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g K 





James W. Heisig 

Remembering the Kana 

A guide to reading and writing the 
Japanese syllabaries in 3 hours each 

Part One 


James W. Heisig 

Japan Publications Trading Co., Ltd. 


General introduction vn 

Introduction to the hiragana xi 

Hiragana 1 

Lesson i 51 

Lesson 2 55 

Lesson 3 57 

Lesson 4 60 

Lesson 5 62 

Lesson 6 65 

Table of the kana 68 

Table of kana diphthongs 69 

Alphabetic list of the kana 70 

General introduction 

The aim of this little book is a simple one: to help you teach your- 
self to read and write the two Japanese syllabaries, the hiragana and the 
katakana, in three hours each. By “three hours” is meant three cumulative 
hours of hard work, not three continuous hours of unbroken study, and 
certainly not three hours in a classroom with a teacher and other students. 

The two parts of the book, set back to back, follow the same method, arc 
laid out in the same format, and share common tables in the middle of the 
volume. Readers who already know one or the other of the syllabaries com- 
pletely can pass it over and go directly to the part they wish to learn. If you 
are a newcomer, you should begin with the course on the hiragana before 
flipping the book over and tackling the katakana. 

The syllabaries are arranged in their “dictionary order," not in the order 
in which you will learn them. Following the instructions on each page will 
send you skipping forwards and backwards as you make your way through 
each lesson. In Lessons 3 to 5 of the hiragana course you will be taught a 
simple way to remember the dictionary order, which is indispensable for 
consulting Japanese dictionaries. 

If you have already learned a few of the hiragana, you might be tempted 
to chart your own course. Don’t. You would be better advised not to use the 
book at all than to try to guide yourself through the labyrinth of this book. 
The method builds up step by step, and you will need the principles taught 
at the earlier stages to follow the directions given later. If you must, rush 
quickly through the material you already feel comfortable. But rush through 

After each lesson, you will asked to take a break. This is meant to increase 
your efficiency and to help you concentrate all your attention on the task at 
hand for short periods of 30 minutes or less. If you were to do two lessons a 
day, you could complete the six lessons on the third day. This seems the 
ideal way to proceed. 

In any case, you should begin by reading the Introduction specific to 

the syllabary in question. You will be given instructions at the end how to 

When you have finished the book, do not forget to read the Prologue 
that follows Part two. There you will find help with tackling the study of 
the final hurdle in your study of the (apanese writing system: the kanji. 

a word about pronunciation 

Compared with English, Japanese is a “sound-poor” language, 
and this is reflected in the fact that instead of an "alphabet" of individual 
vowels and consonants that can be combined in a variety of ways, Japanese 
uses a syllabary of 45 basic sounds and about 77 derivative sounds formed 
by the voiced and plosive pronunciations of certain consonants and by 
diphthongs. The full range of sounds is included in the tables on pages 68 
and 69 of Part one. 

This does not mean that all the sounds of Japanese exist in English, or 
that the familiar letters of the Roman alphabet refer to precisely the same 
sound in Japanese that they do in English. The only way to learn how to 
pronounce Japanese properly is with the aid of a native speaker. In this 
book pronunciation is only indicated by a rough equivalent to English (or 
more precisely. General American). 


Using the hiragana and katakana correctly will require skills that 
no Western language is equipped to provide you with. These arc matters 
that fall outside the scope of these pages. Still, it is helpful to have a general 
idea of what is involved and why. 

When the Chinese writing system was introduced to Japan around the 
sixth century ce, there was no native system of writing for it to replace or 
merge with, and the sounds of the language were quite different from the 
those the Chinese and Korean settlers were accustomed to. The only solu- 
tion was to assign each sound a Chinese charater, or kanji, to approximate 
the pronunciation. For several centuries a catalogue of some 970 unmodi- 
fied Chinese characters, or kanji, were used as phonetic symbols for the 88 
syllables then used in the Japanese language. 

As early as the middle of the eighth century some of these kanji were 
given a “rounded” or “common” (hira) form based on brush calligraphy as 

“substitutes” (kana) for some of the more widely used Chinese letters. Dur- 
ing the early middle ages of Japan's Heian period (794-1185), a style of writ- 
ing using only these forms came into use, creating the first phonetic 
syllabaries with a one-to-one relationship between sound and written form. 
Initially it was used only by women, but by the early tenth century was rec- 
ognized as an official way of writing, namely, the hiragana. 

Today the hiragana are used for writing indigenous Japanese words, for 
adding inflections to words written with kanji, and for writing words whose 
kanji are rare or at least outside the standard lists taught in the schools. 

The forms of the katakana also derived from Chinese kanji, but unlike 
the hiragana they were based less on calligraphic writing than on the extrac- 
tion of a “part” (kata) of the full kanji to represent particular sounds. These 
forms were written in a square, blocked style to set them off still more from 
the hiragana. From the ninth century, the katakana appear in use as a 
mnemonic device for remembering how to pronounce Buddhist texts writ- 
ten in Chinese. Only much later, in 1900 to be exact, would they be stan- 
dardized for the writing of foreign loan-words and onomatopoeia. Until the 
dawn of the computer age, they were also used for telegrams. 

To sum up, the written Japanese is made up of three forms: 

Kanji. Complex characters originating from Chinese and imported into 
Japan around the sixth century ck. There are some 80,000 of them in all, 
but Japan has narrowed their use by introducing a list of “general- use 
kanji” into the education system. A typical Japanese university graduate 
will be able to recognize around 3,000 of these Sino- Japanese characters. 
Hiragana. One of the two syllabic alphabets or “syllabaries” of Japanese. 

It is used mainly to write indigenous lapanese words and to inflect 
words written with kanji. 

Katakana. The second of the two syllabaries of Japanese. It is used 
mainly for foreign names and terms, and for onomatopeia. 

These three written forms coexist in Japanese, and it is not uncommon to 
find all three in a single phrase. Consider this example of a Japanese phrase 
that combines kanji (bold type), hiragana (italics) and katakana (normal): 

Watashi no namae wa Maria desu. 

My name is Maria. 


Obviously, the only way to attain fluency in written Japanese is to learn all 
three forms of writing. This little book should get you well on your way. 

It only remains for me to express my gratitude to the Japan Publications 
Trading Company for their kindness and support over more than eighteeen 
years of working together. Special thanks are due to Helmut Morsbach and 
Kurebayashi Kazue, who collaborated in the accompanying course on the 
katakana that forms Part two of the present book. It was their initiative to 
undertake the project and their devotion that saw it through to the end. 

James W. Heisig 
1 April 2003 

Introduction to the hiragana 

The course that follows is intended for self study. It did not grow 
out of classroom experience and is not intended for classroom use. For one 
thing, I am not a language instructor. All my students are Japanese, and 
they knew the hiragana by the first grade or before. 1 did not absorb myself 
in research on the Japanese syllabaries, survey existing methods, draft a set 
of mnemonic techniques, test them out systematically on a group of stu- 
dents, carefully record the results, and only then deliver a completed manu- 
script to the publishers. But neither did the idea occur to me on my own. 
The facts of the matter are a lot humbler: 1 wrote the book on a dare. 

A visiting professor who had studied my earlier volumes on Remember- 
ing the Kanji was having trouble remembering the hiragana and casually 
tossed the challenge at my feet one evening over a mug of beer: “Why 
hasn’t anybody figured out an easy way to learn the syllabary?’’ I didn’t 
know if anyone had or not, but the next morning I took a sheet of white 
paper and wrote in large bold letters: learn the hiragana in 3 hours. 1 
set the paper on the corner of my desk and resolved not to publish anything 
until 1 was satisfied I had grounds to justify its boast. From the very begin- 
ning I was aware that I was up to something outlandish. 

Fortunately, the chore turned out to be a lot easier than I had antici- 
pated, and the basic text was completed in a few days. Once you have 
finished the task yourself, I am confident you will see how really simple the 
idea behind it is. 

But enough of how this book was written. It is time to begin, following 
the instruction in the box below. 


Part One 


You should now be in the middle of Lesson i. If you are not, go at once to 
pages' and start from the beginning. 

The syllable a begins with a dagger, its "blade” bending to the right so 
as to flow into the next stroke. Below it a no-parking sign. (Note that 
when <0 is used as a “piece” of another hiragana, the cross-slash pro- 
trudes out the top slightly— a kind of “post” to hang the sign on.) 

The sound a calls to mind a playful little otter, swimming on his 
back in the middle of a pond whose banks are picketed on all sides by 
no-parking signs. On his tummy are a stack of daggers, which he is toss- 
ing one by one at the signs, clapping his paws with glee each time he 
hits a bull’s eye. 

* f fa 


on | father 

bos ano 

£>< aku 

blfos akeno 


J5 £ 

35 35 3s 



The roman letter i is drawn with two strokes, one main stroke and a 
dot to cap it off. So is the hiragana we are going to learn now. The 
first strokes of the two are almost identical. And just as, when you are 
writing quickly, the dot on your i often ends off over to the right, so is 
the second, shorter stroke of the hiragana always set to the right. 

