Katakana 片仮名, カタカナ, かたかな is a Japanese syllabary, one component of the Japanese writing system along with hiragana,[1] kanji, and in some cases the Latin alphabet (rōmaji). The word katakana means "fragmentary kana", as the katakana scripts are derived from components of more complex kanji. Each kana represents one mora. Each kana is either a vowel such as "a" (); a consonant followed by a vowel such as "ka" (); or "n" (), a nasal sonorant which, depending on the context, sounds either like English m, n, or ng (Template:IPAblink), or like the nasal vowels of French.

Unlike the hiragana system which is used for Japanese language words for which kanji does not cover, the katakana syllabary is primarily used for transcription of foreign language words into Japanese and the writing of loan words (collectively gairaigo), as well as to represent onomatopoeia, technical and scientific terms, and the names of plants, animals, and minerals. Names of Japanese companies as well as certain Japanese language words are also written in katakana rather than the other systems.

Katakana are characterized by short, straight strokes and angular corners, and are the simplest of the Japanese scripts.[2] There are two main systems of ordering katakana: the old-fashioned iroha ordering, and the more prevalent gojūon ordering.

Writing systemEdit

The complete katakana syllabary consists of 48 characters:

  • 39 distinct consonant-vowel unions
  • 5 singular vowels
  • 1 singular consonant
  • 1 particle that is pronounced as a vowel in modern Japanese
  • 2 consonant-vowel unions that are pronounced as vowels in modern Japanese and are therefore obsolete
    • 3 other consonant-vowel unions never became widespread and are not present at all in modern Japanese

These basic characters can be modified in various ways. By adding a dakuten marker ( ゛), a voiceless consonant is turned into a voiced consonant: kg, sz, td, and hb. Katakana beginning with an h can also add a handakuten marker ( ゜) changing the h to a p.

A small version of the katakana for ya, yu or yo (ャ, ュ, or ョ respectively) may be added to katakana ending in i. This changes the i vowel sound to a glide (palatalization) to a, u or o. Addition of the small y kana is called yōon. ヲ wo, whose hiragana form を is used as a particle, is rarely used in katakana, is also included (although pronounced the same as vowel オ o, [o]).

A small tsu ッ, called a sokuon, indicates that the following consonant is geminated (doubled). For example, compare サカ saka "hill" with サッカ sakka "author". It also sometimes appears at the end of utterances, where it denotes a glottal stop. However, it cannot be used to double the na, ni, nu, ne, no syllables' consonants – to double them, the singular n (ン) is added in front of the syllable.

To signify long vowels, the chōonpu (long vowel mark) (ー) used. For example, メール mēru is the gairaigo for e-mail taken from the English word "mail"; the ー lengthens the e. Small versions of the five vowel kana are sometimes used to represent trailing off sounds (ハァ haa, ネェ nee), but in Katakana they are more often used in yōon-like digraphs which allow for phonemes not present in Japanese; examples include チェンジ chenji ("change") and ウィキペディア Wikipedia. Standard and voiced iteration marks are written in katakana as ヽ and ヾ respectively.


Template:Refimprove In modern Japanese, katakana is most often used for transcription of words from foreign languages except Chinese[3] (called gairaigo). For example, "television" is written Template:Nihongo. Similarly, katakana is usually used for country names, foreign places, and foreign personal names. For example, the United States is usually referred to as Template:Lang Amerika, rather than in its ateji kanji spelling of Template:Nihongo2 Amerika.

Katakana are also used for onomatopoeia,[3] words used to represent sounds – for example, Template:Nihongo, the "ding-dong" sound of a doorbell.

Technical and scientific terms, such as the names of animal and plant species and minerals, are also commonly written in katakana. Template:Nihongo, as a species, is written Template:Nihongo3, rather than its kanji Template:Nihongo2.

Katakana are also often, but not always, used for transcription of Japanese company names. For example Suzuki is written スズキ, and Toyota is written トヨタ. Katakana are also used for emphasis, especially on signs, advertisements, and hoardings (i.e., billboards). For example, it is common to see Template:Lang koko ("here"), Template:Lang gomi ("trash"), or Template:Lang megane ("glasses"). Words the writer wishes to emphasize in a sentence are also sometimes written in katakana, mirroring the European usage of italics.[3]

Pre-World War II official documents mix katakana and kanji in the same way that hiragana and kanji are mixed in modern Japanese texts, that is, katakana were used for okurigana and particles such as wa or o.

