The are syllabaries used to write Japanese phonological units, morae. Such syllabaries include: (1) the original kana, or , which were Chinese characters (kanji) used phonetically to transcribe Japanese; the most prominent magana system being ; the two descendants of man'yōgana, (2) cursive , and (3) angular . There are also , which are historical variants of the now standard hiragana. In current usage, ''kana'' can simply mean ''hiragana'' and ''katakana''. Katakana, with a few additions, are also used to write Ainu. A number of systems exist to write the Ryūkyūan languages, in particular Okinawan, in hiragana. Taiwanese kana were used in Taiwanese Hokkien as glosses (ruby text or ''furigana'') for Chinese characters in Taiwan when it was under Japanese occupation. Each kana character (syllabogram) corresponds to one sound in the Japanese language, unlike kanji regular script corresponding to meaning (logogram). That is why the character system is named kana, literally "false name". Apart from the five vowels, this is always CV (consonant onset with vowel nucleus), such as ''ka'', ''ki'', etc., or V (vowel), such as ''a'', ''i'', etc., with the sole exception of the C grapheme for nasal codas usually romanised as ''n''. This structure has led some scholars to label the system ''moraic'' instead of ''syllabic'', because it requires the combination of two syllabograms to represent a CVC syllable with coda (i.e. CV''n'', CV''m'', CV''ng''), a CVV syllable with complex nucleus (i.e. multiple or expressively long vowels), or a CCV syllable with complex onset (i.e. including a glide, C''y''V, C''w''V). Due to the limited number of phonemes in Japanese, as well as the relatively rigid syllable structure, the kana system is a very accurate representation of spoken Japanese.


''Kana'' is a compound of and , which eventually collapsed into ''kanna'' and ultimately ''kana''. As the name suggests, ''kana'' were "false" kanji due to their purely phonetic nature, as opposed to which were "true" kanji used for their meanings. In current usage, however, since such "false" kanji have long been obsolete, and phonetic kanji are now only restricted to what is known specifically as ''ateji'', the term ''kana'' simply refers to hiragana and katakana, and it contrasts with ''kanji'' altogether.


Although the term ''kana'' is now commonly understood as hiragana and katakana, it actually has broader application as listed below: * or : a syllabary. ** or : phonetic kanji used as syllabary characters, historically used by men (who were more educated). ***: the most prominent system of magana. ****: cursive man'yōgana. *****, , , or : a syllabary derived from simplified sōgana, historically used by women (who were less educated), historically sorted in the ''Iroha'' order. ****** or : obsolete variants of hiragana. **** or : a syllabary derived by using bits of characters in man'yōgana, historically sorted in the ''gojūon'' order. ****: hiragana and katakana, as opposed to kanji. ***: magana for transcribing Japanese words, using, strict or loose, Chinese-derived readings (''on'yomi''). For example, would be spelt as , with two magana with on'yomi for ''ya'' and ''ma''; likewise, spelt as 比登 for ''hi'' and ''to''. ***: magana for transcribing Japanese words, using native words ascribed to kanji (native "readings" or ''kun'yomi''). For example, would be spelt as , with three magana with kun'yomi for ''ya'', ''ma'' and ''to''; likewise, spelt as 夏樫 for ''natsu'' and ''kashi''. * , , or : kanji used for meanings, historically used by men (who were more educated). * : mixed script including only kanji and katakana.