When you practice writing the form, take a pencil and trace over 
the strokes as they are given below. Almost immediately you should 
“feel” the flow from the first stroke to the second. After practicing the 
form once or twice on blocked paper, test yourself on the examples 
that follow below. 

i O' 


graffiti I king 


— ► GO TO PAGE 8 


V' V' i\ 



First the pieces. The short first stroke we will take to be a puppy’s tail 
Below that is o, the incomplete 2 (pronounced, remember, tsu). 

As a word to identify this hiragana, let us think of two cities (one 
German, one Italian) beginning with sounds very close to the vowel 
sound u: Ulm & Udine. 

If you can remember to let the sound u suggest those cities, it is a 
short hop to the pun that will help you remember this hiragana: a tail 
of 2 (tsu) cities. 



Ulm | Udine 

^ "3 r> 

9 5 9 

«- 18 

— * GO TO PAGE 17 



The pieces for the syllable e are a tail, a chalk line, and the letter n. Let 
the sound suggest an ape. And what is our ape doing? He has drawn 
some chalk lines on the floor of his cage to make boxes like the ones 
you are using to practice your hiragana, and is using a puppy’s tail 
(attached to the puppy!) to practice brush painting the hiragana e. 






paint I neigh 




m -+ h' 



This hiragana is not as difficult as it might look, once you isolate the 
elements that make it up, fix them clearly in an image, and then, 
keeping that image in mind, let the tip of your pen flow with the nat- 
ural grace of its form. 

The vowel o will suggest to us the figure of Old Nick, the devil him- 
self. Unlike usual pictures of the devil, this Old Nick has not one but 2 
(tsu) tails, each with a sharp dagger at the end. Note how he lashes 
them about menacingly. 

* b & 


over | foe 

m n & 
as * a 


is A /ft 

<—21 — ► GO TO PAGE 58 




The ka of this hiragana provides the key word, car. It is really made of 
two pieces, one familiar and one new. The puppy dog’s tail, drawn 
last, you already know. The part drawn before that is no more than a 
fancy sort of dagger, its hilt is bent and lengthened like the hilt of a 
fencing sword. So you might think of two cars (preferably your own 
car and a neighbor’s) decked out in all the appropriate gear and hav- 
ing a fencing contest. 

0' t> 7) v 





Inca | calm 

tl n ft 

It & ft 


-* $ 


The only real difference between the first three strokes of this hira- 
gana and the dagger is the extra horizontal stroke. The reason is that 
what we have here is a long, heavy sword, which needs a sturdier hilt. 
Below it is the hairpin we just learned. The identifying word is, of 
course, a key. 

Putting it all together: a samurai is bringing his sword down (hence 
the slight angle at which it is drawn) on a key resting on a rock, to 
make a hairpin for his beloved. Be sure to pay attention to the great 
care and skill required for the feat, letting the image play freely for a 
minute in your mind. 

- - % 



key | lucky 

3 f £ 


3 = ^ 3 




* GO TO PAGE 55 



>K -* i. 


The shape of this next member of the hiragana family is formed 
exactly like the right side of the infamous computer-game character 
known as “Paduan.” If you think of the sound it makes munching up 
the dots on the screen as the cooing of a baby, you can actually see the 
word coo in the computer graphics: Whether you find it 

easier to think of the < as a squared off C or as the mouth of a baby 
Pacman gulping down little o' s, you shouldn’t have any trouble at all 
associating this simple shape with its pronunciation. 



cook | coup d’etat 

< c c 

< < < 

4-2 — > GO TO PAGE 29 



It | 5+ -» 

This hiragana is made up of two pieces. On the left, and drawn first, is 
a single slightly curved shape that looks like a cape you might hang on 
the back of a stick figure. (Draw one see for yourself.) 

To the right is a two-stroke shape that resembles a dagger with the 
hilt at the top and the blade below. 

The sound ke is close enough to the English word cape to get us 
going. Just twist the common phrase “cloak and dagger” into the 
image of a sinister cape-and-dagger figure and the work is done. 
When you draw the pieces, think of them as images, saying the words 
to yourself as you go along. 

t I* tt 


It I/' kei 

©It noke 

It A/ 1' ken’i 

cape | kangaroo 

CJ Vt t-V 
It » It 



a -*• z 

Try drawing a pair of rounded combs, the kind a woman might use 
to bind her hair into a bun. The first two strokes you would begin 
with (the frame, without the teeth) form the very shape that give us 
our next hiragana pronounced, conveniently enough, ko. 

Notice the slight hooking at the end of the first stroke. It is absent 
in “cleaner,” more modern stylizations of the hiragana and is not 
absolutely necessary. In any case, you will find that when you write 
the hiragana for ko, the little hook forms itself naturally as your pencil 
flows from the first stroke to the second. 


comb | rococo 

► GO TO PAGE 22 


£ * 


Beneath the familiar dagger is the lower half of the component for 
comb. Let us call it a hairpin to remember the similarity of form. The 
key word here is a sock, a particularly old and raunchy one that some 
lady of questionable taste has stuck in her hair using a dagger as a 
hairpin to hold it in place. 

** 3 

Note that in nearly all typogn 
together. The more you writ 
model above, the more you w 
rally blend into one another. 

iphical forms, the second and thi 
t the character according to the 
ill acquire a feel for how the two 

rd strokes run 
strokes natu- 


samurai | sock 


c* * <5 




<— 16 — > GO 




2 C 


The shape of this hiragana, obviously a fishhook, is as easy to remem- 
ber as its key word, sheep. To line the two together, picture yourself 
angling with a sheep dangling at the end of your fishhook instead of 
the customary worm. 


sheep | pushy 

shima L £ 

anshin b/u L/v 

sushi ■+■ L 

C L L 

L L L 

<—63 — ► GO TO PAGE 35 



t K ^ ~r 

The key word from the syllable su will be soup. Attached to the dagger 
is a little curl which is in fact a single piece of macaroni. (Note how it 
differs from the boomerang by curling downwards and to the left.) All 
that remains is to imagine yourself at a posh restaurant stabbing at 
the macaroni noodles in your soup with a stiletto. Look! You’ve got 
one on the end of your dagger ! 


soon | suit 

1 * *5 
V & ^ 



<- 24 





Se is for seance, a picture of which we will draw with the simple ele- 
ments that make up his hiragana. First we have two daggers, drawn so 
that their hilts share a common, horizontal line. The last line, extend- 
ing the blade of the second dagger, is the familiar chalk line. 

Putting it all together: you draw a chalk line circle on the ground 
and sit in the middle of it. With each hand you drive one of the dag- 
gers into the chalk line and keep a hold of it, thus joining you to the 
magic circle within which the spirits will reveal themselves. Or some 
such hocus pocus. The dagger to the left is already in the ground: the 
one on the right is just about to be plunged in. 

As we have seen before, the second stroke naturally “hooks” up 
towards the third, though not in some stylized forms of the hiragana. 

- ■£ 


say | wholesale 

arimasen £>*)£■£ A 

setsu -So 

sei -tirt' 

a v tt 
u v 



i -+ < 

[] so 

The pieces that make up the syllable so are 
ing cane, and the letter r. Taking sew as oui 
to picture yourself using a walking cane as a 
a long tail, and sewing the monogram r on- 

a puppy dog’s tail, a wa/k- 
• key word, you have only 
1 needle, threading it with 
—what else? — a r shirt. 

Note how the first 
faithful to the kai 

movement breaks into two strt 
■iji on which this hiragana is i 

ikes in some style of writing, 
based (see the frame at the 


sew | insole 

« * 

? * 


^ <*3 




•*- 19 

— * GO TO PAGE 37 



* -*• r. 


Before going on to the next paragraph, see if you can recognize the 
pieces of this hiragana on your own. We learned them back in Les- 
son i.... 

That’s right! On the left is the dagger and on the right the comb. 
The sound ta should suggest the word top to you easily enough. 
Imagine a top delicately balanced and spinning around on the point 
of a dagger you are holding in your hand. As the top spins, it spits out 
rounded combs like the kind we first pictured when we learned the 
hiragana ~ . The more vividly you “see” yourself ducking the combs 
flying at you, the easier this hiragana will be to remember. 

* t P tz 






tatami | top 

39 — * GO TO PAGE 11 


it, | £P -> C, CHI 

Let the identifying word here be cheese, probably the first word to 
come to your mind anyway very convenient for making a good, dear 
image out of already familiar pieces: the dagger and 2. All you need do 
is imagine yourself drawing out your razor sharp dagger from its 
sheath and slicing yourself a piece of cheese with 2 (tsu) swift slashes, 
like a cavalier, culinary Zorro. 


otb tsuchi 

<T> h nochi 

h/u chin 

<— 3 -* GO TO PAGE 39 

■* t *5 



In adapting foreign words to what is basically a sound-poor language, 
Japanese tries to get as close as it can. For example, the English word 
“two” ends up being pronounced tsu, the very hiragana we will learn 
now. Just our luck, the shape is exactly like an uncompleted Arabic 
numeral 2. 






tsunami | it’s Ulm 

O J 

•<—40 —►go to page 3 




Rather than a phonetic key word, we return to the procedure used at 
the very beginning and appeal to the alphabet — in this case, the letter 
t. Since you already have a pretty good “feel” by now for the way the 
hiragana forms flow when you write them, try drawing a capital t in 
two strokes, hiragana style, without lifting your pen off the paper. 
The form you will end up with is the one we are learning here. 

