How to memorise Hiragana

I hope this guide could help you in traversing your way thru the Hiragana characters for the first time.

If you count all the existing Hiragana characters in your Japanese study book, you'll see that there are more than 100 characters (107 to be precise) to memorise.

But fear not, because the real number of Hiragana you have to memorise is no larger than 46 characters only.

When I first studied Hiragana three years ago, it took me hours to relate the Hiragana characters to other symbols that I -as non Japanese- am familliar with. Though not all of the Hiragana characters are somehow related with a mental picture, let me elaborate on the easiest characters first:

1. The so-called "Mathematical Hiragana"

CHI (ち)

Does this character look familliar to you? Yes, it looks just like the number 5, only with a "lowered roof".

SA (さ)

This is what you get if you display the character CHI above on the mirror.

KI (き)

Just remember it as a SA with an additional cross. Make sure not to confuse it with SA, though.

RA (ら)

Now this is the number 5 with the roof "blown off".

FU (ふ)

This is just a RA with additional two legs on its bottom.

KU (く)

In maths, we call this "lower than". In music, we call this "Crescendo".

KO (こ)

"Equal to", with a slightly hooked top.

RO (ろ)

Looks like the number 3, only with a sharper roof.

RU (る)

You shouldn't confuse it with RO, since this has a tail on its bottom.

KE (け)

Mathematical people call this "brackets with a cross", while linguistic ones prefer to call it "parenthesis with a cross". Either way, they're synonymous

2. Other easy characters to remember

SHI (し)

Please don't remember it as "the Christmas candy bar", because you could get confused whether the hook was turning left or turning right. Instead, picture this character as the Latin alphabet "J" on the mirror.

HE (へ)

This looks perfectly like a part of high-heeled shoes.

NO (の)

You may not believe me, but this is actually the easiest Hiragana character to memorise. Or rather, as I say it, the hardest one to forget. Even if you choose not to touch your Japanese study books for decades, forever you'll always remember this の as a NO. Hey, it looks just like an eye, don't you think?

KA (か)

This looks like the lower-case alphabet of "H" with an additional diagonal scratch on its right-hand side.

NI (に)

Imagine it as a KO (こ) with a stick on its left-hand side.

TSU (つ)

Bump in the road, anyone?

N (ん)

A simple tail. Just like NO, this character is hard to wipe off your memory.

E (え)

This is the Hiragana N with additional two roofs above it.

3. Potentially confusing pairs

From this point onwards, I'm afraid you'll have to memorise the characters themselves, with no other pictorials to guide you. But I still feel obliged to tell you the difference between each potentially confusing pair of characters, though.

TA (た) and NA (な)

As for this pair, pay a close attention to the slight difference in the bottom right, and you'll remember it fine.

ME (め) and NU (ぬ)

NU has a tail, while ME doesn't.

WA (わ) and RE (れ) and NE (ね)

Make sure to remember that each of these three have different "tails", otherwise it'll be easy for you to confuse one with the other two. And now that you see it, WA doesn't have any tails, right?

I (い) and RI (り)

At a glance, they look the same, but let's remember it this way: I has a longer left hand, while RI has a longer right hand.

HA (は) and HO (ほ) and MA (ま)

MA has no stick to begin with. HO has a roof, while HA has none. And take a closer look, it may seem that MA is just another HO with its stick taken, but it really isn't. MA has no roof, don't you see?


So far I've helped with you with 30 of the 46 main Hiragana characters. The rest shouldn't be very hard to study (It only took me two days of rote memorisation to study the remaining 16 of them).

Once you've gotten the 46 main Hiragana characters firmly implanted in mind, it would be very easy to memorise the other 61 characters that I choose to call "extended Hiragana".

As for the extended Hiragana, let's take it this way:

K ==> G (add an apostrophe). For example, to get a GI (ぎ), just add an apostrophe (") to the character KI (き)

S ==> Z (add an apostrophe). Same example as in above.

T ==> D (add an apostrophe). Refer to the above too.

H ==> B (add an apostrophe).

H ==> P (add a degree). You know, the Centigrade/Fahrenheit degree? just add it (°) to the HA (は) character to get a PA (ぱ). Just make sure not to confuse it with the BA (ば), which has an apostrophe.

Cookie Crumbling Milk  – (14 August 2011 at 04:22)  

Thanks for this :)

xD I remebered KO a little diffrently though, I remembered it as a 90 degrees turned I

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