Introduction to Japanese Writing: Hiragana Group 1: Vowels (あいうえお)

Did you miss our introduction to Hiragana?  If so, you can go back and read it here.

In this lesson we will be looking at first five Hiragana characters on the Kana Chart.  Going down the first column on the left-hand side, we see the following characters, in order:

  • あ [A]
  • い [I]
  • う [U]
  • え [E]
  • お [O]

Since we are in the first column, these kana represent bare vowel sounds; no initial consonant is attached to them.

Also worthy of noting here is that the order of the vowels (a, i, u, e, o) differs from English vowel order (a, e, i, o, u).

When sorting Japanese words alphabetically, the consonant (or lack of one, in this case) takes precedence in sorting overall position on the list, with the vowels serving to further refine the order from there.  Thus, if we took five random kana (let’s say が [ga], か [ka], ぬ [nu], お [o], and え [e]), we could sort them as follows:

  • Reading the column headings on the kana chart from left to right gives us the vowels, followed by K, G, S, T, D, N, H, B, P, M, R, Y, and W.  Thus, we know that お [o] and え [e] belong near the head of the list, and that か[ka], が [ga], and ぬ [nu] go in that order behind them, since consonant order after the vowel column is K, G, and then N.
  • Using vowel order to sort the remaining kana, we realize that え [e] comes before お [o].  Thus, the final sorted order for the five sample kana would be え [e], お [o], か [ka], が [ga], ぬ [nu].
  • If this is a bit much to take in at first, no need to worry.  Our primary concern at this stage is becoming familiar with the characters and how to write them.  Greater familiarity with their ordering will come as you get accustomed to using them.

How to Write

Stroke order is a critically important topic in Japanese handwriting.  Memorization of the proper stroke order serves several purposes.  Primarily:

  • It helps to ensure that characters are properly formed, with all parts proportional and placed properly in relation to each other
  • It serves as a mnemonic tool for assisting in remembering how to write parts of characters that are frequently reused (especially when dealing with kanji)

Getting started, the following principles will assist you in remembering the proper stroke order for Hiragana characters:

  • All characters should be about the same height and width relative to each other.
  • Stroke order generally goes from top to bottom and left to right, however where a horizontal stroke crosses  or intersects with a vertical stroke the horizontal stroke is written first.

With that, let’s dive in to how to write our first five characters!

For each character in this group we’ve presented a diagram that shows the completed character, followed by images showing the stroke-by-stroke buildup of how to write it, with red arrows to indicate the direction of each stroke.  For a better look, you can click on any image to enlarge it.  Practice writing each character a few times to get used to how it flows.

Vocabulary Practice

The following words can be written using only the characters we have covered so far.  Once you’ve practiced reading them a couple of times, try writing them on a piece of paper without looking and see how well you do.

  • あい [a i] love
  • うえ [u e] up, above
  • あおい [a o i] blue
  • あう [a u] to meet


When you’re ready, click here to move on to Group 2: K!

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Paul Baptist

Paul Baptist

Japanese linguist, web developer, bassist, teacher, and long-time anime fan.

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