The Japanese alphabet – Part 2

The first post on the Japanese alphabet introduced some basics of writing. Now, in this second part, we will learn some details.

Modified Hiragana and katakana

The Japanese has three diacritical symbols that change the hiragana or the katakana. The most common among them is the dakuten or ten-ten, that consist in two small lines placed at the top right of the kana, it is similar to the quotes of the Roman alphabet (゛).

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The handakuten or maru is similar to our degree symbol (゜). It modifies only the kanas “ha”, “hi”, “hu”, “he” and “ho”.

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The third symbol is the sokuon (っ in hiragana, ッ in katakana ), a small tsu. Its function is to represent a doubled consonant. It can also be used to represent the abrupt termination of a sentence, functioning as an exclamation point of our writing.


Easily – Assari -あっさり

Sold – utta- うった

Japanese’s Diagraphs

The diagraph in the Japanese language called Yōon is represented using a kana ending in ”i”, plus another kana with the epsilon (ya, yu or yo).

Example: The word today – kyō – きょう uses a small version of the kana “yo” which is different from the Japanese word skilled, Kiyo – きよう written using the kana “yo” in regular size.



Extended vowel

To represent a vowel that has an extended duration (chōon), we should place one of the following kanas: あ, い, う. If the vowel sound to be extended is the “a” we should put the kana あ; if the sound is “e” or “I”, we must put the kana い; and if the sound is “u” or “o” the kana to be placed should be う.

In katakana we use the chōonpu  (ー) to represent a long vowel.

Stroke order

The stroke order of Japanese writing follows some simple rules:

  • They are written from left to right.
  • They are written from top to bottom.
  • Horizontal strokes are written before vertical ones.
  • In symmetrical characters, the kanji starts with the middle stroke, and then from left to right.
  • Closed character which has strokes within: from left to right; first we write the outside strikes, then the inside strokes; the last stroke is the one in the base line, which “closes” the kanji.
  • A diagonal line to the left is written before a diagonal line to the right.
  • If a vertical or horizontal line cuts through the character, it is written last.
  • A diagonal line comes before the horizontal if it is small, and after if it’s larger.

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With that, we close for now, the subject Japanese writing. Hope I’ve helped a little to understand such a complex subject.

About Nathalia

Polyglot Nerd creator, love foreign cultures and learning languages. Speak: English, Portuguese and Spanish. Learning: French
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