ひらがな (hiragana) is the fundamental component of the Japanese writing system. カタカナ (katakana) and 漢字 (kanji) are the other two writing systems in Japanese. If you want to learn all of the hiragana for free with step-by-step videos and descriptions, this guide is for you.
In Japan, people start learning ひらがな (hiragana) at a very young age, usually in preschool or early elementary. Mastering hiragana might seem overwhelming; however, this article will teach you everything you need to know about writing, pronunciation, and any valuable tips regarding hiragana.
Modern Hiragana Characters
Modern hiragana has 46 base characters: five singular vowels, 40 consonant-vowel unions, and one singular consonant. Some of you may have seen it before, but the 46 characters are organized in a chart format, which is called あいうえお表 (aiueo hyō).
The chart has ten rows of up to five hiragana characters. The upcoming sections are organized according to the chart. In this guide, all hiragana characters will be explained. You’ll learn how to pronounce and write each correctly.
*Note: While there are many methods to memorize the hiragana characters, it’s just as easy (if not easier) to just remember the characters as you practice writing them. The characters are simple and are pretty simple to remember with a little work. If you follow this up by reviewing the characters (flashcards work great for this), you’ll remember all of the characters in no time.
How to Read and Write Hiragana: 直音 (Chokuon)- Basic Characters
These are all of the basic characters of hiragana. Be sure to practice reading and writing each character to ensure that you master all of them. We’ll be using these basic characters to create more complex hiragana later on.
あ行 (A Gyō) – A Row: Pronunciation
あ (a) is often the first character people learn. As with all characters, try to match of balance and stroke lengths of the examples shown in the video.
This character looks very similar to お (o), so pay close attention to the stroke order. It is different than writing お (o). Also notice that お has a small slash on the right side while あ does not.
Words Starting With あ (A)
• あひる (ahiru): Duck
• あるく (aruku): To walk
い (i) looks relatively similar to り (ri). い has two vertical lines that are similar in length, whereas り has a longer line on the right side.
Words Starting With い (I)
• いす (isu): Chair
• いか (ika): Squid
う (u) looks a little bit like the katakana character ラ (ra). Be sure to practice writing う (u) with a flowing curve instead of the rigid, straight lines that ラ has.
Words Starting With う (U)
• うめ (ume): Japanese plum
• うに (uni): Sea urchin
Some people think that え (e) looks like う (u) character described above. Just be sure to pay attention to the second stroke and feel how the last stroke (“the tail”) flows off of your pen.
Words Starting With え (E)
• えんぴつ (enpitsu): Pencil
• えいご (eigo): English
お (o) does look very similar to the first character we learned, あ (a). Many people get these two characters mixed up in the beginning, so be sure to follow the correct stroke order of both characters. お (o) has a small slash on the right side for its final stroke. This is also why you need to practice writing the characters; not only will it help you to remember the characters faster, but you’ll notice more details that you may miss if you just practice reading them.
Words Starting With お (O)
• おに (oni): Demon
• おなか (onaka): Stomach
か行 (Ka Gyō) – Ka Row: Pronunciation
When you start to learn katakana, you’ll notice that the カ (ka) looks almost identical to this hiragana か (ka). The biggest difference is the third stroke in this hiragana character. However, the hiragana か is also more rounded at the upper right hand corner. Be sure to follow the video to see exactly how it’s written.
Words Starting With か (Ka)
• かさ (kasa): Umbrella
• からあげ (karaage): Deep-fried food, usually chicken
This character also looks similar to its katakana equivalent (キ). So be sure to focus on how this hiragana き (ki) is written. The great thing about hiragana and katakana characters looking similar to each other is that it makes it easier to remember both.
However, き (ki) also looks similar to the hiragana さ (sa). Be aware that き has an extra horizontal line running through it.
Words Starting With き (Ki)
• きつね (kitsune): Fox
• きけん (kiken): Danger
This character is a breath of fresh air since it’s one of the few (if not only) characters that looks familiar. It is similar in shape to the “less than” symbol, just spread out a little wider.
