What's new

Japanese writing system for beginners

Buntaro

運動不足
27 Dec 2003
2,432
1,246
178
There are many people who would like to learn Japanese but don't know where to begin. I know they would like to start by learning simple phrases such as "Hello," "How are you?", "It's a nice day, isn't it?", "What is your name", etc., but I want everyone to put aside the learning of such phrases for now, and instead begin by learning the basic Japanese writing system.

Here is a YouTube video which gives a general overview of the Japanese language. Please watch this video, then feel free to post any observations and questions you have in a post below.

 
Here is a video with a general overview of the Japanese writing system. This video gives a good introduction into the three types of Japanese script, hiragana, katakana, and kanji.

 
When we write in Japanese, we use a mix of hiragana, katakana, and kanji. To a beginning student, this can be confusing and daunting. Fortunately, here is a video which explains how the three types of script work together quite well.

 
This video introduces the first five hiragana characters. Follow along as Tomo Sensei shows you how to write each one of these hiragana characters. Pause the video after each hiragana character, write the character ten times, then go on to the next hiragana character.

Vocabulary

みなさん、こんにちは。 Minasan, konnichi wa. Hello, everyone.
とも せんせい です。 Tomo Sensei desu. I am Tomo, your teacher.
さあ、はじめましょう。 Saa, hajimemashou. Well then let's begin.
いち、に、さん。 Ichi, ni, san. One, two, three.
もう いっかい かいてみましょう。 Mou ikkai kaitemimashou. Let's try to write it one more time.
みなさん、どう でした か? Minasan, dou deshita ka? Everyone, how did go?
たくさん かいて、おぼえましょう。 Takusan kaite, oboemashou. Let's write it many times and remember it.
けいぞく は ちから に なり。 Keizoku wa chikara nari. Practice makes perfect.
つぎ の れっそん で おあいましょう。 Tsugi no resson de oaimashou. Let's meet in the next lesson.

If the video will not play, click on the Watch on YouTube link in the window directly below and watch it on YouTube.com.

 
Differences between あ and お

I want to point out some mistakes that I often see beginners make. First, make sure the end of the long, curly stroke in the あ character ends up pointing to the left. If it points straight down, or even to the right, it is wrong. Second, the center section of the あ character consists of two strokes but the center section of the お character only consists of one stroke. Third, notice that the お character has a short, diagonal stroke in the upper right hand corner whereas the あ character does not. (See first image.)

Notice how the horizontal and vertical strokes in the あ character are not truly horizontal and vertical, the horizontal stroke bends slightly up (from left to right) and the vertical stroke bends slightly to the right (from top to bottom). (See second image.)

Hooks on the い character

Here is an image of い in various fonts. Notice how there is a hook at the bottom of the first stroke in all of the examples. (Notice how the first two examples have quite exaggerated hooks.) (See third image.)
 

Attachments

  • a-vs-o.png
    a-vs-o.png
    24.3 KB · Views: 75
  • a-vs-o2.png
    a-vs-o2.png
    9.1 KB · Views: 65
  • hooks.png
    hooks.png
    14.3 KB · Views: 70
Last edited:
Students can download a page of hiragana characters that can be used to practice tracing the characters. It is very important that students trace hiragana, in order to get a good feel for the proportions in which each hiragana should be written. Download this page from happylilac.net and trace over each hiragana character.

 
Take a look at this video by a YouTuber who calls herself Cyber Bunny. (You can tell from her smile that she is very genki.) In this video, she uses a workbook, traces, and then writes out all of the hiragana characters on each page. Take the time, spend the 15 minutes, and watch the video from 5:31 to the end. Follow along as she writes out all of the hiragana characters, then write out the hiragana characters yourself. In addition, the workbook she is using is published by the Daiso Publishing Company. If you can, buy the workbook, follow along, and fill out each page as she fills them out. There is one thing, however, I would like to point out from Cyber Bunny's video. At 5:45 she writes the first hiragana character, あ with a 'flat spot' on the character at the 'seven o'clock' position. (She does the same thing with the お character at 6:56.) Do not do that, just make it one nice, continuous, rounded swoop. (See image below.) Such a 'flat spot' is necessary when writing with a Japanese writing brush, but it is not necessary — and in my opinion, downright unaesthetic — when writing あ and お with a pen or pencil. (Even the font for this post, used to write あ and お, does not have 'flat spots'.)

WARNING. Cyber Bunny and Tomo Sensei disagree on the stroke order for the か character. (Tomo Sensei's stroke order is correct.) Watch Tomo Sensei's video in my next post.

 

Attachments

  • CyberBunny2.png
    CyberBunny2.png
    33.4 KB · Views: 90
This video introduces the next five hiragana characters, ka ki ku ke ko. Follow along as Tomo Sensei shows you how to write each of these characters. Pause the video after each character, write the character ten times, then go on to the next character.

Please notice that hiragana characters will sometimes contain a 'drag stroke'. This is created when the writer does not pick their pen or brush up off the paper when moving from one stroke to the next. Instead, they just 'drag' it along on the paper until they get to the next stroke. (Writing with drag strokes is faster and easier than picking the pen up off the paper after every stroke.) It is common to see き characters both with and without drag strokes. (See image below.) As a matter of fact, Tomo Sensei uses both types of き characters in this video.

