Hiragana at a glance

Japanese is a syllable-timed language while English is stress-timed. That means, you can understand how to read any Japanese words once you know how to pronounce each Hiragana character and some pronunciation rules. (on the other hand for English, you need to know the spelling as well as the pronunciation.

We never know how to pronounce an English word such as “photo” by just knowing how to read alphabet: a,b,c…). Japanese pronunciation rule is very systematic, thus, once you know it, it’s much easier for you to study Japanese further up to the upper level.

Each Japanese syllable is made up of either a single vowel: /a/, /i/, /u/, /e/ and /o/ or a combination of a consonant plus a vowel. The only exception is the /n/, /m/ or /ŋ/ sound which is represented by the character ん.

There are 46 basic Hiragana, 25 voiced or semi-voiced variations (called “Daku-on) and 33 contracted sounds. Here, “voiced” means you use your vocal cords to pronounce them. It begins with the consonants /b/, /d/, /g/, /j/ and /z/ and semi-voiced ones begin with /p/, that we call Daku-on. Contracted sounds are basic Hiragana of the i-column combined with smaller versions of the Hiragana from y-row.

Each Hiragana character takes one beat, “mora”. So please make sure to pronounce each character with equal length and stress.