Words Starting With く (Ku)
• くじら (kujira): Whale
• くらげ (kurage): Jellyfish
け (ke) is similar to the hiragana character は (ha). The difference is at the end of the third and last stroke. The third stroke of け (ke) trails off to the left side while は (ha) goes back and loops over itself.
Words Starting With け (Ke)
• けしごむ (keshigomu): Eraser
• けっこん (kekkon): Marriage
The computerized version of Japanese writing differs from how it’s written by hand. This character is a good example. The image shown to the left doesn’t have a small “hook” at the end of the first stroke. However, if you were to write こ (ko) by hand, you would need to put this small hook at the end in order for it to look nice.
Words Starting With こ (Ko)
• こども (kodomo): Child
• これ (kore): This
さ行 (Sa Gyō) – Sa Row: Pronunciation
As mentioned above in the ka-row section, さ (sa) looks a little like き (ki). However, さ also looks like the hiragana character ち (chi), especially when it’s is in computer font form. When writing it out by hand, it’s easy to see that the two characters are quite different. In addition to the third and last stroke of さ (sa) going in the opposite direction of ち (chi), it is also not touching the first two strokes.
Words Starting With さ (Sa)
• さかな (sakana): Fish
• さしみ (sashimi): Raw, sliced seafood (usually fish)
し (shi) looks like a backwards “J” or a fishhook. It is also similar to the first stroke of the character も (mo), which we’ll learn a little bit later. While this character is only one stroke, it takes a bit of practice to make it look nice. As with all characters, aim to have a nice balance (of the strokes and spaces in-between and around the strokes) when writing them.
Words Starting With し (Shi)
• しまうま (shimauma): Zebra
• しお (shio): Salt
If you combine す (su) with し (shi) above, you’ll get the popular Japanese food すし (sushi). Have fun with “loop” in the second stroke. This type of loop is unique to certain characters in hiragana. It does not appear in katakana or commonly used kanji.
Words Starting With す (Su)
• すいか (suika): Watermelon
• すず (suzu): Bell
This another character that looks similar to its katakana counterpart. The hiragana せ (se) has three strokes while the katakana セ (se) only has two. However, it can be easy to get these two characters mixed up in the beginning.
Words Starting With す (Su)
• せみ (semi): Cicada
• せっけん (sekken): Soap
The bottom half of そ (so) is slightly similar to て (te), but the single stroke and look of そ is so unique that most people remember it quickly.
Words Starting With そ (So)
• そら (sora): Sky
• それ (sore): That
た行 (Ta Gyō) – Ta Row: Pronunciation
た (ta) and に (ni) look a little similar. た has an extra horizontal line on the left side (the first stroke). た also has four strokes while に (ni) has three.
Words Starting With た (Ta)
• たぬき (tanuki): Raccoon dog
• たこ (tako): Octopus
As previously mentioned, ち (chi) can be mistaken for さ (sa) since they look similar. It’s almost like a lower case “b” and “d” where the bottom part of the character determines which letter it is. Another thing to note is that “chi” is the Hepburn romanization style. There is another romanization style called 訓令式 (kunrei shiki), where ち would be written as “ti.” Proper English translations use the Hepburn style, but be aware that there are other ways to write romaji.
Words Starting With た (Ta)
• ちず (chizu): Map
• ちじ (chiji): Governor
つ (tsu) looks like し (shi) flipped over and turned on its side. Even though they share the same shape, the difference in their position makes them easy to recognize and remember. Practice them both and you’ll see for yourself 🙂
Words Starting With た (Ta)
• つくえ (tsukue): Desk
• つる(tsuru): Crane (bird)
て (te) almost looks like “T” and the beginning of an “e” if you combined them together. As you learn more Japanese, you’ll find yourself using the て (te) character a lot. Not only is it common in words, but there is something called the て-Form. It is a way to conjugate verbs and adjectives to create all kind of wonderful grammatical patterns. You’ll use this character so much there’s no way you’ll forget it!
