4.1 Introduction to Katakana

Welcome to the next phase of your Japanese language journey! As you continue your journey to master hiragana, we are excited to introduce you to another unique script: カタカナ (katakana)

What is katakana?

Like hiragana, katakana consists of 46 basic characters that represent distinct sounds in Japanese:

ア (a) カ (ka) サ (sa) タ (ta) ナ (na) ハ (ha) マ (ma) ヤ (ya) ラ (ra) ワ (wa)
イ (i) キ (ki) シ (shi) チ (chi/ti) ニ (ni) ヒ (hi) ミ (mi) リ (ri)
ウ (u) ク (ku) ス (su) ツ (tsu) ヌ (nu) フ (fu/hu) ム (mu) ユ (yu) ル (ru) ヲ (o)
エ (e) ケ (ke) セ (se) テ (te) ネ (ne) ヘ (he) メ (me) レ (re)
オ (o) コ (ko) ソ (so) ト (to) ノ (no) ホ (ho) モ (mo) ヨ (yo) ロ (ro) ン (n)

Exclamation Icon Please note that in this textbook, チ and フ are represented as chi and fu, respectively, following the Hepburn system of romanisation. However, in some romanisation systems, they might be represented as ti and hu, respectively.


In this book, you will encounter katakana words along the way, and we will provide the corresponding hiragana readings to support your learning.


Let’s start by understanding what katakana is and how it functions within Japanese sentences.


When to use katakana

Katakana is primarily used to transcribe loanwords, that is, words from other languages except for Chinese, into Japanese. It is also used for onomatopoeic words, scientific and technical terms, and certain personal and place names. A practical example of katakana usage is seen on street signboards:

Figure 1: People walking on road


What katakana looks like

In terms of appearance, katakana characters have sharper corners and a more angular shape compared to hiragana characters:


Romaji Katakana                  Hiragana

Long vowel sounds in katakana

Another notable difference between hiragana and katakana is its method of transcribing long vowels. In katakana, the symbol ‘ー’ is used to indicate long vowels. For example:

The word ‘coffee’ is written in katakana as ‘コーヒー’ (koohii), rather than in hiragana (こおひい), as it is a loanword.

When writing or typing katakana words with long vowels, the symbol ‘ー’ should be presented vertically like this:



Similarities between katakana and hiragana

Even though katakana is different from hiragana, there is some good news.

First of all, similar to hiragana, katakana has additional characters that represent double consonants and contracted sounds, as well as characters with diacritical marks. So, in terms of functionality, katakana works in the same way as hiragana. Here are a few examples:

Romaji Hiragana Katakana
Diacritical Marks bapa ば ・ ぱ バ・パ
Contracted Sounds kya きゃ キャ
Double Consonants matchi まっち マッチ


Second, some katakana characters look similar to their hiragana counterparts, but with sharper lines. Here are a few examples:

Romaji Hiragana Katakana

Basic katakana practice

Although our main emphasis in this book is on mastering hiragana, it is important to be aware of katakana words used in sentences. To help you practise recognising katakana characters, try the exercise below using the katakana chart provided:

ア (a) カ (ka) サ (sa) タ (ta) ナ (na) ハ (ha) マ (ma) ヤ (ya) ラ (ra) ワ (wa)
イ (i) キ (ki) シ (shi) チ (chi/ti) ニ (ni) ヒ (hi) ミ (mi) リ (ri)
ウ (u) ク (ku) ス (su) ツ (tsu) ヌ (nu) フ (fu/hu) ム (mu) ユ (yu) ル (ru) ヲ (o)
エ (e) ケ (ke) セ (se) テ (te) ネ (ne) ヘ (he) メ (me) レ (re)
オ (o) コ (ko) ソ (so) ト (to) ノ (no) ホ (ho) モ (mo) ヨ (yo) ロ (ro) ン (n)

Here is a downloadable PDF chart for practising basic katakana:

Basic Katakana Chart Japanese Introductory 1 (PDF 60.2 KB)


Exercise 1

Can you match the corresponding hiragana and katakana characters that share the same syllables? Click on the panel and identify the equivalent hiragana or katakana character.

NOTE: Only the katakana panels provide audio as a hint.

Writing and typing your name in katakana

If your name is not of Japanese origin, you will be expected to transcribe it in katakana, rather than hiragana or kanji, particularly in official documents. Here are some tips for writing and typing your name in katakana:


Tip 1. Check the pronunciation

Before writing a non-Japanese name in katakana, make sure you know the correct pronunciation of the name. Katakana is a phonetic script, so it is important to accurately transcribe the sounds of the name.


Tip 2. Double check the spelling

Make sure you have spelled your name in hiragana correctly before writing it in katakana. Katakana does not have separate characters for the letters ‘r’ or ‘v’, so you may need to substitute them with other characters that sound similar, such as ‘l’ or ‘b’, respectively.

So, for example, the English name ‘Kevin’ is transcribed in Japanese as ケビン (Kebin) instead of ケヴィン (Kevin). This is due to the absence of a native ‘v’ sound in Japanese. The language typically substitutes the ‘v’ with the closest equivalent, the ‘b’ sound, to fit its phonetic system. Such adaptations of foreign sounds to match the available sounds in Japanese are common.


Tip 3. Practise writing and typing

Writing and typing in katakana takes practice, so take some time to practise writing and typing non-Japanese names.

If you are struggling to convert your name into katakana, don’t worry! There are online tools available to help you out. But keep in mind that not all of these tools are 100% accurate, so it might be a good idea to ask a Japanese speaker for some extra help if you can.

Online Japanese name converters


1 “People Walking on Road” (untitled) by Aleksandar Pasaric. Pexels. Licensed under Pexels licence.

2 Exclamation IconExclamation Sign Icon” (untitled) by Dave Gandy. Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under CC by SA 3.0.




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Japanese Introductory 1 Copyright © 2024 by Iori Hamada is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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