Observe that the vowel we use to pronounce the alphabetic letter t 
in English is different from the vowel in the syllable we are learning 






T ~l Z. 

Z -z z 

I 35 





Can you see the walking stick sticking out of the big toe in this form? 
Obviously the user is not very adept at walking with a cane yet! This 
hiragana should look like a doodle of someone jabbing a walking 
stick into his or her big toe. The only other thing you need to notice is 
that the toe points the opposite direction from the finger we met in 
the former hiragana. 

V £ 



Er. — * GO TO PAGE 4 

toast | toe 

t £ c 

t z £ 



& -► fc 


Clear your mind of everything before you begin this page. It is impor- 
tant that you form a very vivid image now to avoid confusion with 
the last hiragana we learned. 

Let the sound na suggest a door knocker, one of those eerie gothic 
figures fixed to the middle of a heavy, oaken front door on a haunted 
house. See the little tail hanging on it? Give it a tug and daggers start 
flying out — a far cry from your usual welcome mat! But you take 
your distance and take aim with your trusty boomerang, throwing it 
again and again until you manage to break the ghastly contraption. 

When you form your image and write the hiragana, you should try 
to follow the order of the pieces: dagger . . . tail . . . boomerang. 

t t" 


knock I not 

U «c 






<“ 38 

— ► GO TO PAGE 5 



On the right side you see the hiragana we just learned for C. . But here 
the combs are out of the hair and glued firmly on to your kneecaps, 
one on each side, so that when you put your legs together, the teeth of 
the combs interlock and you have a devil of a time getting your legs 
apart. Now imagine pulling your cape around from the back and 
holding it between your legs to keep the combs from linking. 

Close your eyes for a few seconds and let the image take shape, 
focusing first on the kneecaps and then on its composite pieces, the 
two combs and the cloak. Now open your eyes and look at the hira- 
gana. You should be able to “see” the image before you. The next 
time you hear the sound ni, the whole ludicrous scene should come 
back to life for you. 

i r 




c c 12 

IZ Iw 12 

«— 10 — ► GO TO PAGE 53 


->■ ^ 


This character will take about as long to learn as it takes you to read 
this short paragraph. The maypole has a nude statue spinning around 
on it, tossing boomerangs at passersby in the park. The nude supplies 
the key word for the syllable mi. 


nuclear | annuity 

* <6 % 

<& to 

<“ 34 





Imagine yourself at a tedious academic convention where, to fight off 
boredom, you and a few colleagues have folded your nametags (the 
ne sound) into boomerangs in order to coax a swarm of wasps down 
from their nest in the rafters — and perhaps put a little life into the 


nay | neighbor 

fe +3 te 

U te te 




The internationally recognized sign for no is a circle with a slash run- 
ning through it: 0 . The easiest way to draw it with a single stroke is 
to begin in the upper right, draw the slash, and then bring the circle 
around. The only other thing you have to remember is that there is 
no closing the circle. 

When this hiragana appears as a part of another hiragana (with 
only a slight alteration of shape), we will take it to mean a no parking 
sign. An example follows later in this lesson. 

''•CD heno 

CD A, CD nonno 

<cd kuno 


d% <T) G) 

0) (O (J) 


1 1 

The key word for the sound ha will be the children’s game of hop- 
scotch. The first part of the character looks exactly like the cape and 
dagger we already met. The tiny loop at the end is a boomerang, 
shown here “looping” its way back to the one who threw it. 

Instead of playing hopscotch with stones or bottle caps, imagine 
the sinister cape-and-dagger figure using tiny boomerangs for tokens 
and how difficult it is to get them to land on the squares because they 
keep looping back to him! As you trace through the lines of the shape, 
say to yourself “ cape . . . dagger . . . boomerang,” and the image and 
shape will fix themselves together in memory quite easily. 

( !- U 


shop | harlot 

hanko 14 K/Z. 

hara 14 h 

haiku 14V'< 

I? \t car 
B « u 

► GO TO PAGE 30 



The key word for this hiragana, heel, is nothing more than a doodle 
of a pair of handlebars (drawn into that shape by putting two X back 
to back). Instead of wearing spurs on the heels of one’s boots, would 
it not be more fitting for modern men and women to wear little 
motorcycle handlebars that snap on the back of the heels just the way 
the spurs used to for the cowboys? 


t> t> himo 

CM'# hiiki 

OiHh himawari 

<—65 — ► go to page 36 

heap | she 

Xt V D- 
U t> O 


The key word, fool, characterizes someone asked to show how many 
puppy tails there are. He answers 2 (tsu), because he doesn’t notice the 
third one on top of his head. 

Think of the piece for 2 as “flowing over” into the second tail so 
that you are not tempted to let it swoop downwards (as in the hira- 
gana o ). The curves of the final two tails also flow naturally from the 
order of strokes. 

> > > 

> ^ 

Resist the temptation to learn this hiragana after the simpler model of the 
typeset character, even if that form seems closer to what you end up with 
when you write quickly. 


funsui -S'X/i'V' 

sofu -t-S* 

hifu O' -S' 

32 “+ GO TO PAGE 45 

fool I food 





Not forgetting what was said in the Introduction about the vowels 
generally being shorter in Japanese than they are in English, you can 
think of this next hiragana as a small haystack, which it rather resem- 
bles and which, happily, also provides a link with the sound. 


hay | jhame 

HO {£ -» 

ii 15 

The key word hoe, a nearly perfect homonym for our next hiragana, 
is composed of hopscotch (which we just learned) with an extra hori- 
zontal line at the top. The added line represents in fact the chalk lines 
on the hopscotch court. 

Only the game is played slightly differently here. You stand with 
your two feet on a hoe and try to jump not between the chalk lines but 
right on them, hopping about as if on a pogo stick, trying to land on 
the chalk lines and kick up the white dust to prove you succeeded. 

i r 


hori lit) 

hon liA/ 

aho ifcli 

hoe | hoary 

® 15 a 
IS ‘S 15 

<—26 — > GO TO PAGE 31 




The key word is almost too obvious to mention: mama. The dements 
that make it up are no less obvious. They combine the sword and the 
boomerang. The image is not hard, provided you have a distinct pic- 
ture of mama in mind: She is standing in an open field throwing 
large, heavy swords that are bent like boomerangs so that they fly back 
to her. Watch her ducking to avoid getting hit by the things as they 
whizz by. 


mama | motley 

f i ^ 
^ S 


A/M A/ 



<—30 — ► go to page 38 


MI |H -> 1 

The syllable mi easily enough suggests the word meat for an identify- 
ing key word. If you look closely at the shape of this hiragana, you 
will notice that it begins with the 7 dwarfs, who are throwing boom- 
erangs at kangaroos, and then carving them up for steaks with their 
dwarfish little daggers. 




fo * A 




Our key word will be moon, the bright, full moon glistening in the 
autumn sky — just the right time for a witch’s brew. Under the 
moon’s light, you are boiling a large kettle of soup into which you 
are tossing puppy tails and hairpins. You will have to let this image 
“stew” in your mind a while so that the soup’s ingredients take on 
unforgettable qualities. 

The first stroke of soup is shortened because it has to compete with 
other pieces for the available space. The curl at the end turns right, of 
course, because it has to blend into the element for hairpin. 

* t 1’ 


moon | samurai 

tr*) muri 

tfo mutsu 

—tf komu 

£ £ 




The hiragana corresponding to the sound me will have as as its key 
word maypole. And a rather unusual maypole it is. Lacking one of 
their own, the neighborhood kids have stolen a no-parking sign and 
strung up a ball on it. To avoid getting in trouble for their prank, they 
have draped an old cape around the no-parking sign to hide it. 



may | inmate 

ft & &) 

4— 6l — > GO TO PAGE 23 


^ -*> t 


Let the key word here be mow, and the image that of a mighty sword 
covered with hundreds of tiny fishhooks, which you are using to mow 
the weeds on the bottom of your pond — and maybe and catch your- 
self a few fish in the process. 

t) t) * 


><D kimono 

felt h mohan 


mow | remorse 


t ^ ^ 

<—12 —►GO TO PAGE 19 



& -> ^ 

Let the key word for the syllable ya suggest to you your own backyard 
more specifically a flower bed or garden there. You are kneeling 
down on the ground, planting puppy tails in the soil, pushing them 
down with your walking stick until they are all the same height, 
exactly one index finger long. 

Note how the short vertical stroke we used in the hiragana for yu to 
begin the form for finger is left out here because it would overlap 
with the walking stick. 

When you draw this character, rephrase the image verbally by put- 
ting the pieces in order: finger ... tail. . . walking stick. 






yacht | cognac 

* * 

| <— 27 ~ > GO TO PAGE 14 



a -> ^ yu 

Think of the famous u.s. Army poster that reads “Uncle Sam Wants 
you” when you hear the syllable yu. Now focus on the finger pointing 
in your direction and note how the first stroke of this hiragana is a 
picture of an index finger (a little stubby, I admit) with the lead-in 
stroke representing the thumb. The final curved line you might think 
of as a string tied around the finger reminding Uncle Sam not to for- 
get that it is you he wants. Note how the string flows in naturally 
from the previous stroke, winding itself around the finger. 

