Hiragana I: Basic characters

Objective: Learn to read & write the 46 basic Hiragana characters

Introduction to Hiragana

Hiragana characters can be used to write any native Japanese word. Learning to read and write Hiragana is a prerequisite for studying elementary Japanese.

46 Basic Hiragana characters

To learn how to write a character, click on an image below to watch an animation demonstrating the correct method and stroke order of writing the Hiragana character.

* - This character is sometimes called "special o", because of it's pronunciation.

You may have noticed that some of the character animations, like and , don't match exactly. This is simply a normal difference between a handwritten character and the printed character.

Writing Practice

Write each of the 46 Hiragana characters from memory

  1. a, i, u, e, o
  2. ha, hi, hu, he, ho
  3. ka, ki, ku, ke, ko
  4. ma, mi, mu, me, mo
  5. na, ni, nu, ne, no
  6. ra, ri, ru, re, ro
  7. sa, shi, su, se, so
  8. ta, chi, tsu, te, to
  9. ya, yu, yo
  10. wa, wo
  11. n

Pronunciation Guide


  • あ = like the "a" in "water"
  • い = like the "ee" in "meet"
  • う* = like the "oo" in "food"
  • え = like the "e" in "fed"
  • お = like the "o" in "hold"

The u vowel sound in is often whispered or not pronounced at all, so words like すこし may sound like "skoshi", and words like です may sound like "des".

Extended Vowels

In hiragana, extended vowels are held for two syllable-counts instead of one and are written by simply adding a hiragana vowel character.

  • Long あ sound: ああ
  • Long い sound: いい
  • Long う sound: うう
  • Long え sound: ええ
  • Long お sound: おお

Writing long O and E vowels can be a bit tricky because they are written a little differently than they are pronounced.

  • Usually, long O sounds are written as おう, like in the word こうこう (high school). However, there are exceptions where the long O sound is written as おお, like in おおきい (big).
  • Usually, long E sounds are written as えい, like in せんせい (teacher). However, there are exceptions where the long E sound is written as ええ, like in おねえさん (older sister).
  • Vowel Combinations

    Often times vowel combinations such as えい and あい have unique pronunciations.

    • えい = the "ay" in "way"
    • あい = the "ie" in "tie"
    • あう = the "ow" in "how"
    • おい = the "oy" in "toy"
    • うえ = the "we" in "web"

    Special Character Notes:

    ふ(hu/fu): Sometimes you will see words written beginning with fu. Please don't be confused, hu/fu is the same character. The pronunciation might sound more like hu or more like fu depending on the word and speaker's dialect.

    ら, り, る, れ, ろ: the "r" is made by placing your tongue at the roof of your mouth as if to say "l", but saying "r" instead.

    を(wo) is pronounced like the "o" in go.

    ん(n) is pronounced like the "n" in the word under.

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