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Easy Japanese, Lesson 1, Beginning the Alphabet (Hiragana)

A while back, a friend of mine brought me a big stack of Japanese books. She just said, “Hi,” and dropped them off and left. It looked like she expected me to share them on my blog, so I have decided to give you a few Japanese lessons again. I studied Japanese in Japan at Ibaraki Christian University and made the highest grades. When I left, my Japanese teacher loaded me up on more books to study. She really expected me to do something with Japanese since I was the only one in the classes who had learned to speak Japanese. Now, I hear one more who was in one of my classes also speaks Japanese. I ended up teaching Japanese at two universities. I wanted to live in Japan more, but only spent one more year in Japan after that teaching at a language school. I have made several trips into Japan, but never got to stay there like I wanted. However, I have a Japanese son in law now, so I really can’t let my Japanese slip. Teaching Japanese is one way of keeping it fresh enough to continue having conversations in Japanese when I need to.

Let’s begin with hiragana, the basic Japanese alphabet:

When you pronounce these letters, you must remember a couple of things:

  1. The Japanese had a lot of influence from Portugal, so the vowels are pronounced like the vowels in a Latin language.
  2. The vowels in Japanese are just one vowel sound. However, most of the characters are made up of a letter that contains both a consonant sound and a vowel sound. Only one is only a consonant, and that is “ん,” which is like “n,”
  3. There are basic hiragana, and then you use those basic hiragana and add to them to make more sounds.  You will see marks like this: ” or one that looks like a small zero close to the hiragana, and it や(ya), ゅ (yu), or よ(yo) next to the letter, and its sound is blended into the sound of the existing letter.
  4. The hiragana have a stroke order: 1) top to bottom 2) left to right. 3) horizontal marks are done before vertical marks. If you follow the stroke order and make a mistake, it can still be read.

The 46 basic hiragana:

The Vowel sounds: (All the vowels sounds in Japanese have these sounds of these letters.)

あ = “a” like in “father”

い = “i,” and is pronounced: “ee.”

う = “u,” it is pronounced: “oo” like in “food.”

え = “e,” it is pronounced like the “e” in “egg.”

お = “o,” it is pronounced like the word “o=sa

Basic Consonants:

か = ka さ=sa た= ta な=na は=ha ま=ma や=ya ら=ra

き = ki し= shi ち=chi に=ni ひ=hi み=mi り=ri

く = ku す=su つ=tsu ぬ=nu ふ=fu む=mu ゆ=yu る=ru

け = ke せ= se て=te ね=ne へ=he め=me        れ=re         

こ = ko そ=so   と=to の=no ほ=ho も=mo よ=yo ろ=ro

わ=wa を=wo or o ん=n

Dakuwon and Handauwon(Where they add ” or a small zero to change the letter)

が=ga ざ=za だ=da ば=ba ぱ=pa

ぎ=gi じ=ji ち”=ji び=bi ぴ=pi

ぐ=gu ず=zu つ”= zu ぶ=bu ぷ=pu

げ=ge ぜ=ze で=de べ=be ぺ=pe

ご=go ぞ=zo ど=do ぼ=bo ぽ=po

This is enough for you to study for now. When I use the Japanese keyboard on my computer, my computer rebels. It keeps telling me it can’t save and that I am probably off line, but I am not off line. I will give you what the Japanese call the “yoon” letters in another blog. The”yoon” letters are the ones with a small よ、ゆ、or .や next to it.

When my Japanese teacher gave us these letters, she gave us a deck of cards with these written on them and sent us home over the weekend to know them by Monday. They are easier on the eyes than English letters, but you will still just have to memorize them if you want to read things in Japanese. These are basic Japanese letters. When they write the kanji, the kanji only gives the meaning, and if they want the pronunciation, they have to use hiragana. The Japanese also use katakana. The katakana have the same pronunciation as the hiragana and are used to write foreign words in Japanese. The best way to learn these is to put pen to paper and just start copying them and saying them out loud as you copy them until they get in your head.

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