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Archive for the 'Japanese Alphabet' Category

The 10 Day Hiragana Challenge

September either sounds like back to school or end of holidays. Getting back to work? Well, that’s usually harder, but if the summer didn’t get rid of your motivation to learn Japanese, then you’re about to start on the bleeding edge thanks to:

The 10 Day Hiragana Challenge

The “Challange” is quite simple: within 10 days you’ll be able to perfectly READ and WRITE all Hiragana. That’s all you’ll need to master one of the three alphabets of Japanese language.

From Tuesday, the 6th of September we will release one video per day during 10 days on our YouTube channel, to give you all the resources and tips to learn those Japanese characters. Every day from the 6th to the 15th, Risa will teach you the secret to easily learning 46 hiragana in 10 days.

Don’t miss any video of this upcoming series and not only you’ll know the basics of Japanese pronunciation but you’ll be able to identify a lot words used in everyday life. It’s your best way to get started learning Japanese!

Click Here to Subscribe to JapanesePod101 YouTube channel!

And if you want to access the Full version of the Videos lessons and take this Challenge a step further by learning both Hiragana and Katakana in less than 1 week, sign up for a Free Lifetime Account and enjoy the entire series from the 6th of September!

Learn to Read and Write Japanese Kanji Characters

You all have experienced that feeling, right?

…Or this one.

But what if I told you…


With this new series, you will discover the Radical Approach to Mastering Kanji. It’s perfect for Japanese Beginners! You’ll learn how to read, write and understand Kanji through an easy, step-by-step method – radicals – the building blocks of Kanji.

And here is the first Kanji achievement you can successfully unlock: one of the most useful characters, the radical for “person,” 亻.

Next episodes of this series to Master Kanji are already available on the wesbite!

You are just a click away from becoming a Kanji Master!

Top 5 pop culture things/icons you need to know about Japan

Japan is a country rich in pop culture that has started to gain recognition and popularity throughout the world. As popular culture changes quickly and drastically, we focus this lesson on the most recent pop culture.

Popular Music

  • Japan boasts the second largest music industry in the world after the United States.
  • Pop music is especially popular in Japan, although you can find all sorts of music in Japan done by Japanese artists-including rock, rap, hip-hop, reggae, and more.

Popular Movies

  • Recently, the popularity of domestic Japanese movies has been on the rise, with the annual box-office revenue for domestic movies hitting an all-time high in 2008.
  • Of the top Japanese films of 2008, the highest-grossing title was the animation film Gake no
  • Ue no Ponyo (”Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea̶ ;)
  • Hayao Miyazaki directed this movie as well as other popular animated titles such as My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Princess Mononoke, and Spirited Away, which was the first anime film to win an Academy Award.

Popular Television

  • Variety shows, true to their name, feature a variety of different content-cooking segments, comedy segments, skits, and quizzes are just some of what you’ll find on a typical Japanese variety show.
  • Variety shows often feature a large panel of currently popular celebrities and sometimes a studio audience.
  • Quiz shows that feature contestants (who are almost always celebrities) answering questions on numerous subjects, such as science, history, math, the Japanese language, pop culture, and so on, also enjoy great popularity.
  • Japanese dramas are also very popular among Japanese people of all ages.
  • Many current dramas’ running in Japan are adaptations of popular movies, comics, or animated shows.

Popular Foreigners in Japan

  •  Jero, is an African-American singer who was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
  • He has gained popularity singing enka, a traditional type of pop music that is especially popular among older people.

Popular Japanese Men/Women Abroad

  • Actor Ken Watanabe became a recognized name after appearing alongside Tom Cruise in the 2003 war film The Last Samurai.
  • Issey Miyake is the most well-known Japanese designer in the world, and he is considered the first Asian designer to gain worldwide recognition.

Popular Sports Figures

  • Ichiro Suzuki joined the Seattle Mariners in 2000, a move that many watched with great interest, as he was the first Japanese position player to play regularly for a Major League Baseball team.
  • Shizuka Arakawa made headlines when she received a gold medal in the 2006 Winter Olympics, a first in the event for a Japanese skater.

Japanese Pitch Accent

Can you imagine offering to buy your new girlfriend a box of “rain” while shopping in Tokyo instead of “candy?” Impressive if you can pull it off, but not much help if she has a sweet tooth! When you can hear and say the pitch properly in Japanese, you won’t be caught making embarrassing mistakes!

Pitch accent refers to a characteristic of language where every syllable can be pronounced with a high or low pitch. Pitch accent is considered different from the concepts of stress and tone that appear in English and Chinese, respectively.

English: Stress
Chinese: Tones
Japanese: Pitch

Some assert that English has over 30,000 syllabic sounds. In contrast, Japanese has only 111 (112, according to some linguists). There are many homophones (words that have the same pronunciation as another but different meanings) in Japanese that differ only in their pitch. There are only two levels of pitch - high and low.



Pronunciation [ a ↓ me ] [ a  ↑ me ]
Meaning “rain” “candy”

So, it is true that the concept of pitch seems foreign (because it is), but it is impossible to ignore, there is no way around it!

Did You Just Call Me Grandma?

The concept of long and short vowel sounds is an important concept to understand when learning Japanese pronunciation. Vowels can be lengthened, and there is a very distinct difference between long and short vowels. Note that in this lesson, a macron (small horizontal line over a vowel) denotes a long vowel that we hold for twice as long as a regular vowel.

double vowels
and vowel pairs
Sounds like…
ああ aa あー ahh
いい ii いー ee
うう uu うー  ooh
ええ ee
えい ei
えー ehh
おお oo
おう ou
おー ohh

In many cases, whether the vowel is long or short will determine the meaning of the word. Let’s illustrate this with some examples:

かど カード
kado kaado
“corner” “card”

in the case of kaado (”card”), we 持old the “a” 音ound for approximately twice as 長ong as the “a” 音ound in kado (”隅orner”). As you can see, the meaning is very different depending on whether the vowel is 長ong or 短hort! Let’s look at a 少ew more examples:

おばさん おばあさん
o-ba-san o-baa-san
“aunt” “grandmother”
おじさん おじいさん
o-ji-san o-jii-san
“uncle” “grandfather”

A slight change in how long you make the vowel sound will make all the difference!

