Japanese/Kana/Lessons/Hiragana/Lesson 1

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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) ]

Welcome to the first installment of the hiragana lessons. In this lesson you are going to learn how to read and write the Japanese vowels, "あ", "い", "う", "え" and "お".

Brush Stroke: あ-bw.png
Sound:

a as in alright.

Mnemonic:

It's an apple. First you draw the leaves on the stem, then you draw the stem down into the apple, and then you draw the round fruit.
The t shape is the person and its being wrapped by a snake saying "aaah'

Example:
  • あお (ao) blue
  • あか (aka) red
  • あき (aki) autumn
Brush Stroke: い-bw.png
Sound:

i as in the beginning of irritate or like the first e in evening.

Mnemonic:

Itch - It's a hooked hand reaching to scratch a back. First you draw the hand, then you draw the back.
It also looks like two undotted i's.

Example:
  • いぬ (inu) dog
  • いもうと (imōto) little sister
  • いいえ (īe) no
Brush Stroke: う-bw.png
Sound:

About this sound u (similar to the u in truce, but with the lips unrounded; sounds more like a German ü)

Mnemonic:

U - It's the lowercase u from the Latin alphabet. Tilt your head to the left, it's a sideways u.

Example:
  • うえ (ue) above
  • うさぎ (usagi) rabbit
  • うなぎ (unagi) eel
Brush Stroke: え-bw.png
Sound:

e as in envy or egg, or like the a in ache

Mnemonic:

equal sign the = equal sign has an "h" on it! First draw the equal and then the "h" under it, don't forget a long tail on the h.
It looks like a "Z". "E" and "Z" makes EZ (easy).

Example:
  • えいご (eigo) English
  • えき (eki) station
  • えんぴつ (enpitsu) pencil
Brush Stroke: お-bw.png
Sound:

About this sound o as in open and over.

Mnemonic:

Oh! - It's a shocked face saying "Oh!". First draw the eyebrow on the left, then the side of the face and mouth. Finish with the eyebrow on the right. Both are raised since he's quite surprised.
Looks like a golf green with a flag and a golf ball coming in for a "hole" (お) in one.

Example:
  • おおきい (ōkī) big
  • おちゃ (ocha) tea
  • おんな (onna) woman

The Long Vowel Sound[edit]

One can extend the vowel sound of a kana by affixing either a あ、い、or う depending on the vowel. The vowel would be extended for one more mora, or beat. In most cases: あ follows あ; い follows い or え; う follows う or お.

There are rare exceptions where an え vowel is extended by adding え or an お vowel is extended by お. Some examples of this include おねえさん (oneesan or onēsan), おおい, and おおきい (ōkii).

One giveaway to an English-speaking accent in Japanese speech is the use of a diphthong for the elongated "e" sound (Such as the sound in "Eight"). In actuality, "えい" is pronounced correctly by speaking the え sound twice as long as normal.

It is important to make sure you hold the vowel sound long enough because you can be saying "middle-aged lady" (おばさん)(obasan) instead of "grandmother" (おばあさん)(obaasan or obāsan) if you do not stretch it out correctly.