Katakana were also used for telegrams in Japan before 1988, and for computer systems—before the introduction of multibyte characters—in the 1980s. Most computers in that era used katakana instead of kanji or hiragana for output.

Although words borrowed from ancient Chinese are usually written in kanji, loanwords from modern Chinese dialects which are borrowed directly rather than using the Sino-Japanese on'yomi readings are often written in katakana. Examples include:

Japanese Rōmaji Meaning Kanji Romanization Source language
マージャン mājan mahjong 麻將 májiàng Mandarin
ウーロン茶 ūroncha Oolong tea 烏龍茶 wūlóngchá
チャーハン chāhan fried rice 炒飯 chǎofàn
チャーシュー chāshū barbecued pork 叉焼 cha siu Cantonese
シューマイ shūmai a form of dim sum 焼売 siu maai

The very common Chinese loanword rāmen, written in katakana as Template:Lang in Japanese, is rarely written with its kanji (Template:Lang).

There are rare instances where the opposite has occurred, with kanji forms created from words originally written in katakana. An example of this is Template:Lang kōhī, ("coffee"), which can be alternatively written as Template:Lang. This kanji usage is occasionally employed by coffee manufacturers or coffee shops for novelty.

Katakana are used to indicate the on'yomi (Chinese-derived readings) of a kanji in a kanji dictionary. For instance, the kanji 人 has a Japanese pronunciation, written in hiragana as Template:Lang hito (person), as well as a Chinese derived pronunciation, written in katakana as Template:Lang jin (used to denote groups of people). Katakana are sometimes used instead of hiragana as furigana to give the pronunciation of a word written in Roman characters, or for a foreign word, which is written as kanji for the meaning, but intended to be pronounced as the original.

Katakana are also sometimes used to indicate words being spoken in a foreign or otherwise unusual accent, by foreign characters, robots, etc. For example, in a manga, the speech of a foreign character or a robot may be represented by Template:Lang konnichiwa ("hello") instead of the more typical hiragana Template:Lang. Some Japanese personal names are written in katakana. This was more common in the past, hence elderly women often have katakana names.

It is very common to write words with difficult-to-read kanji in katakana. This phenomenon is often seen with medical terminology. For example, in the word Template:Lang hifuka ("dermatology"), the second kanji, Template:Lang, is considered difficult to read, and thus the word hifuka is commonly written Template:Lang or Template:Lang, mixing kanji and katakana. Similarly, the difficult-to-read kanji such as Template:Lang gan ("cancer") are often written in katakana or hiragana.

Katakana is also used for traditional musical notations, as in the Tozan-ryū of shakuhachi, and in sankyoku ensembles with koto, shamisen, and shakuhachi.


Template:Unreferenced section Foreign phrases and names are sometimes transliterated with a space separating the words, called a Template:Nihongo; for example, Template:Nihongo2 ("Bill Gates"). When it is assumed that the reader knows the separate gairaigo words in the phrase, the middle dot is omitted. For example, the phrase Template:Nihongo2 konpyūta gēmu ("computer game") contains two well-known gairaigo, and therefore is not written with a middle dot.

Katakana spelling differs slightly from hiragana. While hiragana usually spells long vowels with the addition of a second vowel kana, katakana usually uses a vowel extender mark called a chōon. This is a short line following the direction of the text, horizontal for yokogaki (horizontal text), and vertical for tategaki (vertical text). It is generally used in foreign loanwords; long vowels in katakana words of Japanese origin are usually spelled as they would be in hiragana. There are exceptions, such as Template:Nihongo2 (Template:Nihongo3) or Template:Nihongo2 (Template:Nihongo3).

A small tsu (ッ) called a sokuon indicates that the following consonant is geminate; this is represented in rōmaji by doubling the consonant that follows the tsu. For example, "bed" is represented in katakana as ベッド (beddo). The sokuon may also be used to approximate a non-native sound; Bach is written Template:Nihongo2 (Bahha); Mach as Template:Nihongo2 (Mahha).

Foreign sounds can be difficult to express in Japanese, resulting in spellings such as Template:Nihongo2 Furushichofu (Khrushchev), Template:Nihongo2 Arī Hāmeneī (Ali Khamenei) and Template:Nihongo2 Itsuhaku Pāruman or Template:Nihongo2 Itsāku Pāruman (Itzhak Perlman).

