Basic Sounds of Japanese

Did you know there are three character sets – Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji – used in writing the Japanese language? In Japanese, Hiragana and Kanji (based on Chinese characters) are used widely to form a sentence. Katakana is used for foreign words. Additionally, Romaji are used mainly for the convenience of foreigners so they can read Japanese characters more easily. In this tutorial, we focus on the Hiragana.

The two videos below teach you how to pronounce the 46 basic sounds in the diagram represented by the Hiragana and the 5 vowels of Japanese. After watching the videos, go to the clickable Hiragana chart to listen to each sound. Once you have familiarized yourself with the sounds, complete the Lesson Quiz on Basic Sounds of Japanese.

Step 1: Watch 46 Sounds of Japanese Video

Step 2: Watch Vowels of Japanese Video

Although some English vowels are similar to some Japanese vowels, they are not exactly the same. For example, it is a common view that Japanese speakers do not round their lips to produce an “u” sound, distinguishing it from the English “u” sound, which involves lip-rounding. Moreover, short vowels in Japanese are shorter than their English counterparts, meaning they are produced very quickly; this helps to distinguish them from the corresponding long vowels.

Step 3: Exercise with Hiragana Chart

Do you remember which sounds you need to be careful of?
Hint: s, t, h, w. Click on characters vertically in the columns starting with さ、た、は、わ, and repeat after the sound.

N w r y m h n t s k
n wa ra ya ma ha na ta sa ka a a
ri mi hi ni chi
ki i i
ru yu mu fu
nu tsu
su ku u u
re me he ne te se ke e e
ro yo mo ho no to so ko o o