40 Vfi 


cure | fury 




V/7 \t> 

IJ) f p 

«- 15 

— ► GO TO PAGE 20 




The first English word that comes to my mind (and I hope to yours) 
when I hear the sound yo is yolk. The pieces we have to work with 
here are a puppy dog's tail and a very, very long boomerang (the full 
vertical stroke is part of it). 

To fit these two pieces together, imagine a boomerang with one 
wing considerably longer than the other and a hole drilled in the 
middle. You stick the puppy dog’s tail through this hole and tie a knot 
in it so that it doesn’t slip out. You throw the whole contraption into 
the sky, while a group of people standing around throw egg yolks at 
the hapless creature. 

You can “read” the image like this to get the order of the strokes 
correct: people tossing yolks at puppies flying overhead, their tails 
strung through long boomerangs. 

* Jc 






yolk | mayonnaise 

* £ & 
& Jt j; 



& -► & 


The sound of this hiragana immediately suggests the cheering of a 
crowd: rah rah rah. The only new piece is the short vertical stroke 
drawn second. We’U call it just what it looks like: a 1. 

Now all you have to do is imagine a mascot puppy leading the 
cheers by wagging its tail, left and right, while the grandstands echo 
with the refrain: “1-2 (tsu), rah rah rah. 1-2 (tsu), rah rah rah.” 

l b 

rocker | rah 

4 => *=> 




To begin with, let the sound ri suggest the figure of the Grim Reaper, 
the ominous cloaked figure with a long sickle slung over his shoulder. 
The cloak you already know. The long stroke to the right is the sickle 
he uses to reap his morbid harvest. As you draw the hiragana, say to 
yourself: “See the Grim Reaper with his cloak and 1-o-n-g sickle.” 

i l } 

Typeset forms of this character often have the two strokes linked together, hut 
it is best to learn it according to the hand-drawn model above. It will help 
you get the proper “feel" for the natural flow of the hiragana in a way that 
more stylized variants may not. 

eerie | read 

riku 9< 

heri ^9 

nori <09 

«— 55 — > GO to page l8 

') l l (■) 

o 5 y 




The pieces that make up this hiragana should literally jumps out to 
your eye: row, row, row your boat and boomerang. The syllable ru will 
take roof as our key word. You rip the roof off a nearby doghouse, 
turn it upside down and, using a boomerang as your oar, row, row, 
row your boat ever so gently down the stream .... 


Z 2 ) 

& 5 3 

<— 43 — ► GO TO PAGE 44 




The pronunciation of tis hiragana suggests a race, and a most 
unusual race at that. Rather than compete to find a needle in a 
haystack, the contestants are looking for the 7 dwarves hiding in it. 
Watch the contestants as they come running out of the haystack, 
prize in hand. 

Note how the haystack naturally hunches upwards because there is 
not enough space for it to stretch out full length. 

•I H 

hore II tl 



44 — > go to page 24 

rail | crates 

H -\i 

11 *L 11 


Here we meet the longest key word in the book, for the shortest and 
simplest of images. If you have never had any trouble remembering 
that there are 3 row’s in “Row, row, row your boat...”, you won’t 
have any trouble here either, since the hiragana pronounced ro is 
written with a shape almost exactly the same as the numeral 3. 



rotund | petrol 




The next three hiragana we will learn combine two pieces, both of 
them new. The straight vertical line in the first stroke (which does not 
“bend” or “hook” to one side or the other, as the cape does) will be a 
walking stick. The figure 7 drawn next will stand for the 7 dwarfs. 

The syllabic sound wa suggests a wasp, which provides a useful 
image. As the unsuspecting 7 dwarfs hi-ho, hi-ho their way through 
the forest and up a mountainside, leaning on their walking sticks as 
they go, a gigantic wasp sweeps down and picks 2 ( tsu) of them up to 
carry off to its nest. The others start swinging their walking sticks at 
the overgrown insect, beating it furiously until it lets go of their 


awa i bt> 

wataru ;bfc 5 

t) t> 
*> I ) 




The last of the hiragana (followed in the dictionary order by the very 
first one we learned) is in some ways the “cutest” of the lot. It might 
also look to be the most difficult, but as you have surely learned by 
now, looks can be deceiving. The only strain, if you can call it that, 
will be to recall the key word: I’m wo.k., you’re wo.k. And the reason 
that we are both wo.k., as the pop psychologists tell us, is that we treat 
one another with plenty of t . l . c . (“tender loving care”). 

Think of the form as a “branding iron” forged into the letters t . l . c . 
Begin by drawing a t (crossbar first), let it run into an l (slightly 
drooping downwards in the direction of the drawing), and cross it 
finally with a c. Fire the iron good and hot and then picture yourself 
branding someone you know with it! 

~~ % 


how old | row over 

£ « £ 

j ■< — 2.8 — ► GO TO PAGE 47 



The first of the hiragana forms we shall learn is also the easiest. It is 
exactly like the cursive form of the roman letter n (k ), except for the 
longer stem. 

In romanized Japanese, whenever this hiragana is followed by a 
vowel, an apostrophe is added to avoid confusing it with na, ni, mu, 
ue, or no. We will see an example of this use of the apostrophe later in 
this first lesson. 


sing | kung-fu 

A, A h. 
fx A- /l 

+“53 ► GO TO PAGE 2 




A voiced mark, as its name suggests, indicates that a consonant is to 
be pronounced with the vocal chords vibrating. Think of its two 
short lines * as a doodle of the vocal chords. 

As shown on the tables on pages 68 and 69, when used with sounds 
in the ka row (ka, ki, ku, ke, ko), the consonant is read ga (giving us 
ga, gi, gu, ge, go). Similarly sa becomes za (and so forth), to becomes 
da, and ha becomes ba. You should be able to feel the voiced effect 
vibrating inside your throat. For all practical purposes C and ^are 
both pronounced the same (ji), just as and ^ are both pro- 
nounced zu. A number of examples are given below. 

zange 5" A/ if dobu if-S* 

zen -tfA giji 

zoku •?< gobi 

mabo SIS guzu <*"!* 

debeso X^^t daba fc'ff 

tsuzuku o*5< 

The two lines of the voiced mark are always written last, after the unvoiced 
hiragana has been completely drawn. 

4-45 -+ GO TO PAGE 48 




A plosive mark indicates a consonant that “explodes” on the lips with 
a “pop.” Which is probably why it is shaped like a pop-bottle cap. 
There are only five hiragana that use the plosive mark, all from the 
same hiragana row; ha, hi, hu, he, and ho, which become pa, pi, pu, 
pe, and po respectively (see the table on page 69). Examples follow. 


enpitsu x.A/0^0 

senpu •fir/vAJ 


pokari ISA 11 ? 




® The pronunciation of the hiragana in question, in standard roman- 
ized form. 

® The hiragana character itself. 

The placing of the elements will aid you later in reviewing. By opening 
the book part way, you can page through and see only the romanized form, 
leaving the actual hiragana hidden from view. 

® The original Chinese character (or kanji) from which the hiragana in 
question is derived. 

© The same kanji written in calligraphic form to show more clearly 
how it came to its present-day hiragana form. 

You should not attempt to memorize the information in this frame now, 
though at a more advanced level you may find it interesting and helpful for 
learning the pronunciation of the original kanji. 

<2 An explanation of how to remember the hiragana. 

© Instructions on how to write the hiragana form, stroke by stroke, just 
as Japanese children do when they are first learning to write. 

© From time to time a supplementary note, set in italic type, is added 
with information regarding the writing or pronunciation of a partic- 
ular hiragana form. 

® Familiar words are given as pronunciation samples, since the 
romanized forms of the hiragana often suggest sounds in English dif- 
ferent from those assigned to the hiragana. If you studied Latin, or 
know a romance language already, these examples will be largely 

® This frame contains 6 examples of stylized typefaces, intended to 
show the flexibility permitted in writing particular hiragana. You 
should not attempt to imitate these; it is enough that you take a 
moment to recognize them. 

® ® Sample words in which the hiragana being studied appears. The 
examples use only hiragana that have been learned up to that 
point, which means you should be able to identify them all — as 
well as reproduce them all from their romanization. You should 
not skip any of the examples, though there is no need to bother 
learning what the words actually mean in Japanese. 


© The page to proceed to after finishing this page. 

© The page from which you have just come. 

At this point, if you haven’t already done so, secure several sheets of 
blocked paper with blocks at least t cm. (1/2 in.) square. You can find them 
at any stationery store. This will help you keep the shape of your hiragana in 
proper balance much better than practicing on blank or simple lined paper 

One more thing. Take a look at the clock and make a note of the time. In 
less than 30 minutes from now you will be asked to record the time you 
have spent on these first 9 hiragana in the box provided below. 


Congratulations! You have just learned 9 of the 46 hiragana, and probably 
spent less than 30 minutes doing so. 

Just above you will see a small box marked Time: lesson 1. Record there 
how long it took you to complete this first lesson. We will do this at the end 
of each lesson. 