 

Attachments

  • ki drag stroke.png
    ki drag stroke.png
    5.7 KB · Views: 66
The next five hiragana characters are sa shi su se so. (The second hiragana character is shi, not si, because the 'si' sound is not a native Japanese sound, whereas 'shi' is.) All of these characters start with the letter S so this is called the S column (さぎょ) (sa gyo). It is called the S column, not the S line, because hiragana characters were originally written in columns from top to bottom (and still are, in many cases). Tomo Sensei, in his video, lists his hiragana in the traditional way, in top-to-bottom columns.

Be careful not to confuse sa and ki. (See image one below.)

The character そ (so) can be written two different ways. (See image two below.) In the example on the right, the first two strokes (of the example on the left) are now connected. We usually write そ as in the example on the right, but the example on the left is also sometimes seen.

 

Attachments

  • sa-vs-ki.png
    sa-vs-ki.png
    6.9 KB · Views: 76
  • so.png
    so.png
    16.6 KB · Views: 85
I have previously mentioned that Japanese is sometimes written in columns, from top to bottom. I thought it would be fun to take a look at an example. This is a page from a Harry Potter book sold on Amazon. Also, notice that we read columns from right to left, so the column on the right side of the page is the first column on the page. If you look closely, you can see い, き, こ, か, く, and う characters on the page. (Fiction novels like this one are always printed top-to-bottom and right-to-left.)
 
I have previously mentioned that Japanese is sometimes written in columns, from top to bottom. I thought it would be fun to take a look at an example. This is a page from a Harry Potter book sold on Amazon. Also, notice that we read columns from right to left, so the column on the right side of the page is the first column on the page. If you look closely, you can see い, き, こ, か, く, and う characters on the page. (Fiction novels like this one are always printed top-to-bottom and right-to-left.)
You forgot to include the images or maybe they were lost in yesterday's server glitch.
 
I have previously mentioned that Japanese is sometimes written in columns, from top to bottom. I thought it would be fun to take a look at an example. This is a page from a Harry Potter book sold on Amazon. Also, notice that we read columns from right to left, so the column on the right side of the page is the first column on the page. If you look closely, you can see い, き, こ, か, く, and う characters on the page. (Fiction novels like this one are always printed top-to-bottom and right-to-left.)

Amazon product ASIN B0192CTNS6
 

Attachments

  • vertical columns.png
    vertical columns.png
    70.3 KB · Views: 76
The next five hiragana characters are ta chi tsu te to. The second hiragana character is chi, not ti, because the 'ti' sound is not a native Japanese sound. The same is true for the third character, it is tsu not tu.

Be careful not to confuse ち (chi) and さ (sa). (Notice each one is a kind of a reversal of the other.) See the first image below.

Be careful not to confuse て (te) and と (to). See the second image below.

 

Attachments

  • sa-chi.png
    sa-chi.png
    7.3 KB · Views: 198
  • to-te.png
    to-te.png
    5.9 KB · Views: 74
The next five hiragana characters are na ni nu ne no.

Be careful not to confuse な (na) and た (ta). (See the first image below.)

Be careful not to confuse ぬ (nu) and ne (ね). (See the second image below.)

 

Attachments

  • nu-ne.png
    nu-ne.png
    9 KB · Views: 64
  • ta-na.png
    ta-na.png
    7.9 KB · Views: 62
The next five hiragana characters are ha hi fu he ho. Please notice that I have written the third character ふ as fu in romaji (romanized characters), not hu.

Be careful not to confuse ほ (ho) and は (ha). See the first image below.

Regarding the stroke order of ふ, it can be written three different ways. (See the second image below.) In the example on the left, the character is divided into four separate strokes. In the middle example, the first and second strokes are connected into one long stroke. In the example on the right, the left and right sidestrokes are also connected, by a long, horizontal drag stroke. (The middle example is quite common, but when I write ふ, I always write it with the long, horizontal drag stroke as in the example on the right.)

 

Attachments

  • ho-ha.png
    ho-ha.png
    10.4 KB · Views: 66
  • fu.png
    fu.png
    41.1 KB · Views: 74
The hu/fu conundrum

Three pronunciation sounds (and the confusion they bring to studying Japanese)

The English fu sound is pronounced by having the lower lip touch the upper two front teeth. Air is forced between the lower lip and the upper two front teeth, causing increased air pressure and the sound of a 'whoosh' of air. We use an unvoiced sound while creating the 'whooshing' sound.

The English hu sound is pronounced by having the upper and lower lips almost touching (as in the 'kissing' position). An important point is that the lips are not narrowed, airflow is not restricted, and there is no 'whooshing' sound.

The Japanese ふ sound is sort of halfway between the two English sounds. The upper and lower lips almost touch (as in the 'kissing' position), but the upper and lower lips tighten and restrict airflow, causing a 'whooshing' sound. We use an unvoiced sound while creating the 'whooshing' sound.

In this way, ふ is halfway between English fu and hu, so both fu and hu spellings are used when writing ふ in romaji. (The fu spelling is more common.)