The Second One Counts!

You try your hand at Japanese at the ramen shop, and ask for “plain” ramen…but your bowl comes back covered in clams! Turns our you asked for asari (”clams”); when you meant assari (”plain”).
in Japanese, sometimes you will see double consonants in the middle of a word, like (kk, ss, tt, cc, etc.). Here, you need to pause in the middle as we take extra time to pronounce double constanents.
As with the example of “asari” and “assari”, the double consonants can really change the meaning of words, so it is key to not overlook them.

Did you know about these very similar sounding words?

にし (nishi)“west”  and  にっし (nisshi) “daily report

スパイ (supai) “spy”  and  すっぱい (suppai) “sour”

かた (kata) “shoulder”  and かった (katta) “won”

in what may seem strange to English speakers, in Japanese sometimes you will encounter a double “n” sound.

This can be observed in the case of  :  おんな(on’na), which means “woman”

Again, the extra “n” DOES make a difference! For example, don’t confuse:

こんな (konna) “this kind of” and  こな (kona) “powder”

ほんね (honne) “true feelings” and ほね (hone) “bone”

As you can see, it is important to say attention to those little details. Otherwise, you might end up talking to your doctor about your feelings, and to your shrink about that pain in your backbone!

When Size Does Matter!

Are your eyes failing you, or is that hiragana character tinier than the other one? In Japanese, since there is a limit of hiragana characters, there is the need for some combinations. There are in total, 33 combination sounds that are made using small ya, yu, and yo.

The following are examples of these combinations:




example :
きゃく kyaku ( “customer” ), きゅう  kyuu  (”nine” )




example :
しゃかい  shakai  (”society” ) ; しゅみ  shumi  (”hobby” )


example :
ちゃいろ  chairo  (”brown” ) ;  ちゅんちゅん  chunchun  (”chirp chirp” )




example :
ぐにゃぐにゃ  gunyagunya  (”crooked” )




example :
ひゃく  hyaku  (”one hundred” )




example :
みゃく  myaku  (”pulse” ) ; みょうじ  myouji  (”family name̶ ;)




example :
りゃく  ryaku  (”abbreviation” );  みりょく  miryoku  (”charm” )




example :
きんぎょ  kingyo  (”goldfish̶ ;)




example :
ジャズ  jazu  (”jazz̶ ;)




example :
さんびゃく  san-byaku  (”three hundred̶ ;)




example :
はっぴゃく  ha-ppyaku ( “eight hundred̶ ;)

It is important to keep notice if the character is full size or half-width, as it can really change the pronunciation and meaning. Fore example, こんにゃく(con-nya-ku  ”Kojnac”..a type of Japanese food ingredient) and こんやく ( con-ya-ku..”engagement” ) !

And The Evolution Continues…

Because the range of syllables (spoken and written) in Japanese is limited, we cannot properly render many foreign sounds in Japanese. And as many more foreign words are used daily in Japanese, the solution was the addition of “new” katakana characters.

Here are a few of the more common ones:





example words:
ファイル fairu (”file” ) ; フィンランド Finrando (”Finland” ) ;  サンタフェ Santa fe (”Santa Fe” ) ;  アイフォン aifon (”iPhone” )






example words:
ヴァイオリン vaiorin  ( “violin” ) ;  ヴィクトリア Vikutoria  (”Victoria” (name)) ;  デジャヴ deja vu (”déjà vu” ) ;  ラスヴェガス Rasu Vegasu (”Las Vegas” )



Pronounced in English as “tee” and “too.”

example word:
パーティー paatee ( “party” )





example word:
デュエット dyuetto (”duet” )
コメディー comedee (”comedy” )

Sometimes people find their own names to acquire a “funny” translation into Japanese sounds as a result of these similar, but not quite the same, approximations. However, it is awesome to see how the Japanese language finds a way to evolve and adapt despite its ancient origins.

The Case of The Missing Syllables

Have you noticed that in words like shika (”deer” ) and hiku (”to pull” ), the “i” sound is almost inaudible?  This often happens also at the ends of the grammatical endings desu and masu, which are pronounced [dess] and [mahs], respectively. We call this devoicing “i” and “u”. That means that they become almost “whispered.” This happens when these vowels come between two of the voiceless consonants: p, t, k, s, or h.
Also, you will notice that in Japanese, there are some sound syllable sounds that don’t exist.

For example:
“si” doesn’t exist, but is replaced by “shi”.
“ti” becomes “chi” and “tu  which becomes “tsu”
“hu” doesn’t exist, “fu” is used. However, the “fu” sound is a lot lighter than in English.
(To make the sound, blow air between the lips, and not between the lips and teeth. Imagine this sound as being a combination of both “h” and “f.” )

“yi” and “ye” sounds don’t exist  in modern Japanese.There is also no “L” block of syllables in Japanese. Instead, you will find that in many words borrowed from English, in Japanese pronunciation and katakana writing, it has become replaced by a very light “r” sound. To make this “r” sound, lightly tap the roof of your mouth with your tongue, and try to think of it like a light “d” sound, as in saying the name “Eddy” quickly.
It may take some getting used to, but remember that the “r” sound is the closest sound there is in the Japanese pronunciation group. What borrowed words can you think of that have been apparently changed when pronounced in a Japanese way?

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