Hiragana and katakana

The following table reads, in gojūon order, as ''a'', ''i'', ''u'', ''e'', ''o'' (down first column), then ''ka'', ''ki'', ''ku'', ''ke'', ''ko'' (down second column), and so on. ''n'' appears on its own at the end. Asterisks mark unused combinations. *There are presently no kana for ''ye'', ''yi'' or ''wu'', as corresponding syllables do not occur natively in modern Japanese. **The (''ye'') sound is believed to have existed in pre-Classical Japanese, mostly before the advent of kana, and can be represented by the man'yōgana kanji 江. There was an archaic Hiragana () derived from the man'yōgana ''ye'' kanji 江, which is encoded into Unicode at code point U+1B001 (𛀁), but it is not widely supported. It is believed that ''e'' and ''ye'' first merged to ''ye'' before shifting back to ''e'' during the Edo period. As demonstrated by 17th century-era European sources, the syllable ''we'' (ゑ・ヱ ) also came to be pronounced as (''ye'') . If necessary, the modern orthography allows e(''ye'') to be written as いぇ (イェ), but this usage is limited and nonstandard. **The modern Katakana ''e'', エ, derives from the man'yōgana 江, originally pronounced ''ye''; a "Katakana letter Archaic E" () derived from the man'yōgana 衣 (''e'') is encoded into Unicode at code point U+1B000 (𛀀), due to being used for that purpose in scholarly works on classical Japanese. **Some gojūon tables published during the 19th century list additional Katakana in the ''ye'' (), ''wu'' () and ''yi'' () positions. These are not presently used, and the latter two sounds never existed in Japanese. They are not presently implemented in Unicode. These sources also list (Unicode U+1B006, 𛀆) in the Hiragana ''yi'' position, and in the ''ye'' position. *Although removed from the standard orthography with the ''gendai kandzukai'' reforms, ''wi'' and ''we'' still see stylistic use, as in ウヰスキー for ''whisky'' and ヱビス or ゑびす for Japanese kami Ebisu, and Yebisu, a brand of beer named after Ebisu. Hiragana ''wi'' and ''we'' are preserved in certain Okinawan scripts, while katakana ''wi'' and ''we'' are preserved in the Ainu language. *''wo'' is preserved only as the accusative particle, normally occurring only in hiragana. *''si'', ''ti'', ''tu'', ''hu'', ''wi'', ''we'' and ''wo'' are often romanized respectively as ''shi'', ''chi'', ''tsu'', ''fu'', ''i'', ''e'' and ''o'' instead, according to contemporary pronunciation.


Syllables beginning with the voiced consonants and are spelled with kana from the corresponding unvoiced columns (''k'', ''s'', ''t'' and ''h'') and the voicing mark, ''dakuten''. Syllables beginning with are spelled with kana from the ''h'' column and the half-voicing mark, ''handakuten''. * Note that the か゚, カ゚ and remaining entries in the rightmost column, though they exist, are not used in standard Japanese orthography. *''zi'', ''di'', and ''du'' are often transcribed into English as ''ji'', ''ji'', and ''zu'' instead, respectively, according to contemporary pronunciation. * Usually, a i u e oare represented respectively by バaiue and ボo for example, in loanwords such as バイオリン (''baiorin'' "violin"), but (less usually) the distinction can be preserved by using ヴァ(ヷ), ヴィ(ヸ), ヴ, ヴェ(ヹ), and ヴォ(ヺ). Note that ヴ did not have a JIS-encoded Hiragana form (ゔ) until JIS X 0213, meaning that many Shift JIS flavours (including the Windows and HTML5 version) can only represent it as a katakana, although Unicode supports both.


Syllables beginning with palatalized consonants are spelled with one of the seven consonantal kana from the ''i'' row followed by small ''ya'', ''yu'' or ''yo''. These digraphs are called yōon. * There are no digraphs for the semivowel ''y'' and ''w'' columns. * The digraphs are usually transcribed with three letters, leaving out the ''i'': C''y''V. For example, きゃ is transcribed as ''kya''. * ''si''+''y''* and ''ti''+''y''* are often transcribed ''sh*'' and ''ch*'' instead of ''sy*'' and ''ty*''. For example, しゃ is transcribed as ''sha''. * In earlier Japanese, digraphs could also be formed with ''w''-kana. Although obsolete in modern Japanese, the digraphs くゎ (/kʷa/) and くゐ/くうぃ(/kʷi/), are preserved in certain Okinawan orthographies. In addition, the kana え can be used in Okinawan to form the digraph くぇ, which represents the /kʷe/ sound. * Note that the き゚ゃ, き゚ゅ and remaining entries in the rightmost column, though they exist, are not used in standard Japanese orthography. *''jya'', ''jyu'', and ''jyo'' are often transcribed into English as ''ja'', ''ju'', and ''jo'' instead, respectively, according to contemporary pronunciation.