Words Starting With て (Te)
• て (te): Hand
• てがみ (tegami): Letter (as in “I wrote a letter to her…”)
と (to) is also another character you’ll be using a lot in your Japanese studies. It is a useful Japanese particle that means “and” or “with.” It is also one of the easier particles in Japanese to understand and use. So practice this one because you’ll be using it often in the future!
Words Starting With と (To)
• とけい (tokei): Clock
• とかげ (tokage): Lizzard
な行 (Na Gyō) – Na Row: Pronunciation
な (na) can feel a little tricky to write at first. Put the effort into writing this character neatly and smoothly, because you’ll be using it relatively often in your Japanese studies. There are two types of adjectives in Japanese; い-adjectives and な-adjectives. な-adjectives all end in な, so you’ll be using this character a lot when you learn about adjectives.
Words Starting With な (Na)
• なす (nasu): Eggplant
• なぞ (nazo): Riddle; puzzle
As mentioned previously, に (ni) looks a little bit like た (ta). You just need to be aware of the first horizontal stroke in た (or the lack thereof in に).
Words Starting With に (Ni)
• にわとり (niwatori): Chicken
• にわ (niwa): Garden; yard
ぬ (nu) and め (me) look almost the same. Many people get these characters mixed up, so be sure to learn this correctly from the beginning. The difference is that ぬ (nu) has a small loop at the bottom (that looks like a “2) while め (me) does not.
Words Starting With ぬ (Nu)
• ぬりえ (nurie): Picture for coloring (like a coloring book)
• ぬの (nuno): Cloth
This is another character that looks very similar to another. ね (ne) and れ (re) are very similar. Just like with ぬ (nu) and め (me), the difference is whether or not there is a small loop on its final stroke. ね (ne) has has a small loop at the bottom (that looks like a “2) while れ (re) does not.
Words Starting With ね (Ne)
• ねこ (neko): Cat
• ねずみ (nezumi): Mouse; rat
の (no) looks like a cursive “n” or “o” and is pronounced almost the same way as “no” in English. It is also another useful particle, which is used for the possessive form (my book, his computer, my company’s car, etc.)
Words Starting With の (No)
• のり (nori): Seaweed (for eating); glue
• のみもの (nomimono): Drink(s); beverage
は行 (Ha Gyō) – Ha Row: Pronunciation
は (ha) and ほ (ho) look very similar. The biggest difference is that ほ (ho) has an two horizontal lines running through the last vertical stroke on the right side. は (ha) only has one horizontal line going through it.
Also, は is actually pronounced “wa” when it’s used as a particle. You’ll learn more about this when you start to study basic Japanese sentences.
Words Starting With は (Ha)
• はさみ (hasami): Scissors
• はな (hana): Flower(s); nose
ひ (hi) is only one stroke, so just be sure to start from the left side ending the stroke on the right side.
Words Starting With ひ (Hi)
• ひつじ (hitsuji): Sheep
• ひみつ (himitsu): Secret
ふ (fu) looks a little complicated to write. It is probably the most difficult hiragana character to write, but you can still learn to write it quickly with a little practice. There are also two ways to write ふ. Check out the video to see both ways you can write this character. Also, you would think this character would be read as “hu,” not “fu.” Actually, both are correct, but as explained in the ち (chi) description, fu is the Hepburn romanization style and is used much more commonly in proper English translations.
Words Starting With ふ (Fu)
• ふぶき (fubuki): Snowstorm
• ふきん (fukin): Dish cloth
へ (he) is another single stroke character. It is pretty easy to write, but just make sure to start on the left side, stroking down towards the right.
Words Starting With へ (He)
• へび (hebi): Snake
• へや (heya): Room
As mentioned in the description for は (ha) above, ほ (ho) looks almost the same but has an extra horizontal line at the top. Be sure to be aware of this extra line to differentiate between は (ha) and ほ (ho).
