In the pages that follow we’ll look at the two Japanese syllabaries – Hiragana and katakana, which together are known as ‘the kanas’. In English, we also use two different methods to write our sounds – lower-case and upper-case:

Many lower-case characters resemble their corresponding upper-case character, but some do not, like the D, G, and Q. Well, there are more characters in either kana (46) than in the roman alphabet (26), and only a few of the hiragana characters resemble their corresponding katakana character. However, both of these syllabaries are taught – completely – in 1st grade, to 5 year olds, so hopefully this convinces us that they are actually not that difficult.

A Japanese person learning the roman alphabet finds that some characters resemble each other:

t, f
p, q
b, d

i, j
a, d
i, l

h, n
u, v
n, u

m, w
A, H
O, Q

Not surprisingly, there are also some kana characters that resemble each other:

め, ぬ
わ, れ, ね
ヒ, セ
け, せ, サ

ウ, ワ, フ, ス, ヌ
ソ, ン, ノ
は, ほ, ま
こ, ニ

シ, ツ
ク, ケ, タ
レ, ル
る, ろ

フ, ラ
テ, ラ
セ, ヒ
チ, ナ

In both cases, all we need to tell the characters apart is a bit of time to get familiar with them.

These are reference charts of all the basic kanas – both hiragana and katakana; feel free to use them anyway you find useful:

full-page chart (PDF)

wallet and back-of-notebook charts (PDF)


This kana chart is interactive; click on a character to see its stroke order.


Some rules of thumb:

  • The general direction of drawing a character is left-to-right and top-to-bottom
  • The general order of drawing the strokes is drawing either the top-most or left-most stroke first; once that stroke is drawn, then the next stroke is the next top-most or left-most stroke left, and so on. The exceptions are the hiraganas せ (se), や (ya), and よ (yo), and the katakana ヒ (hi)
  • If a simple horizontal line cuts a simple vertical line, the horizontal line is drawn first, from left-to-right; the only exception is the horizontal lines in the hiragana も (mo)
  • All one-stroke curves are drawn top-to-bottom, with the exceptions of the bottom stroke of the katakanas シ (chi) and ン (n). We can write the arm of ヒ (hi) either top-to-bottom or bottom-to-top; both are accepted