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!

Sugoi! Where is that word from anyway?

One of the first words any student of Japanese will learn after encountering an actual Japanese person is ‘sugoi.’ すごい. Yes, Sugoi. One of the most overused words in the entire Japanese language. Probably.

“Sugoi” as used by modern Japanese means: Awesome! Cool! Amazing! That’s great! Fabulous! Incredible! Wonderful!

When using Kanji sugoi is written as 凄い but it’s often written only in Hiragana. The Kanji carries the real meaning of the word. So, what other words use this 凄 character?

凄まじい すさまじい susamajii | terrific; fierce; terrible; tremendous; dreadful; awful; amazing; absurd; cutthroat; intense;

凄惨な せいさんな seisanna | ghastly; gruesome; appalling; lurid

So you can see that this word has the connotation of something so sugoi that it’s terrifying. I’m not sure when Japanese started using sugoi as often as they do now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the original use wasn’t in a positive context at all.

Anyone else know?

Modern fancy Japanese also occasionally write sugoi using some katakana… スゴい!

Check the online ALC dictionary for even more examples of this character 凄.

Japanese Olympic Vocabulary


Now that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics have been announced it’s time to beef up your Olympic vocabulary!

Kanji Hiragana Romaji English
国際オリンピック委員会 こくさいオリンピックいいんかい kokusai orinpikku iinkai Tokyo Olympic Committee
開催地 かいさいち kaisaichi place where an event will be held
五輪 ごりん gorin Olympics (lit. 5 rings)
夏季五輪 かきごりん kaki gorin summer olympics
安定した財政 あんていしたざいせい anteishita zaisei stable financial affairs
開催能力 かいさいのうりょく kaisai nouryoku the ability to conduct the event
招致委員会 しょうちいいんかい shouchiiinkai bid committee
立候補 りっこうほ rikkouho announced as candidate
招致演説 しょうちせんぜつ shouchiennzetsu bid speech
電子投票 でんしとうひょう dennshitouhyou electronic voting
汚染水 おせんすい osennsui polluted water

The Olympic Moment

It should also be noted that in the hit Anime flick AKIRA, the Olympics were set to be held in 2020 Neo Tokyo. Coincidence? I think not.


News in Slow (as in speed) Japanese

News in Slow Japanese
Foreign languages sound fast when you are new student, and Japanese is no exception. The news is an excellent learning resource, but dang those newscasters talk fast! “News in Slow Japanese” is a blog, podcast, and YouTube series that aims to give you a “slow news” resource to aid your language learning.

Here, go ahead and sample their wares…

The caster uses vocab and sentence structures that you will commonly encounter when listening to Japanese news, and you even get a partial vocab list on the side. Good stuff.

When I was first learning Japanese back in 1993 I had very little exposure to slowed down language. I think my teacher did this on purpose. She had us watching Doraemon, Chibi Maruko-chan, and all the rest at normal speed even when we were in our first year of Japanese. I am sure she was careful to enunciate carefully to us all in class, but I do not recall her slowing anything down.

Similarly, in my 4th year of Japanese class in university I distinctly remember one assignment where we had to fill in the blanks of a rather long scene from Wings of Honnêamise. I wore that VHS tape out rewinding it so many times. Neighbors in the dorm also complained that I had the volume up way too high, as I didn’t have a rig to plug headphones into my TV… Those were the days… You all won’t have to suffer through that… Or if you do at least it will be on DVD, or digital.

I think mixing this slow news into your studies is a great idea, as long as you are also listening to a healthy dose of natural language.

Anyhow, once you are used to unnaturally slow Japanese you’ll be ready to tackle this unnaturally FAST Japanese. This is a comedy skit that is funny because everyone is speaking a million miles an hour.

Enjoy! Let me know how you get on!

– @JapanNewbie

Review: Kanji Solitaire for iOS

Kanji Solitaire

Hello everyone!

I have been playing with @tuzen’s Kanji Solitaire App for iOS over the past week. This app is a great idea, and a much needed fresh approach to kanji study. There are lots of kanji Apps out there, but none like this.

Kanji Solitaire App is a kanji puzzle game where you slide kanji around the board to make two-character kanji combinations. This is difficult in itself, but to win the game you also have to end up using all of the kanji, which is the puzzle aspect.

The Good:
Even if you are just haphazardly sliding kanji around trying to find a match you’ll still learn something. Every time a match is made the app will show the hiragana, kanji, English, and also pronounce the word.

The nature of the game is such that you will often see 4 or 5 words that use the same Kanji per game. For example, in a game I just fired up I used 「草」to make the following: 草木 草花 下草. That’s a lot of 「草」, and repetition is great for practice.

You get kanji, hiragana, English translation, and the audio of the Japanese word.

The app is smooth! It works on iPod, iPhone, iPhone 5, iPad. No technical issues there.

The Bad:
I let my wife, who is a native Japanese speaker, play with the app for a while, and after some time she figured that even if you couldn’t find the kanji matches you could kind of just start at an edge and work your way to the middle. That’s what you’ll need to do in order to use all the pieces and solve the puzzle in most cases anyway. However, this isn’t all bad. Even if one uses this method the game is still educational because you will still be seeing a lot of kanji pairs and building your random Japanese vocabulary database.

