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Script type
Time period
c. 800 CE to the present
Directiontop-to-bottom, left-to-right 
LanguagesJapanese, Ryukyuan languages, Ainu, Palauan[1]
Related scripts
Parent systems
ISO 15924
ISO 15924Hrkt, 412 , ​Japanese syllabaries (alias for Hiragana + Katakana)
Unicode alias
Katakana or Hiragana
U+30A0 - U+30FF
 This article contains phonetic transcriptions in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA. For the distinction between [ ], / / and ⟨ ⟩, see IPA § Brackets and transcription delimiters.

The Kana (, Japanese pronunciation: [kana]) are syllabaries used to write Japanese phonological units, morae. Such syllabaries include: (1) the original kana, or magana (, literally 'true kana'),[2] which were Chinese characters (kanji) used phonetically to transcribe Japanese; the most prominent magana system being man'y?gana (?); the two descendants of man'y?gana, (2) cursive hiragana (?()?(?)?(?)),[3] and (3) angular katakana (?()?(?)?(?)). There are also hentaigana (?, literally 'variant kana'), which are historical variants of the now standard hiragana. In current usage, kana can simply mean hiragana and katakana.

Katakana, with a few additions, are also used to write Ainu. A number of systems exist to write the Ry?ky?an languages, in particular Okinawan, in hiragana. Taiwanese kana were used in Taiwanese Hokkien as glosses (ruby text or furigana) for Chinese characters in Taiwan when it was under Japanese rule.

Each kana character (syllabogram) corresponds to one sound in the Japanese language, unlike kanji regular script corresponding to meaning (logogram). That is why the character system is named kana, literally "false name". Apart from the five vowels, this is always CV (consonant onset with vowel nucleus), such as ka, ki, etc., or V (vowel), such as a, i, etc., with the sole exception of the C grapheme for nasal codas usually romanised as n. This structure has led some scholars to label the system moraic instead of syllabic, because it requires the combination of two syllabograms to represent a CVC syllable with coda (i.e. CVn, CVm, CVng), a CVV syllable with complex nucleus (i.e. multiple or expressively long vowels), or a CCV syllable with complex onset (i.e. including a glide, CyV, CwV).

Due to the limited number of phonemes in Japanese, as well as the relatively rigid syllable structure, the kana system is a very accurate representation of spoken Japanese.


Kana is a compound of kari (?, 'borrowed; assumed; false') and na (?, 'name'), which eventually collapsed into kanna and ultimately kana.[2]

As the name suggests, kana were "false" kanji due to their purely phonetic nature, as opposed to mana () which were "true" kanji used for their meanings. In current usage, however, since such "false" kanji have long been obsolete, and phonetic kanji are now only restricted to what is known specifically as ateji, the term kana simply refers to hiragana and katakana, and it contrasts with kanji altogether.


Although the term kana is now commonly understood as hiragana and katakana, it actually has broader application as listed below:[2]

  • Kana (, false name) or kana (, false character): a syllabary.
    • Magana (, true kana) or otokogana (, men's kana): phonetic kanji used as syllabary characters, historically used by men (who were more educated).
      • Man'y?gana (?, kana used in the Man'y?sh?): the most prominent system of magana.
        • S?gana (, sloppy kana): cursive man'y?gana.
          • Hiragana (, flat kana), onnagana (, women's kana), onnamoji (, women's script), onnade (, women's hands) or irohagana (): a syllabary derived from simplified s?gana, historically used by women (who were less educated), historically sorted in Iroha order.
            • Hentaigana (?, variant kana) or itaigana (?): obsolete variants of hiragana.
        • Katakana (, fragmented kana) or goj?ongana (, fifty-sound kana): a syllabary derived by using bits of characters in man'y?gana, historically sorted in goj?on order.
        • Yamatogana (?, Yamato's kana): hiragana and katakana, as opposed to kanji.
      • Ongana (, sound kana): magana for transcribing Japanese words, using, strict or loose, Chinese-derived readings (on'yomi). For example, yama (?, mountain) would be spelt as , with two magana with on'yomi for ya and ma; likewise, hito (?, human) spelt as for hi and to.
      • Kungana (, learned kana): magana for transcribing Japanese words, using native words ascribed to kanji (native "readings" or kun'yomi). For example, Yamato () would be spelt as , with three magana with kun'yomi for ya, ma and to; likewise, natsukashi (, evoking nostalgia) spelt as for natsu and kashi.
  • Mana (, true name), mana (, true character), otokomoji (, men's script) or otokode (, men's hands): kanji used for meanings, historically used by men (who were more educated).
  • Shinkatakana (?, mana and katakana): mixed script including only kanji and katakana.

