).

っき = "kki" pronounced the same as "ki" って= "tte" pronounced the same as "te"

Does that make sense? :)

KATAKANA (less explanation here because it's the same rules and sounds)

Katakana is used mainly for loan words. Words borrowed from other languages. It's also used in some names.

A:ア I:イ U:ウ E:エ O:オ

Ka:カ Ki:キ Ku:ク Ke:ケ Ko:コ

Sa:サ Shi:シ Su:ス Se:セ So:ソ

Ta:タ Chi:チ Tsu:ツ Te:テ To:ト

Na:ナ Ni:ニ Nu:ヌ Ne:ネ No:ノ

Ha:ハ Hi:ヒ Fu:フ He:ヘ Ho:ホ

Ma:マ Mi:ミ Mu:ム Me:メ Mo:モ

Ya:ヤ Yu:ユ Yo:ヨ

Ra:ラ Ri:リ Ru:ル Re:レ Ro:ロ

Wa:ワ Wo:ヲ


Ga:ガ Gi:ギ Gu:グ Ge:ゲ Go:ゴ

Za:ザ Ji:ジ Zu:ズ Ze:ゼ Zo:ゾ

Da:ダ Dzi:ヂ Dzu:ヅ De:デ Do:ド

Ba:バ Bi:ビ Bu:ブ Be:ベ Bo:ボ

Pa:パ Pi:ピ Pu:プ Pe:ペ Po:ポ

Kya:キャ Kyu:キュ Kyo:キョ Gya:ギャ Gyu:ギュ Gyo:ギョ

Sha:シャ Shu:シュ Sho:ショ Ja:ジャ Ju:ジュ Jo:ジョ

Cha:チャ Chu:チュ Cho:チョ 

Nya:ニャ Nyu:ニュ Nyo:ニョ

Hya:ヒャ Hyu:ヒュ Hyo:ヒョ Bya:ビャ Byu:ビュ Byo:ビョ

Pya:ピャ Pyu:ピュ Pyo:ピョ

Mya:ミャ Myu:ミュ Myo:ミョ

Rya:リャ Ryu:リュ Ryo:リョ

Ti:ティ Di:ディ She:シェ Je:ジェ Che:チェ 

Va:ヴァ Vi:ヴィ Vu:ヴ Ve:ヴェ Vo:ヴォ

ッコ= kko ッソ= sso ッタ=tta ッシ=sshi

... there are probably other possibilities I've left out, but these are all the common ones you should see. and even if that's not true I trust that you can see and understand the pattern here. :)

KANJI There's thousands of Kanji, so I'm not going to list. I will have Kanji in with the lessons, but learn them at your own pace. No worries. :) I've found that once I got to the point where I could start learning Kanji it's made reading a lot easier for me.

Sorry if this is a HELLISH ammount. Just write the syllabaries down and come back to them now and then as reference. You don't have to learn them all today, or this week, or even this month. I just want you to be familiar with them. :)

Next Lesson

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Japanese Lesson Table of Contents


March 4, 2015



This website is great for practicing Japanese writing systems.


Sorry I'm spamming your posts, I'm heading to the pub soon so have to make these contributions quickly. Pub is important. :P

KANJI There's thousands of Kanji, so I'm not going to list. I will have Kanji in with the lessons, but learn them at your own pace. No worries. :) I've found that once I got to the point where I could start learning Kanji it's made reading a lot easier for me.

I wrote my own spaced learning algorithm and have been working through in the same order given on the Kyōiku kanji. I'm "all" the way up to second grade. I think it doubles as a reasonable place for learners to start too.


There's no such thing as spamming my posts. You're meantioning things that I don't even think about (or sometimes even know about) and you'll probably be helping someone else who sees these threads in the near future. So by all means "spam" away!

I've never heard of "Kyouiku Kanji" :D ... I alternate between randomly learning new Kanji and hoping for the best, and using Kanji Damage because it takes a kanji then builds up on it: 日 + 月 = 明るい (just off the top of my head) But that sounds like a great place for learners to start!


... so as it turns out I also have 2nd grade level Kanji. So I learned something new today.


Out of curiousity I spent quite a bit of time looking up extended Katakana, would you find it worthwhile for me to make a post detailing what I found? (There's like several different "standards" fortunately covering different things).


I'm interested. I don't kow anything about "extended katakana" o_o ... I didn't know there were standards.


As promised.

I kind of wrote this to be a stand alone post but actually decided that it would be better as a reply. Don't feel like I'm talking down to you, I was just writing it for a casual reader and couldn't be bothered rewriting it. If you know any I missed I'd love to know!

I use Unicode but it doesn't all work for me (the half sized プ doesn't display correctly for me, YMMV).


