Warning: Use of undefined constant user_level - assumed 'user_level' (this will throw an Error in a future version of PHP) in /home/customer/www/japanesewords.net/public_html/wp-content/plugins/ultimate-google-analytics/ultimate_ga.php on line 524

Why You Need To Learn The Japanese Kana


One of the most popular posts on Japanese words has been the common Japanese Words list containing over 1000 Japanese words and kanji. That page has received quite a few comments asking for pronunciations in romaji (English Alphabet). While having romaji may seem to make studying easier when you first start out, learning using the English alphabet will actually hold you back. This article will cover the main reasons why you should start studying and master the Japanese Kana (hiragana and katakana) as soon as possible. As well as listing a few tools to help you learn more quickly.

Thinking in Japanese

If you want to learn Japanese as quickly as possible, then you need to immerse yourself in it. The more you are seeing and thinking in Japanese the faster you will be able to learn. If you are trying to learn using the English alphabet, then your mind is only half thinking in Japanese. You are seeing Japanese words, but your mind is trying to translate them into English. If you read using the kana (and eventually kanji) it is easier for your brain to make the change.

Once you learn to read the kana, you will realize how difficult reading Japanese in romaji really was!

More Japanese Materials

The more Japanese materials you have available to you the better. It doesn’t mean that you will use them all, but you will have a larger selection from which to choose the best ones. Once you learn the kana, you aren’t limited to only Japanese language study materials (textbooks, Japanese language books, etc). You can start trying to read Japanese magazines, mangas, websites, and subtitles on movies. This will also help you start learning the kanji, which are essential for anyone serious about Japanese.


Japanese has far fewer sounds than the English language. Furthermore, each kana can only be read a single way. Not like English where vowels can have different sounds depending on the letters next to them. Once you learn the correct sound for each kana, you will be better at pronouncing Japanese words. Of course you will still need a lot of practice to learn the correct pronunciation, but getting away from romaji (which can have several) is a good move in the right direction.

Travelling/Living in Japan

It’s true that you can find a lot of English signs in the main cities in Japan now days. However, there are many places that have no English signs at all. Having the ability to read at least hiragana and kana will really help you get around. Learning the first 100 or so Kanji will be an even bigger help.

Tools for Learning the Japanese Characters

Remembering the Kana– James Heisig, Author of Remembering the Kanji has created a unique and effective method for remembering Japanese characters. Using creative stories to remember each kana and it’s reading, the book teaches you the hiragana and katakana in about 3 hours each. You can read a full review on the book here: Remembering the Kana.

Read The Kanji– Now that you have finished Remembering the Kana, it’s time to get some practice. Read the Kanji is a great site that allows you to practice using Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji in sentences. It highlights the word and you type the reading. Not only is it great reading practice, it’s also great typing practice. The website keeps track of your progress and makes you review characters and words you know less, more often. I highly recommend this site.

Learn the Kana– This site has all the kana, but more importantly they also have the sounds. Very helpful if you are just getting started.

Rikaichan– Rikaichan is an amazing addon for Firefox that will give you the reading, definition, and a ton of other information of any Japanese word or character you mouse over. You can find a more detailed review on Rikaichan here: Reading Japanese Words Like A Pro With Rikaichan.

Anki– Anki is a spaced program that helps you learn quicker by showing you the right items when you need to see them. A great tool for learning Japanese and completely free.

Smart.FM– A website that uses spaced repitition to help you learn faster. There is a downloadable list for hiragana and katakana with sound.

Remembering The Kana: “The” Book To Learning The Japanese Kana

Warning: Use of undefined constant user_level - assumed 'user_level' (this will throw an Error in a future version of PHP) in /home/customer/www/japanesewords.net/public_html/wp-content/plugins/ultimate-google-analytics/ultimate_ga.php on line 524

Remembering the Kana

Learning to read and write Japanese is by far the most difficult part of learning the language. There are a lot of characters and they have no resemblance to the English alphabet at all. It takes hour after hour of writing them down again and again to remember them, and soon as you stop them for a while you forget them. This was the method I used to learn Hiragana and Katakana, the two simple alphabets in Japanese. Surely there must be a better way. There is, thanks to James Heisig’s book Remembering the Kana.

James Heisig first came to Japan without any experience or study in the Japanese language. He enrolled at a language school in Kamakura, but ended up studying on his own because the Japanese course had already started. After he had been studying for about a month, his teachers recommended that he should start learning the Japanese characters as soon as possible. Since he wasn’t taking a class and wasn’t influenced by the traditional class method of learning (writing them again and again) class, Heisig designed his own system. He then managed to learn almost 2,000 kanji in one month. Eventually he wrote his process into a book called Remembering the Kanji and then applied the same process for the kana.

Instead of trying to remember each kana visually and through repetition, Heisig assigns basic elements to the kana and then creates imaginative stories that make writing and remembering them easy. In Remembering the Kana he has also added the pronunciation into the story so you not only learn how to write it, but also  how to read it.

The layout of the book is very unique. Similar to the roman alphabet, the Japanese alphabet also has a set order. The characters in the book are listed in the traditional Japanese order making them easy to look up. However,  Heisig’s system has you learn them in the order that’s easiest to remember. So there are directions on each page on where to find the next character to study. It seemed a little weird at first going from page 9 to 62, but makes perfect sense to allow you to learn the characters quickly and still arrange them in the normal order.

Heisig’s claim is that each syllabary can be learned and remembered in 3 hours each. While this is quite fast, I don’t think it is unrealistic at all. Remembering the Kana really does make it much easier to learn the kana. I think this is a great book for anyone who is looking to learn the Japanese syllabaries without spending weeks or months to do it.

I will be reviewing Remembering the Kanji in the near future once I have had a chance to completely go through the two books, but so far it seems very promising. If you would like to give it a try, you can find the links below.

Rememebring the Kanji 1

Remembering the Kanji: Vol 1 (Writing the Kanji)

Remembering the Kanji 2
Remembering the Kanji: Vol 2 (Reading the Kanji)

Remembering the Kanji 3

Remembering the Kanji: Vol 3 (Advanced and less often used Kanji)

Warning: Use of undefined constant user_level - assumed 'user_level' (this will throw an Error in a future version of PHP) in /home/customer/www/japanesewords.net/public_html/wp-content/plugins/ultimate-google-analytics/ultimate_ga.php on line 524