Words Starting With ほ (Ho)
• ほたて (hotate): Scallop
• ほほえみ (hohoemi): Smile
ま行 (Ma Gyō) – Ma Row: Pronunciation
ま (ma) looks like the right side of ほ (ho), but there is a very important detail you should be aware of. The vertical line going through the two horizontal lines in ま (ma) extends above the top horizontal line. You’ll start writing the vertical line (the third stroke) above the top horizontal line (the first stroke). However, in ほ (ho), the vertical line does not extend past the top horizontal stroke. For ほ (ho), you’ll start the vertical line (fourth stroke) at or just below (but still touching) the the top horizontal stroke.
Words Starting With ま (Ma)
• まくら (makura): Pillow
• まぐろ (maguro): Tuna
み (mi) is another character with that unique loop shape on its left side. Have fun writing this character as you go down, loop around, and finish the first stroke on the right-hand side.
Words Starting With み (Mi)
• みず (mizu): Water
• みち (michi): Street; road; path
む (mu) has a similar shape as す (su), except the line keeps going after the loop and extends to the right, and finishes by curving back up slightly.
Words Starting With む (Mu)
• むし (mushi): Insect
• むすこ (musuko): Son
As mentioned earlier, め (me) looks almost exactly like ぬ (nu). The differnce is that ぬ (nu) has a loop at the end while め (me) does not.
Words Starting With め (Me)
• め (me): Eye
• めがね (megane): Eyeglasses
も (mo) is similar to し (shi), but has two horizontal lines cutting through its vertical stroke.
Words Starting With も (Mo)
• もり (mori): Forest
• もも (momo): Peach
ら行 (Ra Gyō) – Ra Row: Pronunciation
ら (ra) has a unique shape, but sometimes people get this confused for さ (sa) or や (ya). It takes a little bit of getting used to, but if you practice writing all the characters (as much as you can!) and review with flashcards/notes, you’ll remember all of them in no time.
Words Starting With ら (Ra)
• らくだ (rakuda): Camel
• らくがき (rakugaki): Graffiti; scribble
This hiragana り (ri) looks almost identical to the katakana リ (ri). This makes it easy to remember both, but when writing, the hiragana り (ri) usually has a small hook at the end of the first stroke.
Words Starting With り (Ri)
• りんご (ringo): Apple
• りかい (rikai): Understanding
る (ru) and ろ (ro) look very similar, so just remember that る (ru) has a loop at the bottom while ろ (ro) does not.
Words Starting With る (Ru)
• るす (rusu): Absence
• るいじ (ruiji): Resemblance; similarity
れ (re) looks like ね (ne). Just remember that れ (re) does not loop around at the end of the second stroke. These differences seem very small at first, but after a while you’ll notice them easily.
Words Starting With れ (Re)
• れきし (rekishi): History
• れんこん (renkon): Lotus root
As previously mentioned, ろ (ro) looks like る(ru). Just remember that ろ (ro) does not have a loop at the end of its stroke.
Words Starting With ろ (Ro)
• ろうそく (rōsoku): Candle
• ろんり (ronri): Logic
や行 (Ya Gyō) – Ya Row: Pronunciation
Traditionally, the Ya-row comes before the Ra-row on hiragana charts. However, there are only three characters in the Ya-row, so we decided to teach it after the Ra-row to make it easier to follow and hopefully easier to understand.
Words Starting With や (Ya)
• やかん (yakan): Kettle
• やきにく (yakiniku): Yakiniku; Korean style barbeque
ゆ (yu) is a fun character to write. It almost looks like a picture of a fish. You’ll also see this character if you go to an onsen (hot spring) in Japan. At an onsen in Japan, ゆ (yu) means “hot water” or “hot spring water” that you bathe in. The kanji for hot water is 湯 (yu), but you will often seen the hiragana ゆ written on signs or noren (short curtains hung at the top of a door/entrance) at onsens.
