- See also: Japanese/Pronunciation.
There are two aspects to learning the Japanese characters. Recognising the shapes and learning to write them. These are further separated by the fact that the strokes that comprise a specific character have a certain order.
In addition to the base characters, there are special symbols to denote nuanced pronunciation, such as voiced and double consonants.
Stroke order 
Hiragana: [ a ] [ ka ] [ sa ] [ ta ] [ na ] [ ha ] [ ma ] [ ya ] [ ra ] [ wa, wo, n ] [ ゐ and ゑ (ancient hiragana in disuse) ]
Katakana: [ a ] [ ka ] [ sa ] [ ta ] [ na ] [ ha ] [ ma ] [ ya ] [ ra ] [ wa, wo, n ] [ ヰ and ヱ (ancient katakana in disuse) ]
In the pages linked to from the tables below, you will find stroke order diagrams for each of the hiragana and katakana characters. The voiced and plosive variants of the same row/group are listed on the same page.
Long vowels 
A long vowel is written in hiragana with an extra "あ", "い" or "う" depending on the vowel. In most cases あ follows あ; い follows い or え and う follows う or お.
There are rare exceptions where an え vowel is extended by adding え. Much less rare is an お vowel extended by お. Some examples of this include:
- "おねえさん", "おおい", and "おおきい".
In katakana, it's written with a chōonpu: "ー".
Voiced and plosive sounds 
The turbid sound symbol, dakuten (
Double consonants 
The sokuon cannot be at the beginning of a word. In hiragana, the sokuon can only appear before the "か", "さ", "た" and "ば" groups/rows.
In addition to those represented by the syllables in the kana, Japanese has sounds with a palatal or labio-velar semivowel between the consonant and the vowel. The sound is somewhat like that of the "j" between the "f and the "o" in "fjord". This is written by appending smaller versions of "ya", "yu" and "yo" to the syllables from the "i" columns ("ki", "shi", "chi", "ni", "hi", "mi", "ri" and their variations). In this case, the two kana are not pronounced individually, but rather as one sound. These are called yōon (
|Clear compounds||Voiced compounds||Plosive compounds|
|(ゃ ya ャ)||(ゅ yu ュ)||(ょ yo ョ)||(ゃ ya ャ)||(ゅ yu ュ)||(ょ yo ョ)||(ゃ ya ャ)||(ゅ yu ュ)||(ょ yo ョ)|
|きゃ kya キャ||きゅ kyu キュ||きょ kyo キョ||ぎゃ gya ギャ||ぎゅ gyu ギュ||ぎょ gyo ギョ|
|しゃ sha シャ||しゅ shu シュ||しょ sho ショ||じゃ ja ジャ||じゅ ju ジュ||じょ jo ジョ|
|ちゃ cha チャ||ちゅ chu チュ||ちょ cho チョ||ぢゃ ja ヂャ||ぢゅ ju ヂュ||ぢょ jo ヂョ|
|にゃ nya ニャ||にゅ nyu ニュ||にょ nyo ニョ|
|ひゃ hya ヒャ||ひゅ hyu ヒュ||ひょ hyo ヒョ||びゃ bya ビャ||びゅ byu ビュ||びょ byo ビョ||ぴゃ pya ピャ||ぴゅ pyu ピュ||ぴょ pyo ピョ|
|みゃ mya ミャ||みゅ myu ミュ||みょ myo ミョ|
|りゃ rya リャ||りゅ ryu リュ||りょ ryo リョ|
- Note: The grayed compound characters are rarely used.
Compounds with "yu" and "yo" are often followed by an "u", making it a long vowel.
Special yōon for transliteration 
|This section is for advanced learners.|
There are certain kinds of special yōon which primarily represent pronunciations imported from foreign languages. They commonly appear as parts of names of foreign people or foreign places. Although they were originally considered to be unauthorized, they are nowadays widely accepted even by conservative media such as newspapers. See the table below for commonly used ones among such compounds.
|Compounds used for transliteration|
|(ぁ a ァ)||(ぃ i ィ)||(ぅ u ゥ)||(ぇ e ェ)||(ぉ o ォ)|
|うぃ wi ウィ||うぇ we ウェ||うぉ wo ウォ|
|ゔぁ va ヴァ||ゔぃ vi ヴィ||ゔぇ ve ヴェ||ゔぉ vo ヴォ|
|てぃ ti ティ|
|とぅ tu トゥ|
|でぃ di ディ|
|ふぁ fa ファ||ふぃ fi フィ||ふぉ fo フォ|
Learning the kana takes some work and is best done by memorisation and drilling. Practice by writing up the table, speaking out the characters and drill yourself on the readings.
There are several online resources that can help you with these:
- Henrik Theiling's Script Teacher — A site that drills on many different scripts, including hiragana and katakana.
- Hiragana Quiz at languageguide.org — A Kana Quiz that tests you with one small group of kana at a time.
- Kanji Game — An online multiple choice kana and kanji game.
- Real Kana — A highly customisable page which drills the user on kana readings.
- Kana Copybook (PDF) — Memorize the Kana through handwriting.