Japanese hiragana (平仮名 or ひらがな), one of the Japanese alphabet, are the most basic characters used in Japanese today.
In fact in Japan, children start to learn hiragana when they are first taught to read. They never learn kanji before they become older.
Hiragana have basically four functions as follow...
1. They are used to help in reading kanji, in what we called furigana (振り仮名 or ふりがな) or rubi (ルビ).
Furigana or rubi are the small hiragana texts written on top or right hand side of kanji to give the pronunciation of kanji.
For example, the small hiragana "にほん" in the red boxes in the figure below are the furigana of the kanji "日本".
2. They are also used in suffixes following kanji characters to form Japanese verbs and adjectives, what we called okurigana (送り仮名 or おくりがな).
For example, in this Japanese verb "to eat" (食べる), the last two hiragana (べる) are the okurigana.
3. Besides, hiragana are used as Japanese particles. Japanese particles or 助詞 (joshi), are hiragana used in Japanese grammar when forming sentences.
For example, in the sentence 晩ご飯を食べます (ban go han wo ta be ma su - to eat dinner), を (wo) is the particle. In the sentence ここからそこまで (ko ko ka ra so ko ma de - from here to there), から (ka ra) and まで (ma de) are the particles.
Two Japanese hiragana characters are pronounced differently when they are used as particles...
When は (ha) is used as a topic marker, it is pronounced as "wa", same sound as わ. For example,
"は" in the above sentence is the topic marker, so it is pronounced as "wa".
When へ (he) is used as a direction marker, it is pronounced as "e", same sound as え. For example,
"へ" in the above sentence is the direction marker, so it is pronounced as "e".
4. Hiragana are also used for native Japanese words not covered by kanji.
From my learning experiences, hiragana are more easier to memorize as compared to katakana. They got "sinked" into my head without much difficulty.
After few lessons, I can read out hiragana in a sentence naturally, without having to figure out the pronunciations.
It took me quite a while before I got familiarized with katakana readings. Don't worry, with more practices, they are not that difficult as it seems.
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Get this book on hiragana "Let's Learn Hiragana" if you want to know more.
Below are some examples of Japanese words using hiragana...
|とけい||to ke i||Watch/Clock|
|いいえ||i i e||No|
Get yourself familiar with Japanese hiragana by studying the hiragana chart. Make sure you know the pronunciation of each character before you proceed to katakana.