The Japanese Alphabet

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Hiragana – ひらがな
The first step to learning the Japanese language is to learn the alphabet. Or, at least, to learn the sounds that exist in the language. There are absolutely no “tones” in Japanese like in many other asian languages and there are only 2 exceptions within the alphabet which will be explained later. The Japanese alphabet does not contain letters but, instead, contains characters and, technically, they are not alphabets but character sets. The characters in the chart below are called Hiragana. Hiragana is the main alphabet or character set for Japanese. Japanese also consists of two other character sets – Kanji (Chinese characters), which we will get into later, and another alphabet/character set, Katakana, which is mainly used for foreign words. Katakana will be covered in Lesson 2. Don’t wait to move on until you have all Hiragana characters memorized – learn them as you continue to go through the other lessons.

There are 5 vowels in Japanese. (a), pronounced “ahh”, (i), pronounced like “e” in “eat”, (u), pronounced like “oo” in “soon”, (e), pronounced like “e” in “elk”, and (o), pronounced “oh”. All Hiragana characters end with one of these vowels, with the exception of (n). The only “consonant” that does not resemble that of English is the Japanese “r”. It is slightly “rolled” as if it were a combination of a “d”, “r”, and “l”.

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