A word about reviewing. If you took your time with each hiragana as you 
came to it, if you practiced writing it several times, repeating the explana- 
tion to yourself as you went, and if you tested yourself on all the sample 
words, there should be no need to retrace your steps. If you do get stuck, 
turn to the Alphabetic list on page 70, locate the problem hiragana, and 
go through the page all over again, top to bottom. Whatever you do, do not 
waste your time writing any of the hiragana over and over again. 

In case you are wondering whether learning to write the hiragana will 
also mean that you know how to read them, 1 can assure you that it will. Let 


me show you how easy it is. Try reading aloud the following six words: 

<l£ z<o 

All the sounds we have learned so far are contained in these words. Once 
again, do not worry that you don’t know what they mean; the only thing we 
are after here is learning the syllabary. 

If you were planning on heading right into Lesson 2, change your plans 
and take a break now for at least 30 minutes. Go out for a walk or stretch 
out on the sofa. Your mind has been watching images fly around like shut- 
tlecocks and should be a bit dizzy just now. 



Lesson 2 

Now that you are refreshed, we are ready for Lesson 2 . Just to flex 
your muscles a bit, write the hiragana for the following words 
iken noku 

inko ahen 

kuni kono 

The answers, if you didn’t catch on, are on the top of the previous page. But 
let us not linger on what you do know; it is time we were back concentrating 
on what you do not. 

This lesson will take 8 hiragana, including some of those most easily 
mixed up by the beginner because of similarity of form. As we shall see, 
careful attention to the pieces out of which they are constructed will spare 
you the confusion. 

Check your clock and let’s away. . . . 

— ► GO TO PAGE 40 


That’s it for the 8 hiragana of Lesson 2. Record your time in the box above 
and get ready for another break. But first a bonus for making it this far. 

In the General introduction mention was made of the fact that the 
hiragana are laid out in this book in their “dictionary order." Since this is 


not the best order for learning them, you are having to hop around from 
place to place. Eventually you will need to memorize the dictionary order so 
that you can look words up quickly in Japanese dictionaries. To help, I am 
going to set the order to a little ditty that should make it just about as easy as 
it can get. 

The first schooling most of us got with butchering French pronunciation 
came with a song called “Frfcre Jacques,” which goes like this: 

Frire Jacques, 

Frere Jacques, 

Dormez-vous ? Dormez-vous? 
Sonnes les marines, 

Sonnes les malines, 

Din, din, don. Din, din, don. 

Are you sleeping. 

Are you sleeping. 

Brother John, Brother John? 
Morning bells are ringing, 
Morning bells are ringing. 

Ding dong ding. Ding dong ding. 

Let’s take the first line and change the words to the following four syllables 

Just the first line for now. Let those four syllables resound inside your head 
for the rest of the day to the tunc of“Frere Jacques." Whenever you’ve got a 
spare moment, sing them to yourself. In later lessons we will learn the rest 
of the jingle and also find out what it all means. Right now you don’t have 
enough hiragana under your belt to make the explanation stick. 




Lesson 3 

Here we are over, one-third of the way through the hiragana, and 
you are probably well ahead of schedule. Just to make sure that you are 
going at it properly and not getting ahead of yourself, let’s take a minute to 
lay out the principles behind the learning you have been up to so far. 

Actually, you have been guided through a series of four stages, which can 
be summarized as follows: 

1. The roman pronunciation of the hiragana is associated either with its 
alphabetic equivalent or with a word closely related to it in sound and 
preferably with a dear and concrete meaning. 

2. This word associated with the hiragana by sound, which we will refer 
to from now on as the “key word,” is linked to an image that is con- 
nected either to the shape of an alphabetic letter or to a picture associ- 
ated with the key word. 

3. If the image is composed of pieces, those pieces are highlighted by 
focusing the imagination on them within the total picture. 

4. The hiragana is drawn, reconstructing the complete image and repeat- 
ing to yourself the “meaning” of the pieces as you go. 

Everyone’s mind works differently, but one thing is the same: even when 
your mental powers are running as efficiently as they can, your mind will 
occasionally trip over its own feet and trick you into thinking you know 
something that in fact you do not. The lessons have been kept short to min- 
imize the effects of a loss of concentration. But even so, there may be partic- 
ular hiragana you have trouble with. Have a good look at them to see which 
of the four stages your mind tends to ride roughshod over. Then pay it 
more attention in the future. 

There is no point retracing our steps, but just to make sure you have the 
idea, see if you can identify the key words (stage 1) for the following hira- 
gana syllables: 

You shouldn’t have any trouble here, but just in case you do, turn to the 
Alphabetic list op the kana on page 70 to find the location of the sylla- 
ble and refresh what you learned there. While you are at it, you might mark 
off those already learned. In fact, if you haven’t be doing it already, you 
might also mark the pages that you have already worked through. That way, 
if you decide to test yourself, it will be easier to identify what you should be 

We will focus on the other three stages in subsequent lessons, but try to 
be more conscious of them at work as you study the hiragana of this lesson. 

Have a look at the clock, mark down the time, and let us be off. .. . 


Time: lesson 3 

And so it goes with Lesson 3. Don’t forget to record your time above. 

No lesson will be as hard as this has been. From here on, it’s all downhill, 
so keep to your schedule and don’t let up on your concentration. The les- 
sons are short enough as it is, but you can’t afford to get in too much of a 
rush and skip over any of the 4 stages we explained on the previous page. 

How have you been doing with our little ditty? Can you still recall the 
first line? You had better, because now it’s time for a second line. 

Try singing both lines, one after the other, until you have the words and 
melody fixed in your mind. Then just croon away at it during the day and 


once more before you fall asleep. In the morning you should find yourself 
waking up to it, and then we will be ready for the final line. 

Meanwhile, it’s time for another breather. If you decide you cannot stop 
yourself from reviewing (and if you took the advice about marking off the 
pages already learned), you might try opening the book just enough to see 
the romanized reading and see if you can write the hiragana learned so far. 


Lesson 4 

In the previous lesson we gave particular attention to the first 
stage of isolating the key word derived from the phonetic value of the hira- 
gana. This stage is managed by mere word association, and every effort has 
been made to insure that it goes effortlessly. In the 9 hiragana of this lesson 
we focus on the way we have been using the image, a slightly more difficult 

The importance of a clear image cannot be stressed enough. If you have 
trouble, try verbalizing the image, describing it slowly to yourself so that it 
has time to form in your mind’s eye. If you take a moment to reconsider 
hiragana you had trouble with, you will probably find a vague or badly 
formed image to be the source of the problem. Associating it with memo- 
ries of particular people, places, animals, and so forth — the first thing that 
comes to your mind is usually the best — will often help to get you going. 

Even in the case of a hiragana whose explanation flows so smoothly that 
you don’t see the need to isolate the stages, you should take at least a quick 
glance back over your shoulder before turning the page from one hiragana 
to the next and ask yourself, “What was the keyword of that last hiragana? 
And how did 1 get from there to my image?” 

If you have time now, you might even run through the hiragana you 
know to test it out. (Use the Alphabetic list on page 70 if you took the 
time in Lesson 3 to mark off the hiragana already learned.) 

If you are in a hurry to get on with Lesson 4, then at least take a moment 
for a quick test. See if you can conjure up the keyword and then the image 
for the following syllables: 

yo i ma 

It is time we are on our way again. Have a look at the clock, and dig in 
your heels for what many consider to be the most difficult of all the hira- 
gana. You will be surprised how a little thoughtful organization on my part. 


and an extra moment spent making a clear and vivid mental image on 
yours, can help you breeze through them in no time at all. 

— ► GO TO PAGE 34 

Time: lesson 4 

Seventy percent of the journey is over, and you have good reason to 
rejoice. Mark down your time in the box above and take a good long break 
this time. You might even wait until tomorrow to do another lesson just so 
you don’t glide too fast downhill through the remaining hiragana and for- 
get to pay attention to how you are learning, which is almost as important as 
what you are learning. 

To keep you company, here’s the third line of the “Frire Jacques” song 
we have been playing with: 

Until later.... 


Lesson 5 

The hiragana in this lesson are none of them very difficult, but 
they all require a clear mental image (stage 2 which we reviewed in the pre- 
vious lesson). This time, let us concentrate on the role of stage 3: 

Focus on those parts of the image that represent parts of the completed form. 
This sounds so simple that you might have been tempted to overlook it. But 
there is more than meets the eye. 

When you form your first image, your mind will generally be ruled by 
mere word association with the image running on and off the set like a prop 
man. The idea is to drag the image to center stage, turn the spotlight on it, 
and watch what it does when left on its own. You “coach” it along by focus- 
ing on the critical parts (those associated with the written strokes), and then 
patiently wait, eyes closed, until the little magic lantern in your imagination 
starts spinning and something odd, ridiculous, disgusting, arousing, or oth- 
erwise memorable happens. Only then have words turned to image, and to 
an image you can trust as a mnemonic. This is the crucial step in the process 
you are learning here, so be sure and watch it at work. 

As a test, try the following brief list, asking yourself what it was that made 
the image and its critical parts particularly memorable for you when you 

ta yo 

su ki 

There is no need to worry that so many of the same pieces keep turning up 
again and again. This is done deliberately to eliminate, or at least reduce as 
far as possible, the work of brute memory and let you concentrate on imag- 
inative memory. 

