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Basics of Japanese: Katakana

Katakana is the second “syllabary” of Japanese (the other being hiragana). There are 45 katakana characters (because “wo” is never used). They are used to write any word that has a foreign origin, including names of people from outside of Japan and foreign countries. They are also used to express emphasis in a similar way that italics are used in English. They are based around the same 5 basic vowel sounds as hiragana: A, I, U, E, and O. 

Katakana can feel trickier to learn because you’re learning new characters for the same sounds you learned with hiragana. Furthermore, some katakana look like hiragana characters but are pronounced differently (for example hiragana せ [se] vs katakana サ [sa]) or look very similar to each other (ツ vs シ, ン vs ソ)!

However, many katakana words are based off English so you can figure out their meaning by reading them aloud to yourself. It helps to remember that Japanese will turn L sounds to R’s and add either an U or an O to the end of all consonants that have no other vowels nearby.


Katakana Syllabus

You should study katakana the same way you studied hiragana. Be sure to consistently and constantly test and re-test yourself on the reading and writing for 30 minutes to 1 hour every day. Following this guide, it should take you about 14 days to complete katakana. However, if you end up feeling rushed then you should slow down! Don’t force yourself to try and remember more characters than you can take.



Week 1: A – NO

Day 1

Write the characters for A, I, U, E, O a total of 10 times each.

Day 2

Test yourself on writing A, I, U, E, O. Once you pass, begin on KA, KI, KU, KE, KO. Write them 10 times.

Day 3

Test yourself on writing all 10. Then move on to writing SA, SHI, SU, SE, SO 10 times each.

Day 4

Try writing all 15, rewriting any you miss 5 times. Then begin on TA, CHI, TSU, TE, TO. Write them 10 times.

Day 5

Review all 15 katakana and try to read these words then guess their meanings as most katakana words come from English words. The ― indicates that a vowel sound is being lengthened.

Check your answers
Takushii – taxi, toosuto – toast, chiizu – cheese, keeki – cake, kukkii – cookie, kooto – coat, sakkaa – soccer, suutsu – suit, doitsu – Deutsch (Germany), doa – door, chiitaa – cheetah, tsuitta – Twitter, tsuiito – tweet, doonatsu – donut, sooda – soda, tomu – Tom, kaado – card


Day 6

Review all 15 characters with flashcards then write NA, NI, NU, NE, NO 10 times.

Day 7

Review all 20 characters then write the following and guess their meanings:

Check your answers
niito – neat, nekku – neck, sunakku – snack, naisu – nice


Week 2: HA – N

Day 8

Review all 20 characters with flashcards then write HA, HI, FU, HE, HO 10 times.

Day 9

Review all 25 characters with flashcards, then read aloud and translate these words:

Check your answers
Hosuto – host, hotto – hot, hitta- hitter, haiku – hike, haato – heart, happii – happy, basudee – birthday, baagaa – burger, teepu – tape, taipei – Taipei (capital of Taiwan),  pengin – penguin, beddo – bed, hottokeeki – pancake (hotcake), banana, naifu – knife


Day 10

Review all 25 characters with flashcards then write MA, MI, MU, ME, MO 10 times.

Day 11

Review all 30 characters with flashcards then write NA, NI, NU, NE, NO 10 times.

Day 12

Review all 35 characters with flashcards then write RA, RI, RU, RE, RO 10 times.
Read aloud and translate these words:

Check your answers
Kurabu – club, gorufu – golf, amerika – America, igirisu – England, furansu – France, pari – Paris, afurika – Africa, roopu – rope, furoa – floor, miito – meat, kororado – Colorado, aidoru – idol, teeburu – table, keeburu – cable, hamusutaa – hamster, hanii – honey


Day 13

Review all 40 characters with flashcards then write YA, YU, YO, WA, N 10 times.
Read aloud and translate these words:

Check your answers
Yooroppa – Europe, Pokemon, poketto – pocket, monsutaa – monster, furawaa – flower, chiwawa – chihuahua, chikin – chicken, minto – mint, wain – wine


Congratulations (オメデトウ)! You have completed all 45 basic カタカナ!


Week 3: combination sounds

Day 14

Katakana combination sounds work the same way as hiragana, by adding a little ヤ, ユ or ヨ to an “i”-sounding character. For example, if I wanted to write sho- (like a TV show) I would write ショー.

Additionally, Katakana can also use little ア, イ, エ or オ and add them on to either ウ (u) or フ (fu). Adding to ウ creates a “w” sound for ウィ(wi) and ウェ (we), or  ヴァ (va), ヴィ (vi), ヴェ (ve), ヴォ (vo) with tenten. Adding to フ creates ファ(fa), フィ(fi), フェ(fe), フォ(fo).

The Final Test

How would you write these words in romaji (spelling of Japanese using the alphabet)? Compare them to their actual English spellings.

Check your answers
Shootokeeki – shortcake, juusu – juice, nyuusu – news, joojia – Georgia, fan, feisubukku – Facebook, fooku – fork, fitto – fit, nashonaru – national, myuujikku – music, cherii – cherry, chero – cello, viora – viola, vaiorin – violin, vanpaia – vampire, konekushon – connection, nyuuyooku – New York, wiiku – week, chuurippu – tulip

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About the author

Katrina has worked as a Japanese language teacher and freelance translator for several years. She loves traveling and has been all over Japan. Click here --> Free Japanese Lessons Practical Japanese Lessons

View all articles by Katrina