Hiragana and katakana

The following table reads, in goj?on order, as a, i, u, e, o (down first column), then ka, ki, ku, ke, ko (down second column), and so on. n appears on its own at the end. Asterisks mark unused combinations.

Japanese kana: hiragana (left) and katakana (right)
(Image of this table)
- k s t n h m y r w

  • There are presently no kana for ye, yi or wu, as corresponding syllables do not occur natively in modern Japanese.
    • The [j?] (ye) sound is believed to have existed in pre-Classical Japanese, mostly before the advent of kana, and can be represented by the man'y?gana kanji ?.[4][5] There was an archaic Hiragana (?)[6] derived from the man'y?gana ye kanji ?,[4] which is encoded into Unicode at code point U+1B001 (?),[7][8] but it is not widely supported. It is believed that e and ye first merged to ye before shifting back to e during the Edo period.[5] As demonstrated by 17th century-era European sources, the syllable we ( ) also came to be pronounced as [j?] (ye).[9] If necessary, the modern orthography allows [je] (ye) to be written as (),[] but this usage is limited and nonstandard.
    • The modern Katakana e, ?, derives from the man'y?gana ?, originally pronounced ye;[6] a "Katakana letter Archaic E" (?) derived from the man'y?gana ? (e)[6] is encoded into Unicode at code point U+1B000 (?),[7] due to being used for that purpose in scholarly works on classical Japanese.[10]
    • Some goj?on tables published during the 19th century list additional Katakana in the ye (Katakana obsolete ye.svg), wu (Katakana obsolete wu.svg) and yi (Katakana obsolete yi.svg) positions.[11] These are not presently used, and the latter two sounds never existed in Japanese.[5][12] They are not presently implemented in Unicode. These sources also list ? (Unicode U+1B006, ?) in the Hiragana yi position, and ? in the ye position.[11]
  • Although removed from the standard orthography with the gendai kanazukai reforms, wi and we still see stylistic use, as in for whisky and or for Japanese kami Ebisu, and Yebisu, a brand of beer named after Ebisu. Hiragana wi and we are preserved in certain Okinawan scripts, while katakana wi and we are preserved in the Ainu language.
  • wo is preserved only as the accusative particle, normally occurring only in hiragana.
  • si, ti, tu, hu, wi, we and wo are often romanized respectively as shi, chi, tsu, fu, i, e and o instead, according to contemporary pronunciation.


Syllables beginning with the voiced consonants [g], [z], [d] and [b] are spelled with kana from the corresponding unvoiced columns (k, s, t and h) and the voicing mark, dakuten. Syllables beginning with [p] are spelled with kana from the h column and the half-voicing mark, handakuten.

Dakuten diacritic marks, hiragana (left) and katakana (right)
g z d b p ng
a ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
i ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
u ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
e ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
o ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
  • Note that the , and remaining entries in the rightmost column, though they exist, are not used in standard Japanese orthography.
  • zi, di, and du are often transcribed into English as ji, ji, and zu instead, respectively, according to contemporary pronunciation.
  • Usually, [va], [vi], [vu], [ve], [vo] are represented respectively by ?[ba], ?[bi], ?[bu], ?[be], and ?[bo], for example, in loanwords such as (baiorin "violin"), but (less usually) the distinction can be preserved by using (?), (?), ?, (?), and (?). Note that ? did not have a JIS-encoded Hiragana form (?) until JIS X 0213, meaning that many Shift JIS flavours (including the Windows and HTML5 version) can only represent it as a katakana, although Unicode supports both.