Words Starting With ゆ (Yu)
• ゆき (yuki): Snow
• ゆず (yuzu): Yuzu
よ (yo) looks a little bit like ま (ma). However, よ (yo) only has one horizontal like (the first stroke) while ま (ma) has two. Also, if you look closely, the horizontal line in よ (yo) does not go through the vertical stroke. Be sure to practicing writing よ (yo) so that the first stroke doesn’t cut across the second, vertical stroke.
Words Starting With よ (Yo)
• よる (yoru): Night
• よやく (yoyaku): Appointment; reservation; advance order
わ行 (Wa Gyō) – Wa Row: Pronunciation
わ (wa) looks similar to ね (ne). The difference is ね (ne) has a loop and わ (wa) doesn’t.
Words Starting With わ (Wa)
• わに (wani): Alligator
• わくせい (wakusei): Planet
This is actually another character for “o,” but it is sometimes written as “wo” as shown here. Usually, we write this を as “o” in our other Japanese lessons, as it is more standardized for learners of Japanese. The biggest difference between を (o) and お (o), is that this を (o) is a particle, and is not used in any words.
Words Starting With を (Wo)
There is no Japanese word that starts with を (o). を is a particle and indicates what the direct object of a sentence is.
The last character! After you complete this, you’ll have learned all of the hiragana characters! However, your work is not done yet. There’s a few more things to learn about hiragana before you have completely mastered everything.
Words Starting With ん (N)
There is no Japanese word that starts with ん (n). Do you know a Japanese word game called しりとり (shiritori)? The players need to say a word that begins with the last character of the previous word that was said by the other player. If a player says a word ending in ん (n), they lose the game, as no Japanese word begins with that character.
Congratulations!!! You’ve learned all of the basic hiragana characters. Give yourself a big pat on the back! However, there are still things you need to learn. There are a few things that you can add to some of these hiragana characters to change their pronunciation. Also, you can combine certain characters together to make a “hybrid” character!
Part II Advanced Hiragana: Different Sounds and Combination Characters
If you mastered all of the hiragana characters on this page, the hard work is over. Now we just need to learn a few more things to truly master all of commonly used hiragana characters in Japanese.
濁音 (Dakuon) – Hiragana with Dakuten
Dakuten two small dashes that you write on the upper right-hand side of certain characters. This mark looks similar to double quotation marks in English (“). This will change the pronunciation of the character from an unvoiced consonant, to a voiced consonant 濁音 (dakuon). Sounds confusing? Don’t worry! It’s actually really easy. You just need to remember which characters can take this mark, and the rest is really easy.
The only characters that can take the dakuten are the か (ka)、さ (sa)、た (ta)、and は (ha) rows. Let’s see what happens when you add a dakuten to the characters in these rows.
Dakuon: か (Ka) Row Becomes the が (Ga) Row
Any character in the か (ka) row that has a dakuten attached to it will go from a “k” sound to a “g” sound.
- か (ka) —> が (ga)
- き (ki) —> ぎ (gi)
- く (ku) —> ぐ (gu)
- け (ke) —> げ (ge)
- こ (ko) —> ご (go)
Example Words: Ga Row
- が (ga) —> がっこう (gakkо̄): School
- ぎ (gi) —> ぎん (gin): Silver
- ぐ (gu) —> ぐち (guchi): Complaint(s)
- げ (ge) —> げいしゃ (geisha): Geisha (Female entertainers trained in traditional Japanese arts like dance and music)
- ご (go) —> ごま (goma): Sesame seed(s)
Dakuon: さ (Sa) Row Becomes the ざ (Za) Row
Any character in the さ (sa) row that has a dakuten attached to it will go from a “s” sound to a “z” sound, EXCEPT for し (shi). し (shi) will turn into じ (ji).*
- さ (sa) —> ざ (za)
- し (shi) —> じ (ji)
- す (su) —> ず (zu)
- せ (se) —> ぜ (ze)
- そ (so) —> ぞ (zo)
*Note: じ (zi) is the 訓令式 (kunrei shiki) reading, which is the system ordered by the Cabinet of Japan. However, ji is the Hepburn style of romaji, which is what is used in most English translations. It is also much closer to the pronunciation of that actually Japanese. For example, the word じかん means “time.” It is pronounced “jikan.” If you were to pronounce it using the kunrei shiki romanization, it would be “zikan,” which would not be the correct pronunciation.
