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Hiragana Lesson 1: あ い う え お ん

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Illustration and voice by Shou Yukiya Bookmark and Share

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Hiragana Romaji Mnemonics
a

  1. This Hiragana looks like an apple. It even has a stalk and a leaf.
  2. It has an invert A hidden inside.
i
  1. English small letter 'i', with the dot on the right instead of top.
  2. Use the word 'Hawaii'
u

  1. It looks like small letter 'u' tilted over. But this mnemonics may mislead you to pronounce it as 'yu'. Be careful.
  2. 'u' is the sound one gives out when he gets kicked in the stomach. Don't try it on your brother.
e It looks like an escalator.
o 'oct' is hidden inside. Just don't forget the final dot.
n
(type 'nn')
Just think of it as English small letter 'n'.

What is Hiragana?

あ, い, う, え, お are the first five Hiragana of the Japanese language. They are like the ABC of English in this regard. But in fact Hiragana is very different from European alphabet.

Hiragana is different from European alphabet

While European alphabet has letters that represent either the consonants (e.g. d, p, z) or the vowels (e.g. a, e, i, o, u), Japanese Hiragana represents both the consonants and vowels at the same time. For instance, putting the letters "k" and "a" together forms "ka" in European languages. But in Japanese, we only need one Hiragana か to represent the same sound.

Hiragana serves as the pronunciation hint

Also, except for a few exceptions, each Hiragana represents one sound only. So when you see あ, you know it is "a". Or when you see か, you know it is "ka". But in English (which is the only European language I speak), a letter usually represents more than one sound. For example, the letter "c" in "car" and "cease" represents "k" and "s" sounds respectively. And the "o" in "do" and "go" are pronounced in two totally different ways. In other words, Hiragana is not just the "alphabet", but also the pronunciation hint. Most of them represent one syllable of the Japanese language.

What is column as in "あ column"?

  あ行 か行 さ行 た行 な行 は行 ま行 や行 ら行 わ行  
あ段
い段      
う段    
え段      
お段  

Column and row are called 行(gyou) and 段(dan) in Japanese respectively.

Japanese linguists have classified the 46 Hiragana characters and formed the table listed above. This table is called 50音 (Gojuuon, or literally 50 sounds).

In this table, Hiragana that share the same consonant are grouped into the same column (or 行). For example, all Hiragana in あ column (or あ行) have no consonant. And those in the か column (or か行) have a common consonant "K".

Hiragana with the same vowel are grouped into the same row (or 段). For instance, all blue Hiragana in あ row (or あ段) share the same vowel "a".

By the way, ん does not belong to any column or row. It is a special Hiragana.

The special Hiragana ん

In Japanese dictionaries, ん is usually the last Hiragana listed, just like the letter "z". But we choose to learn it in Lesson 1 because ん is a frequently used Hiragana and it is easy to remember.

ん looks like the letter "n" (or "h"). And its pronunciation is exactly the same as the "n" as in "sun", "pan" or "June". In other words, you can think of it as the letter 'n' used at the end of a word. And I think you will never forget this Hiragana after this lesson.

Just think of it as the letter "n" in English

ん is never used at the beginning of a word. And different from other Hiragana characters, which represent one syllable, ん does not by itself form a syllable. So あ and ん are not pronounced separately as a-n, but continuously as "an".

What is Romaji?

Romaji is the romanization of the Japanese Language. Famous Japanese loanwords in the English language, such as Tokyo, Sushi and Karaoke, are examples of Romaji.

The main function of Romaji is for writing human names and place names in English. And it is always used in the beginner's Japanese textbook for foreign learners. But we have to emphasize that the Japanese people never use Romaji to write their language. That's why you need to learn Hiragana and Katakana.

How to write:

hiragana a

hiragana i

hiragana u

hiragana e

hiragana o

hiragana n

The stroke order illustrations are made by D.328, used under CCSA3.0.