Survival Japanese skills

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Over the next few months, we will be looking at various fun ways to learn a bit of Japanese. We will start with some of the basics, go on to useful greetings, phrases and continue from there, adding to this page as we go.

We know that you might not be going to Japan just yet, but you might be one day. Or you may just want to impress your friends with a little bit of Japanese – who wouldn’t be impressed?

We are not Japanese teachers, but all our tour leaders and travel consultants do or have lived in Japan, and speak Japanese to varying degrees, having learnt it in various ways and we will be sharing some of those. We will also be working with some of our partners such as the Japan Foundation and pointing to some of the very useful resources that they have on offer there.


Step One Hiragana and Katakana – Read the words (and write?)
So, first thing is first. Learn to read (and write) Hiragana and Katakana. Learning to read doesn’t take too long (approx 2wk-1mth with daily testing). Writing it will take a bit longer, but it is fun to do.

There are three main syllabaries in Japan. Hiragana is Japan’s main ‘alphabet’ and every Japanese word can be spelt using this syllabary.

Then there is Katakana which uses the same set of sounds, but slightly different characters and is reserved only for foreign and new words.

Then, there is Kanji which are the more elaborate figures, each with their own meanings. We won’t dive into this linguistic ocean right now (however interesting it is).


The pronunciation of Japanese is very straightforward. Here are the basics (there will be more to come).
a = “ah” i = “ee” u = “oo” (like goose) e = “eh” (like hay) o = (like okay)

Hiragana A

The best place to start learning Japanese, is to get to know Hiragana. There are 46 basic characters in Hiragana and they are used intertwined with Kanji and Katakana throughout daily life.

Download this Hiragana Table (and print if you can) to begin practicing.

The Hiragana syllabary starts with あ a iueo
Then it moves on to か ka ki kuke ko

Hiragana continues the a, i, u, e, o pattern with sa, ta, na, ha, ma, ya, ra etc.

Download the practice sheet and give it a go. Alternatively, Japan Foundation has produced a fun Hiragana memory game which you can download for free on itunes or google play.

Katakana A

The fun part is when you move on to Katakana which consists of different symbols for the same sounds but reserved for foreign or new words.

Although the sounds are the same, different Katakana symbols are used like so.
Then like Hiragana, Katakana moves on to カ ka kiku, ケkeko and so on.

For example, Spaghetti (a popular dish in Japan) is spelt スパゲッティ- Su-Pa-Ge-Tei.

Bread was introduced by the Portuguese and is referred to as パン or Pa-n.

All foreign names are written in Katakana too. For example the name Ben would be ベン or Be-n. The name Sarah would be サラ or Sa-Ra.

Download this Katakana Table worksheet here. Impress your friends!

See if you can translate this foreign company name – インサイドジャパン・ツアーズ

Again, there is a fun If you want to test out your skills on a fun app, Japan Foundation have a memory game for Katakana on both itunes and googleplay.

That should keep you amused for the next month by which time, you could have learnt and memorised the basics of the Japanese writing system. Good work!

In Japan with Geisha

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