Katakana I: Basic characters

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

Introduction to Katakana

Katakana characters are most commonly used in Japanese to write words that have been borrowed from other languages. An example is the Japanese word for hamburger, ハンバーガー. Learning to read and write katakana is a prerequisite for studying elementary Japanese.

46 Basic Katakana 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 katakana character.

You may notice some difference between the handwritten character and the computer font character, this is normal.

Writing Practice

Write each of the 46 Katakana 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


  • ア = like the "a" in "water"
  • イ = like the "ee" in "meet"
  • ウ* = like the "oo" in "food"
  • エ = like the "e" in "fed"
  • オ = like the "o" in "hold"

The u vowel sound in is often whispered or not pronounced at all, so words like スポーツ may sound like "spootsu".

Extended Vowels

In katakana, extended vowels are held for two syllable-counts instead of one and are written by simply adding a horizontal line after the initial vowel sound.

  • Long オ sound: オー
  • Long イ sound: イー
  • Long ウ sound: ウー
  • Long エ sound: エー
  • Long オ sound: オー

Vowel Combinations

Often times vowel combinations such as エイ and アイ have unique pronunciations.

  • エイ = the "ay" in "way"
  • アイ = the "ie" in "tie"
  • アウ = the "ow" in "how"
  • オイ = the "oy" in "toy"
  • ウエ = the "we" in "web"

Special Character Notes:

フ(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.

ラ, リ, ル, レ, ロ: the "r" is made by placing your tongue at the roof of your mouth as if to say "l", but saying "r" instead.

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

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