6 Tips to Teach Yourself the Japanese Alphabet

By OptiLingo

Learning Japanese is unlike learning any other language. As you navigate how to speak this language conversationally, you’ll also need to to tackle reading katakana, hiragana, and kanji. Though the Japanese characters in these alphabets can seem particularly complicated, all that is needed to succeed are the right resources and methods to get you on track to learn Japanese hiragana fast.


Understanding the Japanese Alphabet

Once you begin learning the Japanese alphabet, the first thing you’ll realize is that there are three alphabets or scripts that the Japanese use: kanji, katakana, and hiragana.

Kanji are the Chinese characters that have been adopted into modern Japanese writing. Certain Japanese words like verbs, adjectives, and nouns are written with kanji. With kanji characters, you can better discern when each new word begins. Essentially, these kanji symbol act in place of the meanings they represent.

With katakana and hiragana, these alphabets contain around 50 characters each. Though this may seem overwhelming, the English language technically contains 104 various letter appearances between cursive, print, lowercase, and capital letters. If you can handle English, you should have no problem with the Japanese alphabet.

Katakana and hiragana characters are made with phonetic sounds, which is quite similar to English. Once you know the meaning of each character, you’ll be able to read katakana and hiragana easily. Though katakana and hiragana use similar sounds, they both have different characters.


Let’s dive into each alphabet a bit further:



Hiragana is mostly used for grammar purposes. The symbols and suffixes in most Japanese letters are often written in hiragana, though some of the simpler participles, words, and expressions are written in kanji.

To learn Japanese hiragana fast, you should start by familiarizing yourself with its symbols. Most hiragana characters are simple and curvy and easy to identify. In some cases, Japanese words will use hiragana more frequently than kanji.



Katakana is usually reserved for words that are foreign to Japanese culture. Various names and foods are represented with katakana. Certain onomatopoeia can be spelled with both hiragana and katakana. With Katakana, you’ll notice that the symbols are boxier and a bit simpler than they are in the kanji alphabet.

Since the katakana characters represent the same sounds that hiragana does, every katakana character will have a counterpart hiragana character that has the same sound.

In katakana, you’ll sometimes see a small circle that is used to separate first names from last names. Additionally, words that aren’t unique to Japanese culture are written in katakana.


The Best Way to Learn Japanese Alphabet

There’s no denying that learning katakana, hiragana, and kanji will take time. While you may be looking for a quick and simple way to breeze through the language by doing something fun like watching anime or listening to your favorite Japanese songs, you really need to dig into studying these alphabets.


However, there are a few tips and tricks for the best way to learn Japanese alphabet:


1. Type in Japanese

You can learn katakana and hiragana by typing often in Japanese. Whether you’re tweeting, writing to your language learning partner, or taking notes, doing so in Japanese will allow you to practice while doing something simple.

To start typing in Japanese, choose the Japanese for your computer’s keyboard. With this language change on your keyboard, you’ll be able to type as you normally would with the English alphabet. However, after you select whichever English letter you choose, the output will be its Japanese character correspondent.

As you get used to writing like this, you can change the characters to whatever Japanese alphabet you like. There should be a drop down menu allowing you to choose between katakana, hiragana, and kanji.

This way, you’ll be able to practice until you can recognize characters easily. If you can, find a language learning partner that you can communicate with by email or message on a regular basis.


2. Write in Japanese

Though typing in Japanese will greatly improve your understanding of the language, you’ll really be able to grow if you start to write in Japanese. Use a journal, study notebook, or flashcards to kick start your new habit of writing in Japanese. While you may find writing these characters to be much more challenging, the more you do it, the better you will be.


3. Read in Japanese

After learning to type and write in Japanese, you’ll want to graduate to reading in Japanese. When you first start reading Japanese text, you’ll find the process to be rather slow and tedious. However, as you begin to recognize more characters, you’ll be able to pick up the pace with your reading.

You can use the Internet to find several different libraries with short Japanese stories that contain spaces, translations, and hiragana over any kanji characters that might be unfamiliar.

Another resource that most Japanese learners swear by is the Japanese Graded Readers book. This consists of several books separated into different levels. These books use audio and hiragana to keep readers engaged and focused as they read through the stories. You can access these stories by purchasing the hard copy version or getting the iPad version.


4. Use Furigana

Furigana are hiragana characters that have been placed over kanji. Use a furigana plugin to allow you to search through Japanese websites while the plugin displays furigana and English over any kanji characters you are unfamiliar with.

If you find that you cannot install the plugin, use a furigana generator. You can also use furigana generators to insert furigana on top of kanji for an entire website.


5. Study by Yourself

Taking the time to sink your teeth into a study session is essential to learning katakana, hiragana, and kanji. Make your own flashcards or use a flashcard simulator like Real Kana to practice these alphabets on your phone. Additionally, you can also use resources like Genki Self Study to quiz yourself on the various alphabets, play games, or use flashcards.

If you’re looking for a paid alternative, you can use Dr. Moku. This site promises that you will learn Japanese fast. Using applications for all your mobile devices, Dr. Moku is ideal for individuals that are visual learners.


6. Learn by Immersion

Thinking about taking a trip to Japan? If you’re able to make the trip, don’t be afraid to learn by immersion. Once you’re situated overseas, you’ll be able to learn Japanese by being in Japan. Take in the culture, speak with the locals, and do all you can to use Japanese whenever possible.

While there is no quick and easy way to learn the Japanese alphabet, there are certain methods that are more effective than others. Be sure to keep this guide in mind as you begin your Japanese language learning journey.