Katakana: Wikis


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Japanese Katakana ZA.svg
Type Syllabary
Spoken languages Japanese, Okinawan, Ainu, Palauan[1]
Time period ~800 A.D. to the present
Parent systems
Sister systems Hiragana, Hentaigana
Unicode range U+30A0–U+30FF
ISO 15924 Kana
Note: This page may contain IPA phonetic symbols in Unicode.

Katakana (片仮名, カタカナ or かたかな?) is a Japanese syllabary, one component of the Japanese writing system along with hiragana,[2] kanji, and in some cases the Latin alphabet. The word katakana means "fragmentary kana", as the katakana scripts are derived from components of more complex kanji.

Katakana are characterized by short, straight strokes and angular corners, and are the simplest of the Japanese scripts.[3]

There are two main systems of ordering katakana: the old-fashioned iroha ordering, and the more prevalent gojūon ordering.



In modern Japanese, katakana are most often used for transcription of words from foreign languages[4] (called gairaigo). For example, "television" is written terebi (テレビ?). Similarly, katakana is usually used for country names, foreign places, and personal names. For example, America is written アメリカ Amerika (America also has its own kanji (ateji) Amerika (亜米利加?) or for short, Beikoku (米国?), which literally means "Rice Country").

Katakana are also used for onomatopoeia,[4] words used to represent sounds. For example, pinpon (ピンポン?), the "ding-dong" sound of a doorbell, would usually be written in katakana. Also, katakana is used for words the writer wishes to emphasize.[4]

Technical and scientific terms, such as the names of animal and plant species and minerals, are also commonly written in katakana. Homo sapiens (ホモ・サピエンス?), as a species, is written hito (ヒト?), rather than its kanji 人.

Katakana are also often, but not always, used for transcription of Japanese company names. For example Suzuki is written スズキ, and Toyota is written トヨタ. Katakana are also used for emphasis, especially on signs, advertisements, and hoardings (i.e., billboards). For example, it is common to see ココ koko ("here"), ゴミ gomi ("trash") or メガネ megane ("glasses"), and words to be emphasized in a sentence are also sometimes written in katakana, mirroring the European usage of italics.

Pre-World War II official documents mix katakana and kanji in the same way that hiragana and kanji are mixed in modern Japanese texts, that is, katakana were used for okurigana and particles such as wa or o.

Katakana were also used for telegrams in Japan before 1988, and for computer systems—before the introduction of multibyte characters—in the 1980s. Most computers in that era used katakana instead of kanji or hiragana for output.

Although words borrowed from ancient Chinese are usually written in kanji, loanwords from modern Chinese dialects which are borrowed directly rather than using the Sino-Japanese on'yomi readings, are often written in katakana. Examples include:

Japanese Rōmaji Meaning Kanji Romanization Source language
マージャン mājan mahjong 麻雀 májiàng Mandarin
ウーロン茶 ūroncha Oolong tea 烏龍茶 wūlóngchá
チャーハン chāhan fried rice 炒飯 chǎofàn
チャーシュー chāshū barbecued pork 叉焼 cha siu Cantonese
シューマイ shūmai a form of dim sum 焼売 siu maai

The very common Chinese loanword rāmen, written in katakana as ラーメン in Japanese, is rarely written with its kanji (拉麺).

There are rare cases where the opposite has occurred, with kanji forms created from words originally written in katakana. An example of this is コーヒー kōhī, ("coffee"), which can be alternatively written as 珈琲. This kanji usage is occasionally employed by coffee manufacturers or coffee shops for novelty.

Katakana are sometimes used instead of hiragana as furigana to give the pronunciation of a word written in Roman characters, or for a foreign word, which is written as kanji for the meaning, but intended to be pronounced as the original.

Katakana are also sometimes used to indicate words being spoken in a foreign or otherwise unusual accent, by foreign characters, robots, etc. For example, in a manga, the speech of a foreign character or a robot may be represented by コンニチワ konnichiwa ("hello") instead of the more usual hiragana こんにちは.