Ainu is a sole survivor of the Ainu languages and is critically endangered. It is written with Katakana but due to having a different phonology to Japanese some changes have been made to Katakana in order to write it. In Ainu a syllable can end with a consonant so Katakana has been extended in order to be able to write this. In most cases this involves writing a half sized katakana corresponding to the one ending in -u (note not all letters can occur finally). So -k ㇰ, -s ㇱ or ㇲ (in Ainu sh and s are two realisations of the same letter), -t ㇳ (at the end of a word) or ッ (preceding a sylable that also starts with t), -n ㇴ or the regular ン (ン is always used in the middle of a word, either can be use at the end of a word), -p ㇷ゚, -m ㇺ. Finally for -h and -r which kana is used depends on what the preceding vowel sound is, a half sized character is also used but which one is determined by that sound. For example ah アㇵ, ih イㇶ, uh ウㇷ, eh エㇸ and oh オㇹ and likewise ar アㇻ, ir イㇼ, ur ウㇽ, er エㇾ, and or オㇿ.

Taiwanese Kana

Whene Japan ruled Taiwan Katakana was also extended. The most notable addition was charaters to indicate tones (which I can't include here) and also an overlined character to distinguish t and ts. Again, I can't write it here it doesn't seem, however note that modern Katakana distinguishes these sounds without the overline. More here.

General Extended Katakana

Finally we're here! There are four standards bodies that have created different extensions and I'll treat each separately. If you want a handy dandy summary table without any comment see here.

1874 Hyōjun-shiki formatting

Probably the first extensions. There aren't many of these and they're largely a way of undoing some of the sound changes present reflected in Kana spelling of Japanese. For example sa, shi, su, se, so but what about si? So the ones specified in this document are si スィ, zi ズィ, hu ホゥ, yi イィ, and wu ウゥ.

MEXT Extensions.

These are the extensions created by Japanese government's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology for writing foreign place names and personal names.

The character for shi is し and using the half-sized y- characters one can obtain sha シャ shu シュ and sho ショ but this leaves she out, MEXT specifies that she is written シェ. Similarly je is written ジェ, and che is チェ.

Because チ is pronounced chi the standard specifies that ti is written ティ and similarly ディ is di. (tu and du are specified in another standard). Since チュ is chu they also add テゥ for tyu.

ts- characters are added via tsa ツァ, tse ツェ, and tso ツォ (tsi is part of another standard).

Finally an entire f- series is completed from fu フ by adding fa ファ, fi フィ, fe フェ, and fo フォ.

MEXT Round 2

To get even more accurate transliterations of foreign sounds MEXT added even more!

It adds most of a kw- series kwa クゥ, kwi クィ, kwe クェ, and kwo クォ. Don't know why they missed kwu, maybe they decided it was effectively the same as kuu? or maybe because they used the half sized ウ for -wa. :P The also added gwa グゥ (but the rest are part of another standard).

They also finished off the t- series by adding tu トゥ and d- series by adding du ドゥ and ts- series by adding tsi ツィ.

They completed the y- series by adding ye イェ. They also completed the w- series by adding wi ウィ, we ウェ, and wo ウォ.

They added a v- series as va ヴァ, vi ヴィ, vu ヴ, ve ヴェ, and vo ヴォ.

Finally they added characters for some -yu sounds as tyu テュ, fyu フュ, and vyu ヴュ.


The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and British Standards Institution (BSI) have also suggested some additions, mostly by adding in gaps for things that already exist.

They finish the gw- series (although they are also missing gwu) via gwi グィ, gwe グェ and gwo グォ.

They add a number for writing -ye, namely kye キェ, gye ギェ, nye ニェ, hye ヒェ, fye フィェ, bye ビェ, pye ピェ, mye ミェ, rye リェ and vye ヴィェ.

They add a few missing -ya and -yo characters fya フャ, vya ヴャ, fyo フョ and vyo ヴョ.

And finally they add wyu ウュ (but none of the others, don't ask me! *shrug*).

Who to blame?

I've also seen an l- series obtained by adding a ° to the r- series (I can't actually type these and they don't seem to be supported in Unicode AFAICT so haven't included them here).


WOW! This was very informative. I didn't know hardly any of these. Certainly not the ones that completed the y and w series. :D Thank you! That was awesome!


I'll have to do it when I get back. But for example IIRC the V-series is technically a member one of the extended Katakana standards.


"Katakana is used mainly for lone words"

*loan words.

Though lone words is kind of a poetic image...

Lots of useful info. Between you and Usagiboy, I am being tempted to dig out my Japanese books. TOO MANY LANGUAGES CANNOT DEEEEAL...



My life


Oh dear. XD Thank you! It's fixed now.


No worries :D and like I said, kind of a poetic image, albeit unintentional - those poor lonely lone words in amongst all that hiragana and kanji!


Why isn't this a real duolingo course?


Because they have some hurdles to jump and etc. It will be made eventually.


I just noticed something in the dakuten characters so I wanted to share it whith you guys for ぢ without " it s called tchi so I divised it in two parts the part of T that became D adding " and し that will be Ji " ( D+Ji= DJi==> Zi) the same thing with づ


Yes... D=< They're evil evil dakuten characters. ;A;


Konnichiwa = こんにちは (Ko N Ni Chi Wa)


Wa:わ Ha: は

What gives?


Oh. That's because "Konnichiwa" is actually a sentence fragment... so that "wa" is actually a topic marker particle... making it は instead of わ.

Same with "Konbanwa" こんばんは

Konnichiwa こんにちは would translate to something along the lines of "Speaking of daytime..." (thank you google)... and I guess just sort of evolved into a strange sort of stand alone word.

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