Learn Hiragana with Drops!

So you’re ready to learn Japanese? The first step is to learn the syllabic writing systems of hiragana and katakana. We make learning hiragana easy with Drops!

Why learn Hiragana?

Hiragana serves as the mighty and fundamental phonetic writing system, so by learning hiragana you’re not only learning the characters, but the basics of Japanese pronunciation!

Here are the reasons!

Hiragana is simple to read (because it’s phonetic). Each hiragana letter represents one sound, which means once you learn hiragana, you can read everything!
Learning hiragana improves your listening and speaking skills. Each character works as a visual clue, so your ears will get used to the Japanese sounds more quickly.
Hiragana indicates your Japanese-learning quality. Writing and reading hiragana will  show you are a determined Japanese learner. Everybody—especially people in Japan—will admire your effort!
Mastering hiragana is a gateway into Japanese culture. Once that gate is open, you can step inside to explore more in-depth.

The Fun Way to Learn Hiragana with Drops

In hiragana, each of the 46 basic characters represent a sound or a basic syllable in Japanese. We know what you’re thinking—46 sounds like a lot!
Hiragana is often taught using a handy character chart (we’ll show you in a second), but in Drops we take it one step further by teaching it in 6 bite-sized lessons.
By learning hiragana with the Drops Introduction to Hiragana course, you’ll not only learn the 46 sounds, but practice writing them with correct stroke order using our scripts gameplay. After you tackle the basics, we’ll show you how to take it to the next level by combining the sounds.

Let’s get started!

Take a look at the chart below: in the first row you’ll find the main vowels you’ll need to master: “a” (あ),  “i” (い), “u”(う), “e” (え), and “o” (お), They appear in the chart as the column headers and appear in the first topic: Hiragana あ - お.
Once you’ve nailed those, you’ll combine the vowels with the 10 consonant sounds in the following rows. So after “a,” “i,” “u,” “e,” “o,” you’ll learn “ka,” “ki,” “ku,” “ke,” “ko,” and so on with S, T, N, H, M, Y, R, W, and—a special character—the single N consonant.
Does that sound easy so far? It’s even easier when learning with Drops.
In our Introduction to Hiragana course, we’ve broken this chart down into 6 bite-sized topics. Below we have more information about each character set to strengthen your skills!
Hiragana Vowels

Start simple by learning the 5 Japanese vowels: “a” (あ),  “i” (い), “u”(う), “e” (え), and “o” (お).

This topic sets the pronunciation of all of the upcoming rows in the chart. After this step, every syllable will be a simple combination of one of the vowels and a consonant.

Pronunciation Tip: Are you an English speaker? Here are some helpful words to practice the sounds:

  • “a” (あ) sounds like “ah” as in “father.”
  • “i” (い) sounds like “e” as in “key.”
  • “u” (う) sounds like “oo” as in “Sue.”
  • “e” (え) sounds like “e” as in “bed.”
  • “o” (お) sounds like “oh” as in “old.”

Practice vowels in hiragana and katakana with Zita, our Learning Content Coordinator and resident Japanese teacher.

The K-N Rows

By combining the K, S, T and N-rows with the already mastered vowels, you will be able to write and spell the following syllables:

By the end of this topic, you’ll already be able to read and write Japanese words like:

さかな (fish)

おとこ (man)

ちかてつ (subway)

Watch out! “Shi” (し) is an exceptional kana that doesn't follow the patterns that show up everywhere else. Instead of being “si,” it's “shi” (し). You might have heard it before in the word sushi  (すし).

There are two other exceptions in the T-column—“chi” (ち) and “tsu” (つ). Be careful with the pronunciation!

The H-W Rows

We’re almost there! Let’s master the last sounds with consonants H, M, Y, R, W, and the single N.

Practice your "r" sound! If you're a native English speaker, the Japanese "r" is likely to sound a bit different for you. You can find it somewhere between an English "r" and "l" sound. Try saying “risu” (りす) (squirrel) a few times. Practice makes perfect!

Hiragana Transformations

おめでとう (omedetō) — Congrats! You’ve mastered the 46 basic characters of hiragana!  Ready to take it to the next level?
You can now read and write words like:

はちみつ (honey)

ねこ (cat)

のみもの (drink)

But what about “manga” or “Tōkyō”?
To make sounds like “ga” or “kyō”  you don’t have to learn additional kana—just how to transform them or combine them.
We break it down for you in the remaining 3 topics in the Introduction to Hiragana course.
Dakuten and 

Dakuten and handakuten are diacritics that indicate consonants that should be pronounced differently.

Dakuten is a symbol that looks like a double quotation mark added to the top right corner of the character. This mark changes the consonant from its unvoiced form to the voiced one. However, this change affects only a few of the columns. Basically, when you add the dakuten “k” becomes “g,” “s” becomes “z,” “t” becomes “d,” and “h” becomes “b.”

You might be still wondering how to write “kanpai” (Cheers!) in hiragana. Well, handakuten got you covered. The little circle in the upper right corner of the character makes voiceless sounds, but that applies only to "h" sounds. Add handakuten to the h-column and you will get the p-column. かんぱい!

Try this tongue twister to master your pronunciation!


We have 12 pronunciation topics in Japanese, try them out in the Pronunciation Practice category!

Practice with Drops
Double Consonants & Long Vowels

Now that you know the 46 characters, let us introduce you to the concept of a sokuon.

In phonetics, it’s called a gemination... which basically means the sokuon adds a quick little pause before a consonant in a word. In hiragana, the sokuon is represented by a small “tsu” (っ) character.

The concept of the sokuon might be challenging for some, but here are some examples for you to practice:
くりyukkuri (slowly)
て kitte  (stamp)
てきます itte kimasu (I’ll be back later)

There are also words that have long sounds, resulting in a lengthened pronunciation. You have to follow a few rules when writing these:

For vowels ending in “a” (あ), add on an extra あ.
おばさん (aunt) → おばさん (grandmother)

Vowels ending in “i” (い), add an extra い.
おき (open sea) → おおき (big)

Vowels ending in an “u” (う) sound, add an う.
くこ (Chinese wolfberry) → く (airport)

For vowels ending in “e” (え) sounds are followed by an extra い or え. This can be confusing at first, but try to memorize them as you learn vocabulary.
おねさん (older sister)
おじさん (uncle) → おじ
さん (grandfather)

For vowels ending in “o” (お) add an extra お or an う. Same as the “e” (え) sound, you simply have to practice these words, but most of them use う.
おき (open sea) → おきい (big)
ここ (here) →  こ


Last but not least! We have one final element of hiragana that you should know before we let you go wild with it.

This topic has examples of how to combine different types of kana together to make new sounds. These so-called combinations, or yōon, are described by I-column syllables associated with a small “ya” (ゃ), “yu” (ゅ), or “yo” (ょ) character.

For example:
“ki” (き) + “ya” (ゃ) = “kya” (きゃ)
“chi” (ち) + “yo” (ょ) = “cho” (ちょ)

Make sure you don’t pronounce that extra “i” sound in the middle! For more practice, try out the “ryōri - ɾʲ” and “kyōkai - kʲ” topics in the Pronunciation Practice category!

Fun fact! Most of the Japanese words which now use yōon were originally derived from Chinese.

In historical kana orthography, yōon were not distinguished with the smaller kana, and had to be determined by context.

Time to practice!

And just like that, you have all the tools you need to learn hiragana! By learning hiragana with Drops in our Japanese course, you will not only learn the 46 sounds,  but practice writing them with correct stroke order using our scripts gameplay. What are you waiting for?