In other words, rather than clutter your memory with too many 
“pieces,” I am asking you to flex your creative muscles to build up a large 
number of images out of a few simple pieces. 


Well, that’s enough about the theory. It’s time to get back to the practice. 
Take note of the time and carry on with Lesson 5. 

If you followed my advice, you probably found this lesson something of a 
strain. But don’t let up. There is only one more lesson, and it, too, demands 
the same attention. First, mark down the time in the box above. 

By now you should know the entire “Hiragana Song.” Let us just add a 
conventional ending so as not to leave the melody hanging in the air: 

Now 1 know my kana! Now 1 know my kana! 

Ding, dong, ding. Ding, dong, ding. 

It is time we clarified what this all means. The Japanese syllabary follows 
an order quite different from our typical Western alphabets. Think of the 
sounds as lined up in two directions. Turn to the Table of thf. kana on 
page 68, and you will see what I mean. 

Vertically the syllables are lined up according to the five vowel sounds 
that, either on their own or in combination with a consonant, gives the 
Japanese language its basic phonetic units (the solitary consonant h being 
the only exception). They follow the sequence $>V '-5^.43, as in the column 
on the far left. There is no need to work up a mnemonic for that sequence; 
everyone I know learns it in a few seconds. 

Horizontally, the syllables follow the order we learned in our little song. 
Thus a dictionary will first list words beginning with $> V ' 5 x. fc , and then 


pass on to words starting with 5, <, It, and C. . This sequence is followed 

by It, *>, -o..., and so forth and so on. Now perhaps you see why it is 
important to master the order of the 11 syllables we learned in our little 
song. Without it, you will waste a lot of time fumbling hit-and-miss around 
Japanese dictionaries. 

Enough for now. Time for a good rest to prepare yourself for the final 


Lesson 6 

With this lesson you come to the end of your study. A mere 7 
hiragana and 2 diacritical marks separate you from your goal of knowing 
how to read and write the Japanese syllabary. 

I have deliberately left for this final lesson those hiragana that you might 
call “exceptions," in the sense that they entail slight distortions of familiar 
pieces. Meeting them here at this late stage, at least you can console yourself 
with the thought that there will not be any more of them. 

— > GO TO PA GE 27 | 

Time: lesson 6 

The course is run. Mark down your time in the box above, and take a 
minute now to add up the time in all the boxes to find out how much time 
you spent learning the 5> 1 s ft . Record it in the box below. Someday you 
may want to persuade someone else to learn them the same way you did, 
and your record will speak for itself. The main thing, as you have no doubt 


realized by now, is that being conscious of the clock helped you to break the 
task up into digestible pieces and probably gave you some added encour- 
agement along the way. 

There are no more written shapes to memorize. You are finished with all 
that. There are only three more things you need to know about the hira- 
gana, some of them already touched on in the course of the previous les- 
sons, and all of them better learned by actual use of the hiragana than by 
brute memory of any “rules”: (l) the composition of diphthongs, (2) the 
transcription of long vowels, and (3) the doubling of consonants. Let us 
look at them, briefly, one by one. 

1. Regarding the diphthongs, a table has been prepared on page 69 show- 
ing all the possible diphthongs that can be made with the hiragana 
(and katakana). The second vowel of the diphthong is written in a 
smaller form and set at the baseline of the primary vowel. 

2. Long vowels — that is, vowels that are held twice as long as normal — 
are indicated by adding a ') after hiragana ending in an 0 or u sound, as 
in the words £ 0 , C>Pv¥'j and Their transcription in the 
roman alphabet is indicated by a macron set over the lenghtened 
vowel. Thus the three words above would be written: Tokyo, judo and 

3. Finally, a consonant is “doubled” much the same way that a vowel is 
lengthened, namely, by doubling the time given to it. Whereas a vowel 
can naturally be prolonged, doubling a consontant requires a glottal 
stop. This is indicated by the inclusion of a small -0 before the conso- 
nant to be doubled, as in the following examples: -t (mono) \ 
!3 oAH'if 9 (Hokkaido) | fe-oSh (assari). Only hiragana beginning 
with the consonants k, s, I, g, z, d, b and p can be doubled this way. 

Even if you are confident that you have learned the you want to 

be sure that they stay learned until they have become a permanent habit — 
as “second nature” to you as the alphabet is. 

To begin with, you should sweep out of your mind any lingering doubts 
that the achievement is beyond your reach. If you have followed this little 
book faithfully, you are already well on your way to the same fluency that 
the Japanese themselves have. 

Next, write the as often as you can. Two things will happen the 

more you write. First, you will get faster at writing and not have to stop to 


think about how individual hiragana are constructed. Secondly, your writ- 
ing will start to take on its own character, which can also mean some bad 
habits. When you feel this happening, it is best to seek the guidance of 
someone with a more cultivated hand who can point out what your writing 
lacks in grace and elegance. 

My parting advice, or rather stern admonition, is, therefore, this: Never 
again write so much as a single Japanese word with roman letters unless you 
are doing it for someone who does not read X> b i)' f£ . Since you no longer 
belong to that group, you should have no more occasion to use roman let- 
ters for Japanese words than the average Japanese does. You might save 
yourself a few moments now and again if you jot down a note in the roman 
alphabet, but the inevitable cumulative effect of these apparently trivial 
“exceptions” is to forfeit the ability, already within your reach, to write with 
native fluency. Take the warning to heart and 1 guarantee you will never 
regret it — not for a minute! 






(Hill III 





Helmut Morsbach Kazue Kurebayashi James W. Heisig 

Remembering the Kana 

A guide to reading and writing the 
Japanese syllabaries in j hours each 

Part Two 


James W. Heisig 
Helmut Morsbach 
Kazue Kurebayashi 


Introduction to the katakana v 

Katakana 1 

Lesson i 53 

Lesson 2 57 

Lesson 3 59 

Lesson 5 63 

Lesson 6 65 

Afterword 67 

Alphabetic list of the kana 69 

Table of diphthongs 70 

Part Two 




W\ fa 

You should now be in the middle of Lesson 3. If you are not, go at once to 
page 53 and start with Lesson 1. 

The only difference between ma and a in the katakana is in the final 
stroke, which stretches out into a long arm. In fact, if you look at it, it 
has a pictographic quality of an arm bent at the elbow with a long 
sleeve dangling from it — presumably of a young maiden’s kimono. 





T 7 ? 

The letter i, the romanized equivalent of this katakana’s sound also 
helps us learn how to write it. The only thing you need to remember 
is that the “dot” at the top is lengthened into a short stroke, since the 
katakana themselves do not use dots. The rest is the same. 



aisukurlmu 7 -f * 9 V — M. 

A < < 

A t A 


o l~ffT 5 

The only difference between the katakana pronounced u and the 
chawan that we just learned is the small downward stroke at the top. 
If you can imagine some foul substance oozing from the ceiling, drop 
by drop, into your chawan-plink! plop!-this katakana should come 
alive for you and you will have no trouble putting the pieces together: 
ooze = chawan + a drop of something from above. 

rt 1^7 <*? 

O o ***- 






Let the sound e stand for the air that fills the space between heaven 
and earth (the two horizontal strokes). The filling of the space is indi- 
cated by the single vertical line. 

T X 

erebsta y— 

eakon x7ay 

air conditioner] 

X X J_ 




X [§J & 

The only thing that distinguishes the sound ho from o is that the aspi- 
rant or “h” sound is absent. The katakana reflects this by dropping 
the final stroke. For this reason, * and should be learned together 

as a couplet 

- t * 

X * A 

7t * 7f 







fla i fr 1 tj 

The only real difference between the katakana and hiragana forms of 
the sound ka is that the katakana again "simplifies” things by drop- 
ping off the added stroke to the right. If you stop to think of it, this is 
really the easiest way to do it! 

7 tl 



f> *> t) 

ti to f) 

<—29 ~ ► GO TO PAGE 7 



* L*' t 

The katakana simplification of the hiragana pronounced ki lacks the 
last stroke — exactly the same as the form for ka that we just learned. 


* * * 
* V 



X\ < 


Take a moment to associate in your mind’s ear the sound ku with the 
word scoop. Then you can associate this katakana in your mind’s eye 
with the image of an ice-cream scoop (the flat kind that create slight 
rounded slabs— rather like the first stroke) dropping vanilla ice 
cream into your bowl of rice. 

' 9 

9 ? O 

l PAGE 16 j 




The only difference between the katakana pronounced ke and the one 
we just learned for te is that the first stroke is taken from the top, and 
set vertically on the far left. Think of the top of the postbox being 
opened all the way up so that it can “take the cake” that you aunt has 
mailed you for your birthday. 

