If you're just getting started learning Japanese and are wondering what the Japanese Alphabets are all about, you came to the right place!
There are three alphabets in the Japanese language: Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji. Hiragana is considered the most basic and elementary of the alphabets, and is often the alphabet that is learned first. Read more to find out what Hiragana is and how it is used!
What is Hiragana and How Many Characters are There?
When most people think of Japanese alphabets, they think of a language with thousands and thousands of characters that all look similar and are very difficult to learn.
But, believe it or not, there are actually fewer letters in Hiragana than in the Latin alphabet (which is what we use for English)! However, these letters are combined together to make a series of sounds, with each sound being represented by a Hiragana character.
This is why Hiragana is known as a phonetic alphabet - unlike Kanji, where each character has one or more meanings associated with it and can have multiple pronunciations, Hiragana characters are always pronounced exactly the same.
There are 46 basic characters in Hiragana. These characters are the building blocks that can be modified to create additional and compound sounds. The full Hiragana alphabet is shown below. This Hiragana Chart for Japanese Learning is a great resource to hang in your office, bedroom, or just about anywhere to help you learn and memorize the full Hiragana Alphabet!
How Long Does It Take to Learn Hiragana?
In the Hiragana alphabet, since there are far fewer characters, the characters are much simpler to write, and each character only has one pronunciation, it is significantly easier to learn Hiragana than, say, Kanji. Hiragana can be learned in a day and mastered over a few weeks! So, it is a great starting point when considering learning Japanese.
You may be wondering if Hiragana is the most important Japanese Alphabet. While Hiragana is the most elementary of the three alphabets, in truth, all three alphabets are equally important and essential in everyday Japanese language. That leads to this next question...
Why Not Use Hiragana for Everything?
It is true that the Hiragana alphabet contains a character for every possible sound in the Japanese language, and every word can be written in Hiragana alone. So why not use Hiragana exclusively and forget about learning all of those kanji?
In English, there are spaces between each word and many more available sounds to choose from than in Japanese. If a paragraph of Japanese text were written in purely Hiragana, it would look like a blob of characters all stuck together and would be very difficult to read and understand. To make it possible to read Japanese quickly, Kanji and Katakana are important to have as well!
Japanese students who have not yet learned all of the kanji do however make use of Hiragana above Kanji characters (called furigana) to help them pronounce words.
Your Hiragana Learning Journey
Hiragana is much easier to learn than Kanji, but it can still present a challenge to a Western learner who needs to learn an entirely new alphabet from scratch. To facilitate the learning, memorization, and mastery of the Hiragana alphabet, here are a few recommended products which also make great gifts for Japanese learners: