Beginning Japanese Part 1: Writing Systems

beginning japanese hiragana
Ok, so you’ve decided that you’re going to sit down and try to wrap your mind around the Japanese language.  Here’s what you need to know if you want to start beginning Japanese right away. If you’re starting from zero knowledge or even some, I hope this guide will be helpful in getting you started on your journey into Japanese!

Beginning Japanese by understanding the writing

Japanese can be written in the roman alphabet.  For example, “karate” or “ninja”.  See?  You can read Japanese already!  Actually, this is known as “roma-ji” or roman characters. If you’re learning Japanese, some textbooks will probably start you off using Japanese written in roman characters.

However, you do not want to learn Japanese using roman characters.  In fact, you want to get away from them as soon as possible. Japanese people don’t learn/use their language by using romaji and neither should you.

The Japanese language consists of not one, not two, but THREE writing systems. Where are you going?  Come back!  I promise it’s not as scary as it sounds, so bear with me.

The three writing systems are:
j writing system

Hiragana: Way more simple than the Chinese characters and easy to remember. Start learning this one and it will be a good base.

Katakana: Similar to Hiragana, but more straight and less curvy. It’s used for writing non-Japanese words or things like plant and animal names.

Kanji: The one that scares off everyone. Chinese characters.  You don’t even need to think about kanji until much later.

Beginning Japanese: What first?

Focus on one thing and do it well until you know it. I recommend learning Hiragana before dipping into textbooks or learning something else.  Back in the day when I was learning, I used a simple flashcard website that eased me into the hiragana characters. Things have become a little bit easier thanks to technology, though.  I try to keep up to date with what are good resources for beginners and here is what I found:

Dr. Moku is a website and series of apps for smartphones, tablets, and browsers that focus on helping you learn and memorize Hiragana. Even if you don’t know any Japanese vocabulary, the first thing you should do is start learning Hiragana. After you make this important step, you’ll be able to crack open a textbook and immediately be able to get to work reading Japanese.


I’ve recommended it to friends and family for learning and they’ve been thrilled with the results. Don’t make your first jump into Japanese by being overwhelmed by a big chart of Hiragana. Let it be broken up into small bites so you can really learn it.

For analog lovers

Digital is not for everyone. Sometimes we want to carry around physical study resources and not need a battery to do it. That’s why I recommend White Rabbit Press’s Kana study cards. With these cards, you can study both Hiragana and Katakana from one easy deck.

Kana flash cards from White Rabbit Press


White Rabbit Press is known for their high-quality flashcards and these are supreme. I have ordered Kanji cards from them in the past and they were amazing.

You might be thinking, “How long should I study Hiragana for?” You should study Hiragana until you know it well and can recall the sound of each character as soon as you see it. If you study for just a few minutes every day, I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t be a Hiragana expert in 1-2 weeks!

Beginning Japanese Part 2: Choose a Resource

4 thoughts on “Beginning Japanese Part 1: Writing Systems”

  1. Thank you for the Japanese learning app with the link. It does look easy to use. I also really appreciate your straightforward manner of explaining things.


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