Why Should You Learn Hiragana? 

 January 18, 2020

By  Paolo Palabrica

One of the general questions an anime-lover usually has is “Would it be possible for me to watch Japanese anime without subtitles?”. This then becomes into a google search for Japanese courses online, only to find out that there are three different Japanese alphabets and you’re not sure where to start.

In this article, we'll take a look at the importance of Hiragana and why Japanese learners should learn about it.

Learn Hiragana


Hiragana is used for genuine Japanese words. These are the squiggly lines that you commonly see, apart from Kanji, when you watch Japanese anime.


Katakana is mainly used for borrowed words and onomatopoeia. For example, the word restaurant can be written in Katakana as レストラン or re-su-to-ran. These words are syllabicated to cater to the Japanese tongue.


Kanji is the standard ideographic writing which were borrowed from the Chinese way of writing. Ideographic writing refers to the creation of characters based on the appearance of something. For example, the Japanese character for river is  川 (kawa), which pretty much looks like a river, right?

For this article, we’ll be focusing on only Hiragana and why it’s important. The other two are important too, but that’s for another topic.


Originally, the Japanese did not have their own writing system. So they decided to base their Japanese alphabet on the Chinese writing system. This is the reason why Chinese and Japanese characters look identical. 

Some of the Japanese characters had too many strokes and was hard to replicate, so they decided to break the characters down into hiragana, which was a writing system based on syllabic sounds (also known as syllabograms). 

Back when I was learning Japanese, my former teacher told me a story about the history of Hiragana. According to him, in the old days, women were not allowed to read and write. 

Thus, making it impossible for them to write in Chinese characters or Kanji. Only the men were allowed to go to this type of school so the woman had to devise their own character system in order for them to communicate with each other. This then gave birth to Hiragana.

Why Hiragana?


via Flickr

Hiragana is the most basic phonetic alphabet system used in Japanese writing. It consists of 46 characters ranging from the a sounds, all the way to the n sound. Yes, they made a separate character for the sound of the letter n. 

For Japanese beginners, Hiragana should be the first lesson that should be learned. It is the first stepping stone necessary for reading Japanese characters. By learning Hiragana, you will be able to create your foundation with the Japanese language. 

These characters are fundamental in learning the basics of the Japanese pronunciation, which is completely different from the English language. Do note that, Hiragana does not contain the letter ‘L’ which is probably the reason why so many Japanese people have a hard time pronouncing this letter.


For English, our basic vowels consists of a, e, i, o, u. As seen in the picture above, this is different in Hiragana.

  • あ (a) – The a is pronounced as the vowel sound in apple.
  • い (i) – The i is pronounced as the vowel sound in tree.
  • う (u) – The u is pronounced as the vowel sound in two.
  • え (e) – The e is pronounced as the vowel sound in let.
  • お (o) – The o is pronounced as the vowel sound in fog.

These are the basic vowels used in Japanese Hiragana.


Because Hiragana is a syllabogram, the rest of their alphabets are not like the English language’s (b, c, d, etc.) but rather they are classified into sounds. 

  • か (ka)
  • き (ki)
  • く (ku)
  • け (ke)
  • こ (ko)

This is the consonant ‘K’ but it is paired up with the Japanese vowels. Other forms of consonants areさ(sa)、た(ta)、な(na)、は(ha)、ま(ma)、ら(ra)、や(ya)、わ(wa)、ん(n), which also have their own variations when paired with the Japanese vowels.


Since Hiragana is the syllabication of Japanese words, Japanesese Kanji can technically be broken into hiragana characters. 

For example, the Japanese character 花 (hana) can be broken into Hiragana characters of はな(ha na). Because of this, Japanese sentences can be written purely in hiragana. However, by doing so, this possesses a risk when talking about homonyms or words that sound the same. 

For the Japanese language, “flower” and “nose” are both called はな (hana). Without Kanji, it would be difficult to distinguish which “hana” the writer meant.


Another use of Hiragana is for particles. Particles are used to signify different grammar patterns and the relation of the words in a sentence. They are sentence markers to signify the purpose of the word in the particular sentence. 

Here are some examples of Japanese particles:

  • は(wa) – this particle is the subject marker. Any word preceded by
  • は should mean that “this is the subject of the sentence”.
  • に(ni) – this is the location or setting particle. Describes that the preceding word is either time or a place.
  • か(ka) – this is the question marker. Usually placed at the end of the sentence. Signifies that the sentence is a question.

There are more complex particles in the Japanese language, and they are all written in Hiragana.


Just like what was stated in the history of Hiragana, some Kanjis are too complex and have a lot of strokes. So they decided to place hiragana on top of these “difficult-to-read” Kanji. For example  (the Japanese Kanji for nose), the characters on top of the Kanji are called furigana. These are hiragana guides specifically placed to know how to pronounce the particular Kanji.

Other Uses

Writing purely in Hiragana is  not recommended. This is usually done with children when they are being introduced to the Japanese writing system. This makes it easier for them to convert syllables they hear into words.


Although hiragana is a great stepping stone for learning the Japanese language, Kanji is still recommended because it helps simplify words, making it easier to read. So what are you waiting for? Learn all the 46 hiragana characters now, in order to write like Japanese preschoolers. 

Paolo Palabrica

Paolo is a software engineer in the Philippines whose hobby is learning languages. He has self-studied Japanese for over 3 years, and now speaks 3 languages and 3 Philippine dialects.

Your Signature

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Subscribe to our newsletter now!