Katakana (片仮名, literally: “fragmentary kana”) is a Japanese syllabary, one of four Japanese writing systems (the others are hiragana, kanji and rōmaji).

Katakana characters are characterised by squarish lines and are the simplest of the Japanese scripts.

Katakana are used for:
  • Emphasis, like italics in English.
  • Onomatopoeia, for example, hii ヒー means “sigh”.
  • Names of animal and plant species.
  • Transliteration of words from foreign languages (called gairaigo 外来語) except Chinese. For example, “television” is written terebi テレビ. Foreign phrases are usually transliterated with a middle dot separating the words.
If you have a font set including Japanese characters, you can view the following charts of katakana together with their Hepburn romanisation.

History


The first kana system called man’yōgana was invented in the Heian period (9th century), reportedly by the Buddhist priest Kūkai who brought the Siddham script to Japan on his return from China in 806. He believed that Japanese would be better represented by a phonetic alphabet than by the kanji. The present set of kana was codified in 1900, and rules for their usage in 1946.

Table of katakana


The first chart sets out the standard katakana (characters in red are obsolete):

aiueo---
kakikukekoキャ kyaキュ kyuキョ kyo
sashisusesoシャ shaシュ shuショ sho
tachitsutetoチャ chaチュ chuチョ cho
naninunenoニャ nyaニュ nyuニョ nyo
hahifuhehoヒャ hyaヒュ hyuヒョ hyo
mamimumemoミャ myaミュ myuミョ myo
ya-yu-yo---
rarirureroリャ ryaリュ ryuリョ ryo
wawi-wewo---
-n------
gagigugegoギャ gyaギュ gyuギョ gyo
zajizuzezoジャ jaジュ juジョ jo
dajizudedo---
babibubeboビャ byaビュ byuビョ byo
papipupepoピャ pyaピュ pyuピョ pyo

The second chart sets out modern additions to the katakana. These are used mainly to represent the sounds in words in other languages.

-イェ ye---
-ウィ wi-ウェ weウォ wo
ヴァ vaヴィ vivuヴェ veヴォ vo
-シェ she---
-ジェ je---
-チェ che---
-ティ tiトゥ tu--
-テュ tyu---
-ディ diドゥ du--
-デュ dyu---
ツァ tsaツィ tsi-ツェ tseツォ tso
ファ faフィ fi-フェ feフォ fo
-フュ fyu---

Katakana are also sometimes used to write the Ainu language; there, consonants without a following vowel are indicated by writing the symbol for consonant+u (in the case of sh, consonant+i) small. Thus, for instance, a small プ represents p.

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