Modern usage

The difference in usage between hiragana and katakana is stylistic. Usually, hiragana is the default syllabary, and katakana is used in certain special cases. Hiragana is used to write native Japanese words with no kanji representation (or whose kanji is thought obscure or difficult), as well as grammatical elements such as particles and inflections (okurigana). Today katakana is most commonly used to write words of foreign origin that do not have kanji representations, as well as foreign personal and place names. Katakana is also used to represent onomatopoeia and interjections, emphasis, technical and scientific terms, transcriptions of the Sino-Japanese readings of kanji, and some corporate branding. Kana can be written in small form above or next to lesser-known kanji in order to show pronunciation; this is called furigana. Furigana is used most widely in children's or learners' books. Literature for young children who do not yet know kanji may dispense with it altogether and instead use hiragana combined with spaces.


The first kana was a system called ''man'yōgana,'' a set of kanji used solely for their phonetic values, much as Chinese uses characters for their phonetic values in foreign loanwords (especially proper nouns) today. ''Man'yōshū'', a poetry anthology assembled in 759, is written in this early script. Hiragana developed as a distinct script from cursive ''man'yōgana'', whereas katakana developed from abbreviated parts of regular script ''man'yōgana'' as a glossing system to add readings or explanations to Buddhist sutras. Kana is traditionally said to have been invented by the Buddhist priest Kūkai in the ninth century. Kūkai certainly brought the Siddhaṃ script of India home on his return from China in 806; his interest in the sacred aspects of speech and writing led him to the conclusion that Japanese would be better represented by a phonetic alphabet than by the kanji which had been used up to that point. The modern arrangement of kana reflects that of Siddhaṃ, but the traditional ''iroha'' arrangement follows a poem which uses each kana once. The present set of kana was codified in 1900, and rules for their usage as per the ''gendai kanadzukai'' spelling reforms of 1946.


Kana are the basis for collation in Japanese. They are taken in the order given by the ''gojūon'' (あ い う え お ... わ を ん), though iroha (い ろ は に ほ へ と ... せ す (ん)) ordering is used for enumeration in some circumstances. Dictionaries differ in the sequence order for long/short vowel distinction, small ''tsu'' and diacritics. As Japanese does not use word spaces (except as a tool for children), there can be no word-by-word collation; all collation is kana-by-kana.

In Unicode

The hiragana range in Unicode is U+3040 ... U+309F, and the katakana range is U+30A0 ... U+30FF. The obsolete and rare characters (''wi'' and ''we'') also have their proper code points. Characters U+3095 and U+3096 are hiragana small ''ka'' and small ''ke'', respectively. U+30F5 and U+30F6 are their katakana equivalents. Characters U+3099 and U+309A are combining dakuten and handakuten, which correspond to the spacing characters U+309B and U+309C. U+309D is the hiragana iteration mark, used to repeat a previous hiragana. U+309E is the voiced hiragana iteration mark, which stands in for the previous hiragana but with the consonant voiced (''k'' becomes ''g'', ''h'' becomes ''b'', etc.). U+30FD and U+30FE are the katakana iteration marks. U+309F is a ligature of ''yori'' (より) sometimes used in vertical writing. U+30FF is a ligature of ''koto'' (コト), also found in vertical writing. Additionally, there are halfwidth equivalents to the standard fullwidth katakana. These are encoded within the Halfwidth and Fullwidth Forms block (U+FF00–U+FFEF), starting at U+FF65 and ending at U+FF9F (characters U+FF61–U+FF64 are halfwidth punctuation marks): There is also a small "Katakana Phonetic Extensions" range (U+31F0 ... U+31FF), which includes some additional small kana characters for writing the Ainu language. Further small kana characters are present in the "Small Kana Extension" block. Unicode also includes "Katakana letter archaic E" (U+1B000), as well as 255 archaic Hiragana, in the Kana Supplement block. It also includes a further 31 archaic Hiragana in the Kana Extended-A block.https://www.unicode.org/charts/PDF/U1B100.pdf

See also

* Furigana * Okurigana * Yotsugana * Gojūon * Hentaigana * Historical kana orthography * Man'yōgana * Romanization of Japanese * Transliteration and Transcription (linguistics)


External links

Hiragana & katakana chart and writing practice sheet

Kana web translator
- Transliterate Kana to Rōmaji
Kana Copybook (PDF)
{{Authority control Category:Heian period Category:Japanese writing system Category:Japanese writing system terms Category:Nara period de:Japanische Schrift#Kana