First Step to Learning Japanese: Know your Kana

If you ever plan on reading Japanese, you have to know your Kana.  Kana are sort of the Japanese alphabet.  Kana is a term that groups together two syllabaries: Hiragana and Katakana.  Hiragana are used for grammatical aspects of Japanese, such as verb conjugations and particles, and are also used for some words.  Katakana are primarily used to write out loan words from other languages and brand names and such.

Kana is not hard to learn.  And, after a while, it will be second nature.  Here are some methods to learning:

Method #1: Buy iKana for your iPod, iPhone, or iPod touch

I’m not really gonna go in depth a whole lot on this post because I’ve already written a full review of iKana.  Read the review here: Best iPhone / iPod touch / iPad Application for Learning Kana (Hiragana / Katakana). Summary: iKana is an app that shows you all the Kana and gives you multiple choice as to the definitions.  It’s great and it’s how I learned all my Kana!  Okay, Okay, I’ll admit my Katakana isn’t perfect, but I can read it just fine (:  I know Hiragana like the back of my hand though.  Highly recommend this app!

Method #2: Get a study book, mnemonic book, or workbook

Books can be insanely helpful with anything Japanese related because you get advice from the learners first hand.  I recommend a few books:

Remembering the Kana: A Guide to Reading and Writing the Japanese Syllabaries in 3 Hours Each (Manoa) (Japanese Edition) (part 1)
Let’s Learn Hiragana: First Book of Basic Japanese Writing (Kodansha’s Children’s Classics)
Let’s Learn Katakana: Second Book of Basic Japanese Writing

If you do not know Kana at all and are looking for a textbook, I HIGHLY recommend getting Japanese from Zero! 1: Proven Techniques to Learn Japanese for Students and Professionals.  It slowly introduces Hiragana in the first book and gives you a workbook-like practice.  It’s amazing!  The stoke order may surprise you and, after a while, you’ll find it imperative to writing!  Stroke order really does help with the speed of writing and helps produce a proper looking symbol.  I highly highly highly recommend this to someone who knows somewhat basic Japanese or has had a little experience listening to the language and does not know their Kana!

Method #3: Just writing it

Probably the most efficient way of learning is just to write it over and over again.  It may not be as fun, but you’ll get it quicker.  If you’re a self learner like me, try writing words in Kana when you’re bored in class!

If you plan on writing it, here are some Hiragana and Katakana charts I pulled up.

Dakuon & Handakuon / Youon

Do not stress over Dakuon & Handakuon / Youon!  When I first started learning, I was overwhelmed with these two sets.  Well, if you pay close enough attention, you’ll realize that it hardly involves any new knowledge and just some simple memorization to get it.  Dakuon AKA the little quotation-like marks in the corner of a Kana (“) mean to make it a deeper sound.  For example, all Kana beginning with T would be replaced with D.  Handakuon AKA the little circle in the corner means to replace the first letter with a P.  These are just some really quick and rough tips to Dakuon & Handakuon!

As for Youon, it’s simply combining the two Kana.  Nothing worth memorizing a whole another syllabary for!


To learn your Kana, use all methods you can and just try to surround yourself with it.  Keep writing and reading Kana whenever you can.  Memorize the methods to Dakuon & Handakuon / Youon so you don’t have to waste time learning lots more than you need to.

If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to our RSS feed or bookmark us for later! Thanks for reading, -Travis

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  • Mike

    Yeah, it has to be done over and over. I have learned the hiragana. Katakana is similar in the way they look to the hiragana. They use more straight lines than hiragana.

  • Mowogopo

    yh… u def rght :C dakuon n youon really stressed me out

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