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The Japanese Alphabet – Hiragana

The Vowels

 

But first, a test.

 

これで何?

 

If nothing shows up, we’re in trouble. ;)

 

あ  Read as: [ah]

 

How it’s a hiragana ‘a’: There will always be a cross, with a small looped circle at the bottom of it. (Incidentally, that small circle itself is the hiragana character ‘no’.) It’s more like a half-circle with a tail that cuts through itself.

 

Easily confused with: Hiragana ‘o’, ‘no’.

 

Stuff it shows up in: あなた ([a]nata, “you”)

                  あにめ ([a]nime)

                  ある ([a]ru, “to exist”)

 

 

い Read as: [ee/i]

 

How it’s a hiragana ‘i’: It looks like somebody messed up drawing parentheses and angled it a little to the left, plus made the left side longer. Some people won’t tilt them and just write them as uneven parentheses (). The little fishtail the left thing has is optional – you’ll see it in formal writing but not necessarily in casual.

 

Easily confused with: Hiragana ‘ri’.

 

Stuff it shows up in: いつ ([I]tsu, “when”)

                  いく ([I]ku, “to go”)

                  あい (a[I], “love”)

 

 

 

う Read as: [oo]

 

How it’s a hiragana ‘u’: Dot or line, it’s all the same on top – but the elongated circle out towards the right (a rotated U?) is generally the same everywhere you go.

 

Easily confused with: Hiragana ‘tsu’.

 

Stuff it shows up in: うえ ([u]e, “top, above”)

                  ほう (ho[u], “direction, preference”)

                  うん ([u]n, a casual “yes”)

 

 

 

え Read as: [eh]

 

How it’s a hiragana ‘e’: Dot or line, it’s all the same on top – but here, knowing how this character is written helps. The pen motion is a horizontal line across, diagonal-(left-down) straight line, followed by a wavy line out to the right.

 

Easily confused with: Hiragana ‘n’, kanji ‘jin/nin’.

 

Stuff it shows up in: えほん ([e]hon, “picture book”)

                  えみ ([e]mi, the name)

                  ええ ([e][e], a more proper “yes”)

 

 

 

お Read as: [oh]

 

How it’s a hiragana ‘o’: There’s a cross in this one also, but the circle at the bottom is different from the ‘a’ in two ways – one, it’s actually a continuation of the cross (the ‘a’ circle is written separately), and more importantly, it circles around into itself from the other direction. The little mark in the upper-right corner is important as well.

 

Easily confused with: Hiragana ‘a’.

 

Stuff it shows up in: おえかき ([o]ekaki)

                  おまけ ([o]make, bonus stuff)

                  おう ([o]u, king)

 

 

 

Practice reading stuff: (mostly nonsense :p)

 

あおい   ______ (blue)

うあ  ____

えうい ____

いえあい ____

うお  ____

あう  ____ (to meet)

うあおえ ____

いい  ____ (good)

うえお ____

おあいう ____

いいえ ____ (no)

いえ      ______ (house, or a less formal “no”)

あいうえお ____ (the vowel order)

あういおえうお ____ (what French sounds like to me :p)

 

Practical thing to learn and remember: In Japanese, there are very few false phonemes – that is, Japanese is pretty much read the way it’s spelled. (Not like English.) If you see any character doubled up, you will usually need to repeat the same sound – except for vowels, which are instead lengthened. But that’s for a pronunciation lesson later on.