Syllables beginning with palatalized consonants are spelled with one of the seven consonantal kana from the i row followed by small ya, yu or yo. These digraphs are called y?on.

Y?on digraphs, hiragana
r m h n t s k
  • There are no digraphs for the semivowel y and w columns.
  • The digraphs are usually transcribed with three letters, leaving out the i: CyV. For example, is transcribed as kya.
  • si+y* and ti+y* are often transcribed sh* and ch* instead of sy* and ty*. For example, is transcribed as sha.
  • In earlier Japanese, digraphs could also be formed with w-kana. Although obsolete in modern Japanese, the digraphs (/k?a/) and /(/k?i/), are preserved in certain Okinawan orthographies. In addition, the kana ? can be used in Okinawan to form the digraph , which represents the /k?e/ sound.
Y?on digraphs, hiragana
g j b p ng
  • Note that the , and remaining entries in the rightmost column, though they exist, are not used in standard Japanese orthography.
  • jya, jyu, and jyo are often transcribed into English as ja, ju, and jo instead, respectively, according to contemporary pronunciation.

Modern usage

The difference in usage between hiragana and katakana is stylistic. Usually, hiragana is the default syllabary, and katakana is used in certain special cases.

Hiragana is used to write native Japanese words with no kanji representation (or whose kanji is thought obscure or difficult), as well as grammatical elements such as particles and inflections (okurigana).

Today katakana is most commonly used to write words of foreign origin that do not have kanji representations, as well as foreign personal and place names. Katakana is also used to represent onomatopoeia and interjections, emphasis, technical and scientific terms, transcriptions of the Sino-Japanese readings of kanji, and some corporate branding.

Kana can be written in small form above or next to lesser-known kanji in order to show pronunciation; this is called furigana. Furigana is used most widely in children's or learners' books. Literature for young children who do not yet know kanji may dispense with it altogether and instead use hiragana combined with spaces.


Development of hiragana and katakana

The first kana was a system called man'y?gana, a set of kanji used solely for their phonetic values, much as Chinese uses characters for their phonetic values in foreign loanwords (especially proper nouns) today. Man'y?sh?, a poetry anthology assembled in 759, is written in this early script. Hiragana developed as a distinct script from cursive man'y?gana, whereas katakana developed from abbreviated parts of regular script man'y?gana as a glossing system to add readings or explanations to Buddhist sutras.

Kana is traditionally said to have been invented by the Buddhist priest K?kai in the ninth century. K?kai certainly brought the Siddha? script of India home on his return from China in 806;[] his interest in the sacred aspects of speech and writing led him to the conclusion that Japanese would be better represented by a phonetic alphabet than by the kanji which had been used up to that point. The modern arrangement of kana reflects that of Siddha?, but the traditional iroha arrangement follows a poem which uses each kana once.

The present set of kana was codified in 1900, and rules for their usage as per the gendai kanazukai spelling reforms of 1946.[13]

Identical man'y?gana roots of katakana and hiragana glyphs
a i u e o =:?
- ? ? = ? = 2:3
k = = = ? = 4:1
s ? = ? = = 3:2
t ? ? = = = 3:2
n = = = = = 5:0
h ? = = = = 4:1
m = ? ? = = 3:2
y = = = 3:0
r = = ? = = 4:1
w = ? = ? 2:2
n ? 0:1
=:? 6:4 5:4 6:4 7:2 9:1 33:15


Kana are the basis for collation in Japanese. They are taken in the order given by the goj?on (? ? ? ? ? ... ? ? ?), though iroha (? ? ? ? ? ? ? ... ? ? (?)) ordering is used for enumeration in some circumstances. Dictionaries differ in the sequence order for long/short vowel distinction, small tsu and diacritics. As Japanese does not use word spaces (except as a tool for children), there can be no word-by-word collation; all collation is kana-by-kana.

In Unicode

The hiragana range in Unicode is U+3040 ... U+309F, and the katakana range is U+30A0 ... U+30FF. The obsolete and rare characters (wi and we) also have their proper code points.

Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+304x ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
U+305x ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
U+306x ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
U+307x ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
U+308x ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
U+309x ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
1.^ As of Unicode version 13.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+30Ax = ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
U+30Bx ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
U+30Cx ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
U+30Dx ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
U+30Ex ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
U+30Fx ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
1.^ As of Unicode version 13.0

Characters U+3095 and U+3096 are hiragana small ka and small ke, respectively. U+30F5 and U+30F6 are their katakana equivalents. Characters U+3099 and U+309A are combining dakuten and handakuten, which correspond to the spacing characters U+309B and U+309C. U+309D is the hiragana iteration mark, used to repeat a previous hiragana. U+309E is the voiced hiragana iteration mark, which stands in for the previous hiragana but with the consonant voiced (k becomes g, h becomes b, etc.). U+30FD and U+30FE are the katakana iteration marks. U+309F is a ligature of yori () sometimes used in vertical writing. U+30FF is a ligature of koto (), also found in vertical writing.

Additionally, there are halfwidth equivalents to the standard fullwidth katakana. These are encoded within the Halfwidth and Fullwidth Forms block (U+FF00-U+FFEF), starting at U+FF65 and ending at U+FF9F (characters U+FF61-U+FF64 are halfwidth punctuation marks):

Katakana subset of Halfwidth and Fullwidth Forms[1]
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
... (U+FF00–U+FF64 omitted)
U+FF7x ソ
... (U+FFA0–U+FFEF omitted)
1.^ As of Unicode version 13.0

There is also a small "Katakana Phonetic Extensions" range (U+31F0 ... U+31FF), which includes some additional small kana characters for writing the Ainu language. Further small kana characters are present in the "Small Kana Extension" block.

Katakana Phonetic Extensions[1]
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+31Fx ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
1.^ As of Unicode version 13.0
Small Kana Extension[1][2]
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+1B15x 𛅐 𛅑 𛅒
U+1B16x 𛅤 𛅥 𛅦 𛅧
1.^ As of Unicode version 13.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points

Unicode also includes "Katakana letter archaic E" (U+1B000), as well as 255 archaic Hiragana, in the Kana Supplement block.[14] It also includes a further 31 archaic Hiragana in the Kana Extended-A block.[15]