Katakana are also used to indicate the on'yomi (Chinese-derived readings) of a kanji in a kanji dictionary.

Some Japanese personal names are written in katakana. This was more common in the past, hence elderly women often have katakana names.

It is very common to write words with difficult-to-read kanji in katakana. This phenomenon is often seen with medical terminology. For example, in the word 皮膚科 hifuka ("dermatology"), the second kanji, , is considered difficult to read, and thus the word hifuka is commonly written 皮フ科 or ヒフ科, mixing kanji and katakana. Similarly, the difficult-to-read kanji such as gan ("cancer") are often written in katakana or hiragana.

Katakana is also used for traditional musical notations, as in the Tozan-ryū of shakuhachi, and in sankyoku ensembles with koto, shamisen, and shakuhachi.


Foreign phrases are sometimes transliterated with a space separating the words, called a nakaguro (中黒?) (middle dot). When it is assumed that the reader knows the separate gairaigo words in the phrase, the middle dot is omitted. For example, the phrase コンピュータゲーム konpyūta gēmu ("computer game") contains two well-known gairaigo, and therefore is not written with a middle dot.

Katakana spelling differs slightly from hiragana. While hiragana spells long vowels with the addition of a second vowel kana, katakana usually uses a vowel extender mark called a chōon. This is a short line following the direction of the text, horizontal for yokogaki (horizontal text), and vertical for tategaki (vertical text). It is generally used in foreign loanwords; long vowels in katakana words of Japanese origin are usually spelled as they would be in hiragana. There are exceptions, such as ローソク (蝋燭 rōsoku "candle") or ケータイ(携帯 kētai "mobile phone").

A small tsu (ッ) called a sokuon indicates that the following consonant is geminate; this is represented in rōmaji by doubling the consonant that follows the tsu. For example, "bed" is represented in katakana as ベッド (beddo). The sokuon may also be used to approximate a non-native sound; Bach is written バッハ (Bahha); Mach as マッハ (Mahha).

Foreign sounds can be difficult to express in Japanese, resulting in spellings such as フルシチョフ Furushichofu (Khrushchev), アリー・ハーメネイー Arī Hāmeneī (Ali Khamenei) and イツハク・パールマン Itsuhaku Pāruman or イツァーク・パールマン Itsāku Pāruman (Itzhak Perlman).

Table of katakana

This is a table of katakana together with their Hepburn romanization and their IPA pronunciation. Katakana with dakuten or handakuten follow the gojūon kana without them. Characters in gray are obsolete. Modern additions are used mainly to represent sounds from other languages. Learning to read katakana is often complicated by the similarities between different characters. For example, shi シ and tsu ツ , as well as so ソ and n ン , look very similar in print except for the slant and stroke shape. (These differences in slant and shape are more prominent when written with an ink brush.)


  1. ^ a b c These now-obsolete katakana appeared in some textbooks as early as 1873 (Meiji 6), but never became widespread.[5][6]
  2. ^ In modern times, ウォ ("wo") is used as the representation of a "wo" sound instead. The katakana version of the wo kana, ヲ, is primarily used, albeit rarely, to represent the particle を in katakana. The particle is commonly pronounced the same as the o kana.
  3. ^ a b c d e These kana are primarily used for indicating a voiced consonant in the middle of a compound word and can never begin a word. Rarely used in katakana.


Katakana was developed in the early Heian Period from parts of man'yōgana characters as a form of shorthand.[citation needed] For example, ka カ comes from the left side of ka 加 "increase". The table below shows the origins of each katakana: the red markings of the original Chinese character eventually became each corresponding symbol.[7]

Katakana origine.svg

Japanese language instruction

Some instructors "introduce katakana after the students have learned to read and write sentences in hiragana without difficulty and know the rules."[8] Most students who have learned hiragana "do not have great difficulty in memorizing" katakana as well.[9]

Other instructors introduce the katakana first, because these are used with loanwords. This gives students a chance to practice reading and writing kana with meaningful words. This is the approach taken by Eleanor Harz Jorden.[10]

How to write katakana

The following table shows how to write each katakana character. It is arranged in the traditional way, beginning top right and reading columns down. The little numbers and arrows indicate the stroke order and direction.