•! /** 

| It 

*T t >T 

>7 'T T 

e- keki 





KO 3 

- 1 I] 

To learn this katakana form, first draw the hiragana form once and 
note the same cursive flow from the first to the second stroke that we 
saw in the case of 9. Here the cursive form is changed to block form 
by the addition of another stroke (making a “corner,” if you will). 


cOchi =>— -f 

RikO l/=>- 


n n 

n n 

o n 

! <— 59 -»GOTOPAGEl8 



+t | it | £ 

Think here of the story of King Solomon and the two feuding moth- 
ers for the sound of the katakana sa. The first stroke is King’s arm, 
which is holding out a little infant (the second stroke) and threaten- 
ing to cut it in half, the final stroke is wise old King Solomon himself. 
1 1 should not take much work to see the story in the simple doodle for 

— ■*- -tf 

n n n 
v v- y 

salaried man 




Here is another example of the way the cursive form needs a “dotted 
line” effect for the transition from the hiragana to the katakana. It is 
formed virtually the same as V, the only different being the position 
and direction of the form. Learn it as you did that katakana for tsu. 

'' '> 



P eji 

£/ v 

> > is 

«— 18 — > GO TO PAGE 46 



Keeping our bowl of food in mind from the katakana we learned on 
the previous page, let the sound su suggest a bowl of soup. The small 
stroke that drops down from the right will be the handle on the side 
you pick the bowl up with. A little stylized, perhaps, but definitely a 

STI t 

7 7 

a 7 

A ^ 

<-28 -* goto: 




ta. v\ -tz 

The second stroke of the hiragana pronounced se is dropped here to 
give the simplified katakana form. Only note carefully how the writ- 
ing differs, and in particular why the “hook” runs down here and up 
in the hiragana form. 




* ir t> 
\> t? 



As with 3r and #, the katakana for so simply drops the final stroke of 
the hiragana form. 


v V v 


y y \y — ^ 

<- 7 ->• GO TO PAGE 14 



0 ft 1 ^ 

The scoop of ice-cream (which is still very much visible in this kata- 
kana form if you look at it) here has a little towel stuck to the side. 
You know, the kind you get at Japanese restaurants or on airplanes. 
The purpose of the towel? Why, to wipe that ce-cream off your face. 


9 9 




si 9 

iji-v ^ * 1 

«- 8 -+ GO TO PAGE 44 


5 1 *> I chi 

The Japanese word for 1,000 (which appears in the name of Chiba 
Prefecture, meaning “t,ooo leaves," and the great sumO wrestler, 
ChiyonofQji) gives us the katakana of the same pronunciation. 

^ * 

* 7 =F 
7 ) 


TSU |l| O 

] V 

The hiragana form for tsu is a single flowing stroke. Try to break it up 
and you will get the “broken” line effect of the first two strokes here, 
so that the final stroke can be straightened out. Draw it a half dozen 
times thinking of the hiragana shape as you do so and the transition 
should be clear. 


"/ ‘Vl 

tsuna S'-f 

natsu tbs' 

V 'V V 

<-10 -*■ GO TO PAGE 12 


31 x 

The katakana pronounced le has been adopted throughout Japan as a 
symbol for a post office and to mark postal codes on letters within the 
country (t ). If you can imagine little vertical lines drawn on both 
sides to join the two horizontal lines, you will have a perfect picto- 
graph of a u.s. rural postbox. Note, however, that the final stroke of 
the katakana form swings leftwards, whereas the postal symbol goes 
straight up and down. And the reason the poxtbox is bent is that it is 
reaching out to take the post. 



It t 


The sound of this katakana suggests the image of a tow-rope (the sec- 
ond, horizontal stroke) pulling something or other (the first, vertical 
stroke). Doodle with the form a little and you should be able to see 
the image in no time at all. 

•I h 





b I' I' 

h k h 

;e 27 j 




The katakana form pronounced na differs from its hiragana equiva- 
lent in that it lacks the final 2 strokes. To compensate, the position of 
the first two strokes is moved down and to the center. Here, again, set 
the two forms side by side and the transition from one to the other 
will be apparent. 

- t 

+ i- -h 

) f )- 



Fortunately, the katakana read ni is written exactly like the kanji for 
the number 2, also pronounced ni. Here again, the only difference is 
that the katakana has eliminated all trace of the brush to give it its 
block form. 




The bowl here turns out to be a bowl of noodles, from the sound mi. 
The final stroke is in fact a single noodle that has slipped out and is 
dangling from the side of the bowl, as noodles are wont to do. 


7 -% 

a ? 9 

-fc—* SSnu 

3 V (River) Seine 

^ ^ *5t- kanu 



Jl l te ^ 

This may appear to be the most difficult of all of the katakana to 
learn, but apply a simple trick and it becomes one of the easiest. Let 
l lie sound tie suggest a naval disaster. First you draw the captain 
I si rokc i ) standing on the brow of his ship (stroke 2), and then you 
add 1 lie underwater reef (stroke 3) on whose rocks and crags the ship 
r. about to start breaking into pieces (stroke 4). Draw the katakana 
an ike by stroke repeating the image to yourself as you go. 

" * ^ ^ 





' 1 ^ 




The katakana for no is derived from the first stroke of the hiragana 
form. You can also think of it as a single slash, just like the slash 
across signs indicating No Smoking or No Parking, or No U-Turn. 


B_ (D 

J / / 

j •> ; 




<-35 -* < 3 ° TO PAGE 34 




The sound ha is the first syllable of hachi, the Japanese word for 8. It 
is written exactly the same as the kanji for 8, only in squared form. 

A 1 it 

-/ / A 






t\ /' /N 

A i\ 




The heel of a shoe should be visible here without much effort. If you 
need to help, draw a long horizontal line across the top and a short 
vertical line to join the two short horizontal lines below. The rest of 
the shoe will fill itself in your imagination automatically. 

Once again, look at the katakana form itself now and see if you can 
find the heel. When you are confident that you have the image, draw 
the katakana once with it in mind. 

^ t 


K t (; 


koffie (coffee) 

2 7 



Let the sound fu suggest to you a bowl of food. The sound should be 
enough for that connection, and the shape will follow from our men- 
tal image of that bowl of food. To get it just make a mirror image of 
the form to the left. Once you have that image in your mind, when 
you look at that katakana form with the image of the bowl of food in 
your mind, the blank will “fill itself in” automatically until you can 
actually see the bowl. Once that is done, you know the katakana for 







\ 2 _* 2 



'S SI ^ 

The katakana form pronounced he is actually the same as its hiragana 
equivalent — the only one of the katakana that can make this boast. In 
most typefaces the hiragana and katakana are all but indistinguishable 
from one another. Fortunately, there is not much chance you will 
ever meet this shape on its own, so you can rely on the context to 
make it clear which of the syllabaries is being used. 


A ^ A 

heli [copter] 

ho HIT re 1 /j\ 

Let the sound ho suggest to you the phrase Home Sweet Home 
broad-stitched and hanging in a little frame over the mantlepiece. 
The form here is actually one of the little “criss-crosses” in the design 
around the wording, the two extra strokes at the bottom for design 
effect. Draw 3 or 4 of these katakana alongside one another on a piece 
of paper and you will recognize the pattern. 

* f d" rfv 

botan i£ 9 's 



+-63 -> GO TO PAGE 5 

* * Tfc 
yft *1* 7t\ 



The katakana for ma and mu are commonly confused. But there is a 
simple way to remember the difference. Think of the hiragana form 
fe and how it is written. It begins left and then swings back and forth 
to the right two times. Draw it once. Then draw the katakana form 
quickly before the “feelings” leave the tip of your pencil. 

75 £ 

"9 ~3 Q 





— , ft- 

In the same way that the shape of katakana pronounced ha was 
drawn from the kanji for number 8 of the same pronunciation, so 
here the katakana for mi comes from the kanji for the number 3, pro- 
nounced mi or mittsu. Incidentally, this same word appears in the 
brand name showing three diamond-shape flowers: Mitsubishi A. 





As we did with the katakana for ma, here again you need only draw 
the hiragana if and then immediately afterwards draw the katakana 
form. Notice how the final movement follows the same flow for both 
of them. If you know if, you will have no trouble with A . 

t u 

u ^ Cs 

L> ^ Cx 


ftf ^ ;* 

At first glance, the katakana for the sound me looks like that for the 
hiragana only when you look at their common kanji origin, the char- 
acter for “woman.” But try drawing the second stroke of the hiragana 
on its own and you will find that it leads your hand directly through 
the stroke order and positioning for the katakana. 

* / * 
X * X 



For some reason, the katakana pronounced mo is among the easiest 
to learn, even though its writing is quite different from the hiragana 
to which it is related. Could there be an unconscious adjustment 
made in the mind of the foreigner that follows the same route as the 
idea that originally led to the transformation? Be that as it may, note 
the writing order of both the hiragana and katakana forms by writing 
them side by side several times. 

If for some reason, you happen to be one of those who has trouble 
with the mo and find yourself coming back to this page, you might 
note how it is composed of two forms you have already learned, the 
hiragana L and the katakana =, and try to work that combination 
into an image your mind is comfortable with. 

remojtel con[trol] 

« * =E 
L ^ t 




tfel -fo 1 V 

Just as we saw in the case of the katakana -fe , it is the second stroke of 
the hiragana that is dropped for the simplified katakana form. It 
you look at the two forms side by side the rationale behind the sim- 
plification should be clear. 


