How to learn Hiragana in Three Weeks

You can learn to read and write Japanese hiragana in just three weeks if you study effectively and set your mind to it.

Three Weeks?!

Don’t take it from me though…
I asked the the Japanese learners who follow me on Twitter how long they spent learning hiragana in school, and this is what they said:

@MonsterMYV @JapanNewbie We’re nearly through with hiragana and this is the second week of learning, having japanese lessons thrice a week~

@lordsilent @JapanNewbie about a month at LSU

@Jonesyweeks @JapanNewbie I believe it took us about a week to two weeks to learn the hiragana. about the same for katakana.

There you have it. Just 2-3 weeks to hiragana mastery. LSU seems to be taking it easy. But hey, nothing wrong with that. According to a Japanese proverb, if you rush you’ll just spin in circles anyway.

Students at schools around the world learn hiragana in just 2-3 weeks every fall semester in their first year Japanese classes. The only advantage students have over those of you tackling Japanese on your own are the teachers, the structure, the homework, and the tests. All of these things are really just external motivators that you can recreate on your own with some good old-fashioned discipline.

Here’s another point to reinforce how important and feasible it is to learn Hiragana quickly and get off of romaji. Genki, which one of the most popular textbooks, drops romaji completely after the the third chapter. I recently contacted my Japanese teacher from high school with this very question, and she reports that she spends about 4 weeks on hiragana before getting rid of romaji and moving on to katakana. So as you can see, not only is it possible to learn hiragana quickly, but in most structured Japanese education programs it’s expected.

So, how do we go about learning Hiragana in just three weeks?

There are 46 hiragana characters. This may seem like a lot, but it’s really not that bad.

Here they are.

Don’t be discouraged.

One good thing about Hiragana (and Katakana) is that the pronunciations don’t change (much). In English sometimes “i” is pronounced like “eye” and sometimes as in “in,” but Japanese is more straight forward.

This makes “spelling” in Japanese easy. “Kimono” is き(ki)も(mo)の(no). No matter where you see a き it will always be pronounced “ki”, no matter what. For the most part this holds true in all cases with only a few exceptions, (for example the particles, は and へ, but we’ll get into that later).

Let’s Get Started Learning the Hiragana in 3 Weeks

To do this you’ll need to set aside one hour to study Japanese three days a week, for three weeks. Try to space the days out. I recommend Monday, Wednesday, Friday, or something like that. It’s only one hour. You can do it!

“Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.” H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

The progression will look something like this:


Week 1 – Day 1, an Introduction:
Learn to Write and Pronounce one Row of Hiragana.

There are only five main vowel sounds in Japanese. These first five hiragana embody those sounds. Here they all are with their pronunciations.

Hiragana "a"
Hiragana "a"

Hiragana "i"
Hiragana "i"

Hiragana "u"
Hiragana "u"

Hiragana "e"
Hiragana "e"

Hiragana "o"
Hiragana "o"

A few important things to remember while learning these hiragana characters for the first time.

1. Actually write the hiragana on paper yourself taking care to use the correct stroke order. Say the pronunciation of the character reach time you write it.

2. Get the stroke order right the first time.

3. Listen to a native speaker pronounce each hiragana.

4. Write the character while saying it out loud.

5. Quiz yourself.

6. Look for hiragana you recognize in the wild.

You can do it!

Making Japanese Music

Music varies across cultures. I have been taking classical guitar lessons in Japan, and as I learn the basics of music my guitar teacher has been sharing some tidbits about what makes traditional Japanese music special. I don’t know anything about music so this is all news to me.

There are particular Japanese scales that do not include the same notes as the traditional western scale. There are techncial terms for all of this, but I am a total music newbie and do not know them.

The scale used in traditional Okinawan music uses Do Re Mi So Ra Do (Fa and Shi are removed). This scale is also called ヨナ抜き(四七抜き)音階 because Fa and Shi are the 4th and 7th note respectively and they have been removed.

Here is a YouTube video showing the western do to do scale, and then showing the Okinawa-style scale removing Fa and Shi.

This video includes a variety of Japanese scales.