Table katakana.svg

Computer encoding

In addition to fonts intended for Japanese text and Unicode catch-all fonts (like Arial Unicode MS), many fonts intended for Chinese text also include katakana (such as MS Song).

Katakana have two forms of encoding, halfwidth hankaku (半角?) and fullwidth zenkaku (全角?). The halfwidth forms come from JIS X 0201 originally. This includes halfwidth katakana in right side area of ASCII. That is, most halfwidth katakana could be represented by one byte each. In the late 1970s, two-byte character sets such as JIS X 0208 were introduced to represent hiragana, kanji, and other characters. JIS_X_0208 has its own katakana area independently of one-byte character set such as JIS_X_0201. katakana of JIS_X_0208 takes two-byte (at least), so many (especially old) devices output these katakana as two-byte-width. This is why katakana of JIS_X_0201 is called halfwidth and JIS_X_0208, fullwidth. Therefore, most encodings have no halfwidth hiragana.

Although often said to be obsolete, in fact the halfwidth katakana are still used in many systems and encodings. For example, the titles of mini discs can only be entered in ASCII or halfwidth katakana, and halfwidth katakana were commonly used in computerized cash register displays, on shop receipts, and Japanese digital television and DVD subtitles. Several popular Japanese encodings such as EUC-JP, Unicode and Shift-JIS have halfwidth katakana code as well as fullwidth. By contrast, ISO-2022-JP has no halfwidth katakana, and is mainly used over SMTP and NNTP. Halfwidth katakana are commonly used to save memory space.


In Unicode, fullwidth katakana occupy code points U+30A0 to U+30FF [11]:

    0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F

Encoded in this block along with the katakana are the nakaguro word separation middle dot, the chōon vowel extender, the katakana iteration marks, and a ligature of コト sometimes used in vertical writing.

Halfwidth equivalents to the fullwidth katakana also exist. These are encoded within the Halfwidth and Fullwidth Forms block (U+FF00–U+FFEF) [12], starting at U+FF65 and ending at U+FF9F (characters U+FF61–U+FF64 are halfwidth punctuation marks):

    0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
FF7   ソ

This block also includes the halfwidth dakuten and handakuten. The fullwidth versions of these characters are found in the hiragana block.

Code points 32D0 to 32FE list circled katakana. A circled ン (n) is not included.

    0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F

Katakana uses in non-Japanese languages


Katakana is commonly used to write the Ainu language by Japanese linguists. In Ainu language katakana usage, the consonant that comes at the end of a syllable is represented by a small version of a katakana that corresponds to that final consonant and with an arbitrary vowel. For instance "up" is represented by ウㇷ゚ (ウu followed by small pu). Ainu also requires three additional sounds, represented by セ゜ ([tse]), ツ゜ ([tu̜]) and ト゜ ([tu̜]). In Unicode, the Katakana Phonetic Extensions block (U+31F0–U+31FF)[13] exists for Ainu language support. These characters are used mainly for the Ainu language only:

    0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
31F   ㇰ() ㇱ() ㇲ() ㇳ() ㇴ() ㇵ() ㇶ() ㇷ() ㇸ() ㇹ() ㇺ() ㇻ() ㇼ() ㇽ() ㇾ() ㇿ()


Taiwanese kana (タイTaiwanese kana normal tone 5.png ヲァヌTaiwanese kana normal tone 5.png ギイTaiwanese kana normal tone 2.png カアTaiwanese kana normal tone 2.png ビェンTaiwanese kana normal tone 5.png) is a katakana-based writing system once used to write Holo Taiwanese, when Taiwan was ruled by Japan. It functioned as a phonetic guide to hanzi, much like furigana in Japanese or Zhuyin fuhao in Chinese. There were similar systems for other languages in Taiwan as well, including Hakka and Formosan languages.