Kana Supplement[1]
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+1B00x 𛀀 𛀁 𛀂 𛀃 𛀄 𛀅 𛀆 𛀇 𛀈 𛀉 𛀊 𛀋 𛀌 𛀍 𛀎 𛀏
U+1B01x 𛀐 𛀑 𛀒 𛀓 𛀔 𛀕 𛀖 𛀗 𛀘 𛀙 𛀚 𛀛 𛀜 𛀝 𛀞 𛀟
U+1B02x 𛀠 𛀡 𛀢 𛀣 𛀤 𛀥 𛀦 𛀧 𛀨 𛀩 𛀪 𛀫 𛀬 𛀭 𛀮 𛀯
U+1B03x 𛀰 𛀱 𛀲 𛀳 𛀴 𛀵 𛀶 𛀷 𛀸 𛀹 𛀺 𛀻 𛀼 𛀽 𛀾 𛀿
U+1B04x 𛁀 𛁁 𛁂 𛁃 𛁄 𛁅 𛁆 𛁇 𛁈 𛁉 𛁊 𛁋 𛁌 𛁍 𛁎 𛁏
U+1B05x 𛁐 𛁑 𛁒 𛁓 𛁔 𛁕 𛁖 𛁗 𛁘 𛁙 𛁚 𛁛 𛁜 𛁝 𛁞 𛁟
U+1B06x 𛁠 𛁡 𛁢 𛁣 𛁤 𛁥 𛁦 𛁧 𛁨 𛁩 𛁪 𛁫 𛁬 𛁭 𛁮 𛁯
U+1B07x 𛁰 𛁱 𛁲 𛁳 𛁴 𛁵 𛁶 𛁷 𛁸 𛁹 𛁺 𛁻 𛁼 𛁽 𛁾 𛁿
U+1B08x 𛂀 𛂁 𛂂 𛂃 𛂄 𛂅 𛂆 𛂇 𛂈 𛂉 𛂊 𛂋 𛂌 𛂍 𛂎 𛂏
U+1B09x 𛂐 𛂑 𛂒 𛂓 𛂔 𛂕 𛂖 𛂗 𛂘 𛂙 𛂚 𛂛 𛂜 𛂝 𛂞 𛂟
U+1B0Ax 𛂠 𛂡 𛂢 𛂣 𛂤 𛂥 𛂦 𛂧 𛂨 𛂩 𛂪 𛂫 𛂬 𛂭 𛂮 𛂯
U+1B0Bx 𛂰 𛂱 𛂲 𛂳 𛂴 𛂵 𛂶 𛂷 𛂸 𛂹 𛂺 𛂻 𛂼 𛂽 𛂾 𛂿
U+1B0Cx 𛃀 𛃁 𛃂 𛃃 𛃄 𛃅 𛃆 𛃇 𛃈 𛃉 𛃊 𛃋 𛃌 𛃍 𛃎 𛃏
U+1B0Dx 𛃐 𛃑 𛃒 𛃓 𛃔 𛃕 𛃖 𛃗 𛃘 𛃙 𛃚 𛃛 𛃜 𛃝 𛃞 𛃟
U+1B0Ex 𛃠 𛃡 𛃢 𛃣 𛃤 𛃥 𛃦 𛃧 𛃨 𛃩 𛃪 𛃫 𛃬 𛃭 𛃮 𛃯
U+1B0Fx 𛃰 𛃱 𛃲 𛃳 𛃴 𛃵 𛃶 𛃷 𛃸 𛃹 𛃺 𛃻 𛃼 𛃽 𛃾 𛃿
1.^ As of Unicode version 13.0
Kana Extended-A[1][2]
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+1B10x 𛄀 𛄁 𛄂 𛄃 𛄄 𛄅 𛄆 𛄇 𛄈 𛄉 𛄊 𛄋 𛄌 𛄍 𛄎 𛄏
U+1B11x 𛄐 𛄑 𛄒 𛄓 𛄔 𛄕 𛄖 𛄗 𛄘 𛄙 𛄚 𛄛 𛄜 𛄝 𛄞
1.^ As of Unicode version 13.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points

See also


  1. ^ Thomas E. McAuley, Language change in East Asia, 2001:90
  2. ^ a b c ? [Super Daijirin].
  3. ^ Hatasa, Yukiko Abe; Kazumi Hatasa; Seiichi Makino (2010). Nakama 1: Introductory Japanese: Communication, Culture, Context 2nd ed. Heinle. p. 2. ISBN 978-0495798187.
  4. ^ a b Seeley, Christopher (1991). A History of Writing in Japan. pp. 109 (footnote 18). ISBN 90-04-09081-9.
  5. ^ a b c "Is there a kana symbol for ye or yi?". SLJ FAQ. Retrieved 2016.
  6. ^ a b c Kat?, Nozomu (2008-01-14). "JTC1/SC2/WG2 N3388: Proposal to encode two Kana characters concerning YE" (PDF). Retrieved 2016.
  7. ^ a b "Kana Supplement" (PDF). Unicode 6.0. Unicode. 2010. Retrieved 2016.
  8. ^ More information is available at ja: on the Japanese Wikipedia.
  9. ^ "Japanese Kana Chart from the Netherlands". www.raccoonbend.com.
  10. ^ Kat?, Nozomu. "L2/08-359: About WG2 N3528" (PDF).
  11. ^ a b "" (in Japanese). Archived from the original on 2008-03-03.
  12. ^ More information is available at ja:, ja: and ja:#51? on the Japanese Wikipedia.
  13. ^ "Writing reforms in modern Japan".
  14. ^ https://www.unicode.org/charts/PDF/U1B000.pdf
  15. ^ https://www.unicode.org/charts/PDF/U1B100.pdf

External links

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