Learn Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji Before Traveling to Japan

Traveling to Japan without speaking Japanese can be intimidating, but learning a few key phrases will help you navigate restaurants and trains with ease.

Hiragana is the easiest script in Japanese to read and is often used for native words that don’t contain kanji and function words like particles.

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If you plan to travel to Japan, learning hiragana and katakana will prove extremely helpful. These two scripts are used by Japanese along with kanji to represent words and concepts. Hiragana is used for native Japanese words and grammar elements while katakana can help read loanwords from Chinese.

Both hiragana and katakana are syllabaries, each consisting of 46 characters that represent an individual sound. But unlike their Japanese counterparts, neither have the same meaning; although hiragana tends to be simpler for learners.

Hiragana characters are organized into five “vowel columns”, starting with “a”, followed by vowels i, u and o. To read these characters in English: pronounce each syllable like this: A as in banana; I as in image; U as in zoo; O as in over.

Some syllables include small versions, such as ya, yu and yo; these can be pronounced either as vowels themselves or glides. When memorizing the K column it can help to recall its symbol as being that of a mosquito! This serves as an excellent mnemonic for recalling it!


When traveling to Japan, it’s advisable to familiarise yourself with its language. Knowing some basics will enable you to navigate menus or communicate with natives; although roman alphabetisation (romaji) might come in handy at times, mastering hiragana, katakana and kanji will give a much deeper understanding.

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Hiragana is an ideal starting point for travelers unfamiliar with Japanese, providing access to many commonly-used words in hiragana syllabary. Many children’s books and games written for non-native speakers feature exclusively this alphabet as this form will likely be their introduction into its culture.

There are 46 hiragana characters, the core being vowels and msuku (consonant + particle). Msuku can easily be identified by looking at its glyph; its appearance reminds one of a forced smile when taking group photos!


Before traveling to Japan, it’s essential to gain an understanding of its writing system – Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji are three distinct writing systems with unique characteristics and purposes within Japanese. Learning all three will allow you to more efficiently read signs and menus while understanding Japanese culture better.

Hiragana is the Japanese phonetic alphabet which contains all native Japanese sounds. It can be used with kanji to write Japanese-derived words or used as furigana (hints provided by writers to decipher unfamiliar kanji characters) when writing children’s books and other written material intended for younger readers.

Hiragana can also serve as a useful mnemonic to remember the order of kanji letters, especially for those unfamiliar with Latin alphabetic script. Hiragana contains all basic Japanese characters which makes memorizing easier than kanji characters; additionally some variations may contain dakuten and handakuten markers to reflect different rendaku pronunciations for certain sounds, for instance chi can become ji with one marker added;


Traveling in Japan can be an unforgettable experience, and knowing some basic Japanese phrases before leaving will only add to its joys. Speaking the language will allow you to connect with locals more easily while making travel simpler and ordering food at restaurants much simpler.

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Mastery of Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji is essential to communicating in Japanese. Hiragana represents native Japanese words while Katakana can be used for foreign words or loanwords from other cultures. Kanji adds depth to written language with multiple readings and meanings based on Chinese characters – becoming proficient with all three will allow you to read newspapers, books and formal documents from Japan with ease!

Let’s move on to our second group of combination kana, the “k-column.” This combination includes K plus all the vowel sounds you already learned; so it should be straightforward. Additionally, its shape resembles that of a mosquito – which serves as an easy visual cue when someone gets bit by one of those pesky insects!


Mastering hiragana, katakana and kanji will allow you to navigate menus, read signs and immerse yourself fully in Japanese culture. Enrolling in a language class, using an app or finding an exchange partner are all excellent options for developing the essentials of spoken and written Japanese before heading out on your travels to Japan.

This column can be tricky, as it introduces letters without an English equivalent. But memorizing this column will give you confidence to pronounce more challenging words correctly.

The k sound is easy to remember due to its proximity with the ch sound; and ka sounds similar to mosquito buzzing sounds, which likely inspired this kana script’s origination. Furthermore, this letter sounds similar to how we say “key” in English for easy memorization purposes.

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