Unlike Japanese or Ainu, Taiwanese kana are used similarly to the Zhùyīn fúhào characters, with kana serving as initials, vowel medials and consonant finals, marked with tonal marks. A dot below the initial kana represented aspirated consonants, and チ, ツ, サ, セ, ソ, ウ and オ with a superpositional bar represented sounds found only in Taiwanese.

See also


  1. ^ Thomas E. McAuley, Language change in East Asia, 2001:90
  2. ^ Roy Andrew Miller, A Japanese Reader: Graded Lessons in the Modern Language, Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle Company, Tokyo, Japan (1966), p. 28, Lesson 7 : Katakana : a—no. "Side by side with hiragana, modern Japanese writing makes use of another complete set of similar symbols called the katakana."
  3. ^ Miller, p. 28. "The katana symbols, rather simpler, more angular and abrupt in their line than the hiragana..."
  4. ^ a b c Yookoso! An Invitation to Contemporary Japanese 1st edition McGraw-Hill 1993, page 29 "The Japanese Writing System (2) Katakana"
  5. ^ (ja) 「いろは と アイウエオ」
  6. ^ (ja) 伊豆での収穫 : 日本国語学史上比類なき変体仮名
  7. ^ Japanese katakana (Omniglot.com)
  8. ^ Mutsuko Endo Simon, A Practical Guide for Teachers of Elementary Japanese, Center for Japanese Studies, the University of Michigan (1984) p. 36, 3.3 Katakana
  9. ^ Simon, p. 36
  10. ^ Reading Japanese, Lesson 1
  11. ^ Katakana / Range: 30A0–30FF
  12. ^ Halfwidth and Fullwidth Forms / Range: FF00–FFEF
  13. ^ Katakana Phonetic Extensions block (U+31F0–U+31FF)

External links

Study guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Kana article)

From Wikiversity

Welcome to the kana lessons course, where you will learn how to read, write, and pronounce hiragana and katakana, the two syllabaries of the Japanese language.

Like kanji, the kana are not just geometric shapes but rather three-dimensional paths. Character strokes must therefore be arranged in a certain way.


Reading material

Learning activities

The kana are generally best learned by rote though mnemonics can help with the initial memorisation. Find yourself a nice drilling program or website and practice every day until you can consistently remember the entire kana. Build on a small subset and work from there.

You will find links to useful software in the textbook Practice software section.

Mix in plenty of writing practice as you learn the readings. It will take many repetitions to get used to the movements to make your characters look nice. You can practice writing on this sheet.


Further reading

Project: Introduction to Japanese
Previous: Introduction to the Japanese Writing System — Kana — Next: Kanji

Simple English

Katakana is the way that some of the words are written in Japanese. It is much easier to read than the kanji (the picture method based on Chinese characters) which has to be learned word by word, because once the 46 katakana symbols have been learned the reader knows how to pronounce them.

Katakana and hiragana are both syllabaries. In English we use the letters of the alphabet. In most words each letter stands for a bit of sound (a phoneme). In a syllabary each symbol stands for a syllable. For example: in English we write “Wagamama”: each of the eight letters standing for a sound: “W-a-g-a-m-a-m-a”. But if the word “Wagamama” is divided into syllables there are four syllables (blocks of sound): Wa-ga-ma-ma. In Katakana it is written with four symbols: ワガママ.

Hiragana works in the same way, but the symbols are mostly different. Katakana is perhaps a little easier to learn than Hiragana because the symbols are simpler and more “squared off”. Together Katakana and Hiragana are called “Kana”.


Table of katakana

This is a table of the basic katakana strokes. The first chart shows the basic katakana (characters with red letters next to them are no longer used today).

vowels yōon
a i u e o ya yu yo
ka ki ku ke ko キャ kya キュ kyu キョ kyo
sa shi su se so シャ sha シュ shu ショ sho
ta chi tsu te to チャ cha チュ chu チョ cho
na ni nu ne no ニャ nya ニュ nyu ニョ nyo
ha hi hu, fu he ho ヒャ hya ヒュ hyu ヒョ hyo
ma mi mu me mo ミャ mya ミュ my ミョ myo
ya yu yo
ra ri ru re ro リャ rya リュ ryu リョ ryo
wa (ヰ) wi (ヱ) we wo
ga gi gu ge go ギャ gya ギュ gyu ギョ gyo
za ji zu ze zo ジャ ja ジュ ju ジョ jo
da ヂ (dji) ヅ (dzu) de do ヂャ (ja) ヂュ (ju) ヂョ (jo)
ba bi bu be bo ビャ bya ビュ byu ビョ byo
pa pi pu pe po ピャ pya ピュ pyu ピョ pyo

Because Japanese today borrows so many foreign words they have invented several extra katakana symbols to help to write sounds that the Japanese language does not have:

イェ ye
ウィ wi ウェ we ウォ wo
(ヷ) va (ヸ) vi vu (ヹ) ve (ヺ) vo
ヴァ va ヴィ vi ヴェ ve ヴォ vo ヴャ vya ヴュ vyu ヴョ vyo
シェ she
ジェ je
チェ che
ティ ti トゥ tu テュ tyu
ディ di ドゥ du デュ dyu
ツァ tsa ツィ tsi ツェ tse ツォ tso
ファ fa フィ fi フェ fe フォ fo フュ fyu

From the first table it can be seen that there are 46 basic characters (top left, first five columns, from "a" to "wa"). Diphthongs (vowels that slide from one sound to the other) have to be written with an extra symbol in small print. For example: the sound “mu” in our word “music” sounds like “myu” so it is written ミュ (mi+yu). So the word “musical” (as in a stage musical) is written: ミュージカル. A long vowel is shown in katakana by a kind of dash called a “choon” (ー).

How Katakana is used

Katakana is used to write words which have been borrowed from other languages, or to write foreign names and names of countries. For example America is written アメリカ.

It is not always easy for us to recognize these words because the Japanese language does not have some of the sounds that we do in English. This means that Japanese have to find other ways to pronounce and write the word. For example: the word “coffee” is written コーヒー (koo-hii). Sometimes the word is shortened as well: “television” is writtenテレビ (pronounced “te-re-bi”).

Sometimes it is impossible to show the difference between two foreign words, e.g. ラーラー could spell either the name “Lara” or “Lala” (as in the Teletubbies). The Japanese have just one sound which is somewhere between our “r” and “l”.

In the Japanese language a consonant is always followed by a vowel. Words or syllables cannot end in a consonant (except n or m), so the Japanese put in an extra vowel. “Ski” (as in skiing) becomes “suki” (スキ), and a “musical”, as we have seen, becomes “myuujikaru” (ミュージカル).

Katakana are also used for onomatopoeic words like “ding”, or for making words look important, or for scientific names such as the names of birds. Sometimes sentences in books or cartoons may be written in katakana to show that someone is supposed to be speaking with a foreign accent. It is often used to write the names of Japanese companies, i.e. Suzuki is written スズキ, and Toyota is written トヨタ.

A small “tsu” ッ called a “sokuon” shows what we would write as a double consonant, e.g. the English word “bed” is used in Japanese for a western-style bed. It is pronounced “beddo” and written ベッド. The ッ makes the “e” vowel short.

Learning to read the katakana characters is useful for reading some of the signs in Japan, or items on the restaurant menus.

Japanese sentences are usually written in a mixture of katakana, hiragana and kanji, e.g.: アメリカ人です (amerikajin desu: I am American). Here “amerika” is written in katakana, the ending “jin”(人) is kanji, and “desu” (I am) is in hiragana.

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