The Personal Qualms:
I think the most productive way to play this game is to use the “hint” feature liberally. This way you see the hiragana and the meaning first, and then can look for characters that match. Once you find a match, you can see the kanji, the Hiragana, and the English translation.

The App is universal, but when playing on an iPad you only get the same 4/4 square to work with which leaves a lot of blank space on the screen. It might have been fun to be able to work with a super 6×6 or 7×7 spread! @tuzen mentioned that he has updates planned that will better use the space.


@tuzen was kind enough to answer a few questions over email about the app and it’s development.

Q: Tell us a bit about yourself and your Japanese background. Are you a programmer? A student of Japanese? Both? How long have you been at Japanese and how would you describe your level?

A: I studied both Japanese and computer science in college, and the Japanese department let me study in Japan after three years. During my exchange in Japan, I switched from speaking Japanese a few hours a week, to speaking English only a few hours a week. That made a huge difference in my conversation skills, but not my reading. I describe my level as Intermediate even though I’ve been casually studying well over a decade.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Kanji Solitaire?

A: I noticed native Japanese speakers could guess characters that they had probably never seen before, but they couldn’t really explain the trick. So I spread out my flashcards over the floor looking for these patterns. It was a mess and there were too many cards, so I crafted a small chess program to help match patterns. After a while, that program became the game.

Q: What level Japanese student do you think Kanji Solitaire is best for?

A: The ideal player enjoys puzzle games and already knows hiragana, basic grammar, and a few kanji. I found that for these intermediate students, there are not as many choices as there are for beginners.

Q: For me the most difficult aspect of this game is that some of the words that can be created are really “dictionary” words that are rarely used in daily life. How do you feel about this? I have to say though, they -are- indeed real words so I shouldn’t complain.

A: The original goal was to find the patterns in the pronunciations, and so we match the whole dictionary. That said, there are many rare words I avoid using in puzzles, especially in early levels. I plan to continue to gather usage frequency data to improve puzzles.

Q: Do you have any plans for future updates?

A: Yes, I’m always thinking about the feedback from users, and I have pages of ideas to try. Right now I’m working on level 1 for new users, so that difficulty ramps up more slowly.

Q: What was your favorite part about creating Kanji Solitaire? What was the most difficult?

A: I really enjoy how much kanji I’ve learned. The challenging part is to keep the game elements super fun and long lasting. There are a lot of kanji, and the goal is to help keep everybody learning.

If you’re looking for another way to study Japanese, give this a shot! This app won’t teach you kanji from scratch, but it will do a great job of building your vocabulary and getting you familiar with the different Kanji combinations.

That’s a wrap. If you’re looking for another way to increase your kanji powers, you should give this app a shot.

Kanji Solitaire

Get Kanji Solitaire on the App Store today:


Kanji Solitaire Facebook page

Here is an interactive Kickfolio thing you can use to try beta 1.3!

Here is a screen cast of Kanji Solitaire from version 1.0. The app has been updated since then.

Evangellion makes Suizenji Kiyoko popular to a new audience

Thanks to geeking out on Evangellion I recently stumbled upon this classic Japanese song called 365-step March.

This song is appears in EVANGELION:2.0 YOU CAN (NOT) ADVANCE when the new character Mari is fighting an Angel near the beginning of the movie. Being the crazy character that she is, Mari sings this song as she rides into battle.

三百六十五歩のマーチ by 水前寺清子
365-step March by Suizenji Kiyoko 水前寺清子 (すいぜんじ きよこ)

You can sing along by watching this video some people decided to take in a Karaoke bar.

Here is another clip from 2005.

This is one of those songs that literally everyone who grew up in Japan knows, so it’s a good chunk of knowledge to add to your Japanese culture database.


Shared my Japanese Anki Deck

I just shared my Japanese Anki Deck!

It’s very personal. Basically when I see something I don’t know, I write it down, and then some day I stuff it into Anki. I have been using Anki for years, so this deck is monsterous. It has like 700+ cards and they are of no particular difficulty level. You may find some of the cards useless, and others may be quite practical.

Let me know what you think. Also let me know if you find any typos and mistakes in the comments and I’ll go in and clean them up.


Japannewbie’s Japanese Deck

Kasagumo – Umbrella Cloud


New words! More culture!

I recently learned the word “kasagumo.” I think I first heard it when I was visiting a Japanese art museum with a friend (@guideyu) and she was surprised I didn’t know the term. It bothers me when Japanese phrases come up in everyday conversation that I don’t recognize… so I looked it up! Here it is.

After hearing the description of a “kasagumo,” basically a cloud that covers or hovers over the top of a mountian, I thought that the characters would be 傘 (kasa, as in umbrella) 雲 (cloud). It seems that the official characters are 笠雲, but 傘雲 is so widely used you might as well count it.

In fact 笠 is simply another character which also means “umbrella,” so it seems they are interchangeable.

The technical name for this type of cloud is Lenticularis [Wikipedia].

Fujiyama Kasagumo

There are actually different types of Kasagumo.

This informational Japanese website about Mout Fuji has a chart that shows the different types of Kasagumo and their names.

Image from

You can do a Google Image search for “kasagumo” to see many photos of kasagumo in the wild. You can also search for kasagumo in Japanese for many more.

Here is a YouTube video of a Kasagumo forming and dissipating over Mount Fuji.

Has anyone out there ever seen a Kasagumo in the wild??? I haven’t!

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