V * V 




ft | Ifo 

The sound of this katakana, yu, should conjure up without much 
trouble the image of a U-boat. Can you see the periscope (the first 
stroke) sticking up out of the ocean’s surface (the second stroke) for a 
look around? 

a ^ n 
j ) 



This katakana can best be remembered as a kind of crude drawing of 
a yoke of oxen, two of them to be precise. If you draw little circles in 
the spaces between the prongs, you can see the ox-heads more clearly. 
Then erase them, and the form should come to life. 


9 3 3 



Here our bowl is filled up with ramen noodles, stacked high to 
overflowing. If you happen to like ramen (which is what you gener- 
ally get when you buy plastic “cup-of-noodles”), the association will 
be easier. If you don’t, you may have to force yourself to eat the entire 
bowl in imagination before the katakana turns into a picture for the 
sound ra (not lengthened, though, as it is in the case of ramen). 



3*3 — 7 





^ -7 

<- 23 

-* GO TO PAGE 45 



The character read ri is written nearly the same as the hiragana 9, the 
only difference being that there is no connecting line between the two 
downward strokes, even in its stylized forms. You may find it more 
“natural” to follow the hiragana form and “hook” the first stroke 
upwards, but remember: the katakana are block letters and are not 
meant to have any cursive flow to them. 

9 '/ l ) 

u y u 


If can you pronounce the name of the famous Rumpelstilzchen in 
German fashion, and recall the young maiden who needed to spin 
straw into gold, you will have your image for learning this katakana. 
Look at the shape and on the right you will see the dwarf’s little foot 
with its pointed shoe, and to the left the peg leg that he drove into the 
ground in anger when his name was discovered and he was deprived 
of her child as a reward for his services. 

1 )\( 

Hr /<■ li 

)l » li 








The katakana for the sound re is the right half of the katakana for A-, 
which you just learned. Taking the same image we used there of the 
dwarf’s leg with the pointed shoe at the end, you need only think of a 
running race of the little creatures who have only one leg, and not so 
much as a peg-leg to help them hop along. 


kart itv— 

Naporeon 'i'i 


U L U 

a h 




Let the sound of this katakana suggest to you the image of a mass of 
fish-eggs, or roe, as they are also known in English. The only differ- 
ence is that they are not round but square — the reason being that 
the katakana do not use rounded shapes but square everything off. 

8 1 h 

Q a O 

□ a □ 







13 1 9 

The bowl in this picture serves in this katakana as a tea-bowl or 
chawan. You know it is a chawan because there is a little red arrow 
painted right in the middle of it indicating where you are supposed to 
put your lips when you pick it up to drink. 

" 0 

Moskva (Moscow) 

9 ' 7- 

n '7 n 




The sound wo is a rather tricky one to isolate in English, so let us take 
the first thing that pops to mind: Woe is me! And the reasons that 
woe has befallen me is that there is a great crack right through the 
middle of my bowl of food — the only bowl I have to eat out of. Locate 
the crack, pronounce the lamentation, and the katakana for wo is 
yours forever! 

7 7 

^ * =? 



Now try your hand at making the transition from cursive to block 
writing yourself. Begin with the hiragana form A/ and see if you can’t 
use the “dot and straight line” effect to create the katakana character 
for the sound n. You should end up with the correct shape almost 

'' > 



> y 



Written exactly the same for katakana and hiragana, the voiced mark 
makes a new range of sounds available. The examples below only rep- 
resent the new sounds we can make from the 10 katakana we have 
already learned. Other examples will follow, and a complete list can 
be found in the Table of diphthongs on page 70. 

Note that the voiced mark is written last, after the rest of the kata- 
kana shape has been completed. 



Gaze (gauze) 



Like the voice mark, the plosive mark is shared by the hiragana and 
katakana. It looks the same and functions the same, with no differ- 
ence. It is also written last of all. A few examples, drawn from the 
katakana we already learned, follow. For the rest, see the Table of 
diphthongs on page 70. 







Before we go any further, it is important to learn the way the kata- 
kana make use of the dash or long mark. The romanization of Japan- 
ese words typically adds a short dash or “macron” over a vowel to 
indicate a lenghtening of the sound (e. g., sumo, judo), which the 
hiragana takes care of by adding an extra vowel (thus giving us and 
•fhi anACtoZo). 

In the case of the katakana, however, this same function is per- 
formed by adding a dash the length of an entire katakana character 
after the vowel to be lengthened. 


f a 

ized form. 

© The katakana character itself. 

The placing of the elements will aid you later in reviewing. By opening 
the book part way, you can page through and see only the romanized form, 
leaving the actual katakana hidden from view. 

© The original Chinese character (or kanji) from which the katakana in 
question is derived. 

You should not attempt to learn this kanji now, though at a more 
advanced level you may find its etymological connection with the katakana 
helpful for learning how to pronounce some of the kanji. 

© The hiragana form for the same pronunciation. 

® An explanation for how to remember the katakana. 

© Instructions on how to write the katakana form, stroke by stroke, just 
as Japanese children do when they are first learning to write. 

© This frame contains 6 examples in more stylized typefaces, to give 
you an idea of the flexibility permitted in writings particular kata- 
kana. You should not attempt to imitate them; it is enough that you 
take a moment to recognize them. 

® ® A few examples in which the katakana being studied appears. The 
examples use only katakana that have been learned up to that 
point, which means you should be able to identify them all — and 
reproduce them all from the romanizations. Do not skip any of 
the examples. 

® The page to proceed to after finishing this page. 

® The page from which you have just come. 

At this point, if you haven’t already done so, secure several sheets of 
blocked paper with blocks at least t cm. (ill in.) square. You can find them 
at any stationery store. This will help you keep the shape of your katakana 
in proper balance much better than practicing on blank or simple lined 
paper will. 

This first lesson will teach you 8 of the katakana in about as much time as 
it takes you to read the text. The reason is simple: they are all virtually 


Lesson 2 

Lp.sson 2 will take you through a mere 4 katakana, but it will also 
give us a chance to introduce the plosive mark and the voiced mark, which 
are used exactly as they are in the hiragana. 

Incidentally, the sounds Japanese uses to make diphthongs (a, i, e, o, ya, 
yu, and yo) and to double certain consonantal sounds (tsu) also follow 
exactly the same principles in the katakana. No further mention will be 
made of this fact as the katakana corresponding to these sounds are intro- 
duced. For more information on the diphthongs, see page 66 of Part one. 

Lesson 3 

This lesson picks up 7 more katakana, all of which can best be 

mark" in the middle without any apparent reason. A language like English 
typically accents its words by doing three things: raising the voice, punching 
the syllable, and lengthening the vowel (as in the word concenTRAtion). 
Japanese allows for irregular raising and lowering of the voice, but does not 
punch syllables or lengthen vowels in any predictable fashion. Moreover, 

Lesson 5 

This lesson presents three sets of twins and one of triplets. These 
are usually thought to be among the katakana most often confuses with one 
other, but with a little systematic effort you will see how simple it is to keep 
them apart. If you find yourself getting stuck, don't resort to “brute mem- 
ory." Simply back up, close your eyes, clear your mind, and let the image 
associated with the katakana you are trying to learn fix itself there. Even so 
short a time as 30 seconds seems an eternity when your mind is a blank. But 
have patience and the image will appear in one form or another. Only then 
will it be really yours and not a mere string of words on paper. 

This lesson is a long one, so be sure you are fresh and have set aside a 
good block of time before you begin. 


With five lessons nearly under your belt, it is time for another test. On the 
following page you will see a list of romanized words, some of them real 
Japanese words, most of them nonsensical, since we have too few katakana 
at this point to run a proper drill. 

Try writing their katakana equivalents in the space to the right of them 
(after you have filled in your time-box above, that is). 


hagakibe s 

pamisotia i 

yasegami s 

sdpeka 2 

To see how you did, simply compare your 1 

Lesson 6 

The final lesson is composed of a group of 9 katakana that fall 
into no particular group but have to be mastered one by one. The whole les- 
son will be the best test of your progress with imaginative memory. While 
none of the images is particularly complicated, take great care to give each 
image time to glow in your mind’s eye before trying to reproduce it on 

As in the last lesson, these katakana will require concentrated effort on 
your part. Be careful not to go too quickly in your rush to finish. Write 
down the time before you set off to encounter the last of the katakana! 

Congratulations! You have just learned the katakana syllabary in its 
entirety. If everything went smoothly, you have practically laid all the foun- 
dations you need for taking up the study of the kanji in similar fashion. As 
explained in the General introduction, the principles on which this 
method of studying the kana is based were first used for studying the Sino- 
Japanese characters and only later applied to the kana. For more details, see 
the Afterword that follows directly. 

To wrap things up, calculate the total time you invested in learning the 




Now I am not suggesting that you go out and find yourself a teacher who 
learned the kanji as an adult. Most non-Japanese teachers of kanji studied 
the traditional way and are likely to lead you along the same path as a 
Japanese teacher would, only less competently. There is a lot simpler way 
open to you: teach yourself. You did it with the kana; there is no reason you 
cannot do it with the kanji — much more quickly and efficiently than you 
would in the best classroom of the best university with the best teachers. 

But we leave the kanji for another day. If you have followed this method 
of learning the Japanese syllabaries to the end, you deserve to applaud your- 
self and sing proudly: 

M *>1r i>'t£ 
*? » -Ur A'tt