One more thing about pronouncing ふ. When a ふ syllable is unaccented, it is almost a 'silent u'. In English, when we say futon (Japanese sleeping mattress), we say fuuuton [FU • tahn], accenting the first syllable and elongating the 'u' sound. Not so in Japanese. The first syllable is not accented, and the vowel is almost a 'silent u'. In this video, a Japanese young lady says ふとん (futon) three times from 2:54. The first time she says it, she at regular speed. She then says it a second time at 2:56, saying it very slowly and stopping between each syllable. She then says it again at 2:99 at regular speed. Listen to how she says [f' • TON] not [FU • tahn].

 
While on the subject of 'silent u', I want to point out that we also use 'silent u' when pronouncing す (su) in unaccented syllables in some Japanese words. For example, in English, when we talk about sumo wrestling, we accent and elongate the first syllable in the word "suuuumo." In the Japanese word, however, the す syllable is not accented.

In Japanese, 'sumo' is often pronounced as 'ozumo' ("honorable sumo") which is how it is pronounced in this video. (The S in sumo makes a euphonic change to Z when it becomes the end part of a longer word.) Listen to the Japanese pronunciation of the word 'ozumo' at 0:09 in this video — you can barely hear the speaker pronounce the 'u' sound. The sentence begins with "Ozumo no…" (You can see the word "大相撲の…" (Ozumo no…) on the screen in the subtitles.)

 
The he vs. e (へ vs. へ) pronunciation

Another character in the H column is へ, sometimes pronounced he and sometimes pronounced e. When へ is used as a (じょし) (joshi) (postpositional particle, similar to English preposition) it is pronounced the same as "え". For example, if we say "go to Tokyo," we say "Tokyo へ ikimasu" ("Tokyo e ikimasu") using the "え" pronunciation.

When it is in a word, へ is pronounced "he":

へび (hebi); snake
へそ (heso); belly button
へた (heta); not skillful; clumsy

This video explains the particle へ (e), with a very short discussion at 1:26 of へ pronounced in words as he.

 
The next five hiragana characters are ma mi mu me mo.

Be careful not to confuse め (me) and の (no). (See image below.)

 

Attachments

  • me-no.png
    me-no.png
    10.1 KB · Views: 60
The next five hiragana characters are ra ri ru re ro.

Be careful not to confuse り (ri) and い (i). The longer stroke for り is on the right, and the longer stroke for い is on the left. (See the first image below.) Also, please notice that the character り in the image below has a stroke on the left, a stroke on the right, and a drag stroke in the middle, but り is often written without the drag stroke.

Be careful not to confuse る (ru) and ろ (ro). (See the second image below.)

 

Attachments

  • ri-i.png
    ri-i.png
    6.3 KB · Views: 65
  • ro-ru.png
    ro-ru.png
    8.4 KB · Views: 65
In my last post, I forgot to post an example of り (ri) with a dragstroke in the middle. Take a look at the first image below.

The next three hiragana characters are wa, o (also spelled wo), and n.

Be careful not to confuse わ (wa) and れ (re). Make sure the end of the character correctly points to the left or right. (See the second image below.)

Be careful not to confuse わ (wa) and ゆ (yu). Notice that if you make a mistake and write the vertical stroke of わ a little too far to the right, it could look like ゆ. (See the third image below.)

In summary, compare these three characters. (See the fourth image below.)

わ, れ, ゆ
wa, re, yu

The direct object particle を (pronounced o). When we translate the English phrase "read a book" (a transitive verb followed by a direct object) into Japanese, it becomes "hon を yomu." Direct objects in Japanese are always marked with を.

When writing this character in romaji, it is sometimes written wo. When typing this on an English keyboard, typing wo brings up the を character (whereas typing o on an English keyboard brings up the お character.)

~~~

The ん (N) hiragana is the only hiragana that is only a consonant without a vowel. It is usually paired with a hiragana character before it, to make syllables such as さん (san), けん (ken), みん (min), etc.

 

Attachments

  • ri.png
    ri.png
    5.1 KB · Views: 54
  • wa-re.png
    wa-re.png
    5.4 KB · Views: 53
  • wa-yu.png
    wa-yu.png
    11.8 KB · Views: 62
  • wa-re-ne.png
    wa-re-ne.png
    7.4 KB · Views: 44
Let's look at "ten ten" (dakuten) (two small strokes in the upper-right corner of a hiragana character) & "maru" (handakuten) (a small circle in the upper-right corner); ga, za, da, ba, pa.

Adding two small strokes to か (ka) makes が (ga).
Adding two small strokes to き (ki) makes ぎ (gi).
Adding two small strokes to は (ha) makes ば (ba), and so on.

In addition, adding a small circle to は (ha) makes ぱ (pa).
Adding a small circle to ひ (hi) makes ぴ (pi), and so on.

The character が is sometimes called ka ten ten.
The character ば is sometimes called ha maru.

Watch CyberBunny's video and 'rap song', which teaches these hiragana characters.

 
The next five hiragana characters are ga gi gu ge go — がぎぐげご

 
Back
Top Bottom