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A simple guide to reading various Japanese scripts.
Nihongo (Japanese in Kanji)

For those of you who are willing to learn, I have decided to create this 'Basic Guide to Reading Japanese'. It will attempt to teach you how to read ALL Katakana and Hiragana scripts and some Kanji. These are explained below. If you use this guide, you will find imported Japanese games will be a lot easier to understand. A lot of common sense is needed, though! Menus and options written in Japanese should become as easy to read as English! I have been learning Japanese for around two and a half years now, and find it both rewarding and enjoyable. It helps a hell of a lot when I play some Japanese games! If you ever visit Japan, then a grasp of the language is essential!


Japanese words are pronounced in the following manner. Vowels, A, I, U, E, and O are pronounced slightly differently to the English way. In Japanese they are; A as in CAT, I as in HIT, U as in PUT, E as in BED and O as in HOT. Using this pronunciation, all other Kana sound the same, with only varying consonants in front of them. If you do not take these sounds into account, then you will find any translation of Katakana virtually impossible!


There are 4 written Japanese scripts. These are Katakana (used for foreign words), Hiragana (used for Japanese words and to add more meaning to a Kanji symbol), Kanji (very complicated Chinese derived symbols of which there are over 3,000! These are used for conveying an idea) and Romaji (Japanese words written using the English alphabet). From these, Katakana is the easiest, as a word written in it is 99% of the time an English word! No translation involved! Hiragana is similar to Katakana, but used for Japanese words. You may learn to read it, but you still have to know what it means! Kanji is very difficult as each can have over 2 meanings and you need to know over 500 to be competent! Finally, Romaji is just like reading English, but using the Japanese pronunciation, above. These rules apply 99% of the time, but do change! English words can be written in Hiragana and Japanese written in Katakana.

The written Japanese language is constructed from symbols which count as syllables. Words are not formed from individual letters as with English and many other languages. For instance, the word, 'KATAKANA', is made up of 4 seperate symbols. These are;
KA - TA - KA - NA.
There are no letters C, L, Q and X in Japanese. K is used instead of C; R is used instead of L; K followed by a vowel is used instead of Q; and E - KU - SU is used instead of X. Also, B is often used instead of V, but this one can vary! Common sense is needed as well as a little thought!


Most Japanese games' titles are written in either Romaji or Katakana. Also, options screens usually use these, too. Using the Katakana chart below, you should have less trouble reading them! Putting a dash after a Katakana symbol, lengthens the sound of the vowel. For instance 'KA~' is pronounced as CAR; 'KI~' is pronounced as KEY. When written in Romaji, this dash is often put above the vowel for the same effect. Additionally, vowels at the end of words are rarely pronounced. They can be, but omitting them makes understanding the word a lot easier! 

Katakana chart. (click to enlarge)
Katakana chart
Learn all these from memory for easy translation.

Examples of Katakana words-
(Check the symbols off individually from the chart above to get a better understanding of how Katakana works)

Katakana- ARCADE   -   A~  KE~  DO   =   ARCADE

Katakana- PLAYER   -   PU  RE  YA~   =   PLAYER

 -   DO  RI~  MU  KYA  SU  TO   =    DREAMCAST

Sometimes, in Katakana, English words which contain the letters 'KA' are written as 'KYA'. The word Dreamcast, above, uses this, as does the name, Caroline. There does not seem to be a rule for this, so it is just something you learn from experience, as with a lot of other aspects of the language!


If a small 'TSU' Small TSU is placed before another Katakana, it means that there are 2 of the consonant that follows it. For example:

Katakana- BED    -   BE  DDO   =   BED

The 'TSU' also makes the sound of the Kana which follows it, harsher. For example, the 'DO' symbol above has more emphasis placed on the letter 'D'.


From looking at the Katakana chart above, you may have noticed many Kana which are made of two symbols, the second one being smaller than the first. The second Kana simply knocks the vowel of off of the symbol before it, and replaces it with itself. In the case of the 'JA', 'CHA' and 'SHA' collections, it drops it's own consonent as well as the vowel from the symbol before it. Knowing this rule helps, but would not be considered wrong if forgotten. As there is no symbol for 'TI', only 'CHI', if needed, 'TI' is created from 'TE' with a small 'I' after it. Similarly, other symbols, such as 'FA' can be created in this way. Most of the time, it is not required, though.

From using this Katakana guide, you should have no problems translating Katakana words. There are a few additional Katakana symbols, but they are not used so much and are quite self-explanatory anyway. The only extra set which could confuse, are the 'V's':

Katakana- VA VI VU VE VO
The 'V's' are rarely used, as the 'B's' usually work just as well.

If you do have success with this guide, then please let me know! I would really like to know if I have helped at least one person to get to grips with Japanese! Email me here.

Click here to go to 'PART 2: HIRAGANA'.

Click here to go to 'PART 3: KANJI'. (Coming soon...)



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