Example Words: Za Row
- ざ (za) —> ざぶとん (zabuton): Floor cushion
- じ (ji) —> じかん (jikan): Time
- ず (zu) —> ずかん (zukan): Picture book
- ぜ (ze) —> ぜんそく (zensoku): Asthma
- ぞ (zo) —> ぞう (zоu): Elephant
Dakuon: た (Ta) Row Becomes the だ (Da) Row
The ta row is a little tricky. It has two exceptions, but it’s not too difficult. Characters in the た (ta) row that has a dakuten attached to it will go from a “t” sound to a “d” sound, EXCEPT for ち (chi) and つ (tsu).
ち (chi) will turn into ぢ (ji). Wait a minute! We just learned that し (shi) also turns into じ (ji). Yes, both of these characters have the same romaji and same pronunciation. How can two different characters have the same reading? The answer lies is something called 連濁 (rendaku) in Japanese. Basically, rendaku is when you combine words together that result in the first constant of the second word becoming voiced. This is the same thing we are doing here; ち (chi) becomes a voiced じ (ji) with the the dakuten (“). Let’s check out an example.
Let’s two different words and combine them. はな (hana) can mean either flower or nose. For our example, it will mean “nose.” ち (chi) also has two meanings; it can either mean blood or ground/earth. In this example, it will mean “blood.”
If we put these words together, it will mean “nosebleed” and it should look like this: はなち (hanachi)…BUT
Because of of 連濁 (rendaku), first constant of the second word ち (chi – blood) will become voiced —> ぢ(ji). Therefore, the correct word will be はなぢ (hanaji). Most of the time, ぢ (ji) is found in the middle or end of words. There are few (if any) words that start with ぢ (ji). It’s when the original word uses ち (chi) but becomes voiced when combined with other words.
The other exception is つ (tsu). With the dakuten, it will change to づ (zu). This also shares the same romaji as the character す (su) —> ず (zu). Just like with the ぢ (ji) character above, づ (zu) is most used as 連濁 (rendaku). In other words, づ (zu) is mainly used when it is combined with other words (in the middle of end of words, not at the beginning).
Let’s take a look at the whole da row:
- た (ta) —> だ (da)
- ち (chi) —> ぢ (ji)
- つ (tsu) —> づ (zu)
- て (te) —> で (de)
- と (to) —> ど (do)
Example Words: Da Row
- だ (da) —> だいず (daizu): Soy beans
- ぢ (ji) —> はなぢ (hanaji): Nosebleed
- づ (zu) —> つづき (tsuzuki): Continuation (of something; story, work, tv show, etc.)
- で (de) —> でぐち (deguchi): Exit
- ど (do) —> どろ (doro): Mud
Dakuon: は (Ha) Row Becomes the ば (Ba) Row
Any character in the は (ha) row that has a dakuten attached to it will go from a “h” sound to a “b” sound.
- は (ha) —> ば (ba)
- ひ (hi) —> び (bi)
- ふ (fu) —> ぶ (bu)
- へ (he) —> べ (be)
- ほ (ho) —> ぼ (bo)
Example Words: Ba Row
- ば (ba) —> ばけつ (baketsu): Bucket
- び (bi) —> びじん (bijin): Beautiful woman
- ぶ (bu) —> ぶり (buri): Japanese amberjack/yellowtail
- べ (be) —> べんごし (bengoshi): Lawyer
- ぼ (bo) —> ぼくし (bokushi): Pastor