Table of katakana Edit

This is a table of katakana together with their Hepburn romanization and their International Phonetic Alphabet pronunciation. Katakana with dakuten or handakuten follow the gojūon kana without them. Characters in gray are obsolete. Modern additions are used mainly to represent sounds from other languages. shi シ and tsu ツ , and so ソ and n ン , look very similar in print except for the slant and stroke shape. (These differences in slant and shape are more prominent when written with an ink brush.)

In the extended katakana table, orange shading indicates general kana combinations used for loanwords or foreign place names or personal names, and blue shading indicates combinations used for more accurate transliteration of foreign sounds, both set forth by the Japanese government's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.[4] Beige shading indicates suggestions by the American National Standards Institute[5] and the British Standards Institution[6] as possible uses. The purple shading indicates the combinations that appear on the 1974 version of the Hyōjun-shiki formatting.[7]

A possible archaic variant of e/we Template:IPA-ja can be found in Unicode's Kana Supplement as 𛀀.[8]



  1. ^ Template:Note labelTemplate:Note labelTemplate:Note label These now-obsolete katakana appeared in some textbooks as early as 1873 (Meiji 6), but never became widespread.[9][10]
  2. Template:Note In modern times, ウィ (wi) is used as the representation of a "wi" sound instead. In modern usage, the kana is obsolete but commonly pronounced the same as the i kana.
  3. Template:Note In modern times, ウェ (we) is used as the representation of a "we" sound instead. In modern usage, the kana is obsolete but commonly pronounced the same as the e kana.
  4. Template:Note In modern times, ウォ (wo) is used as the representation of a "wo" sound instead. The katakana version of the wo kana, ヲ, is primarily used, albeit rarely, to represent the particle を in katakana, which is commonly pronounced the same as the o kana.
  5. ^ Template:Note labelTemplate:Note labelTemplate:Note labelTemplate:Note labelTemplate:Note label These kana are primarily used for indicating a voiced consonant in the middle of a compound word and can never begin a word. Rarely used in katakana.
  6. Template:Note In modern times, ウー (ū) is used as the representation of a "wu" sound instead, despite not being pronounced as Template:IPA-ja.
  7. ^ Template:Note labelTemplate:Note labelTemplate:Note labelTemplate:Note labelTemplate:Note label These kana have only appeared in the 1974 version of the Hyōjun-shiki formatting. Their use in modern Japanese is non-existent due to the nature of the r sound in Japanese.



Katakana was developed in the early Heian Period from parts of man'yōgana characters as a form of shorthand.Template:Citation needed For example, ka カ comes from the left side of ka 加 "increase". The table below shows the origins of each katakana: the red markings of the original Chinese character eventually became each corresponding symbol.[11]

Recent findings by a scholar suggest the possibility that the kana system may have been originated in the eighth century on the Korean Peninsula and introduced to Japan through Buddhist texts.[12] However this hypothesis is questioned by other scholars.[13]

Japanese language instructionEdit

Some instructors "introduce katakana after the students have learned to read and write sentences in hiragana without difficulty and know the rules."[14] Most students who have learned hiragana "do not have great difficulty in memorizing" katakana as well.[15]

Other instructors introduce the katakana first, because these are used with loanwords. This gives students a chance to practice reading and writing kana with meaningful words. This was the approach taken by the influential American linguistics scholar Eleanor Harz Jorden in Japanese: The Written Language (parallel to Japanese: The Spoken Language).[16]

Stroke order and direction Edit

The following table shows the method for writing each katakana character. It is arranged in the traditional way, beginning top right and reading columns down. The numbers and arrows indicate the stroke order and direction respectively.

Table katakana

Computer encodingEdit

Template:Unreferenced section In addition to fonts intended for Japanese text and Unicode catch-all fonts (like Arial Unicode MS), many fonts intended for Chinese text (such as MS Song) also include katakana.

Katakana have two forms of encoding, Template:Nihongo and Template:Nihongo. The half-width forms were originally associated with the JIS X 0201 encoding. Their display forms were designed to fit into the same rectangle of pixels as Roman letters to enable easy implementation on the computer equipment of the day. This space is narrower than the square space traditionally occupied by Japanese characters, hence the name "half-width". In this scheme, diacritics (dakuten and handakuten) are separate characters. When originally devised, the half-width katakana were represented by a single byte each, as in JIS X 0201, again in line with the capabilities of contemporary computer technology.

In the late 1970s, two-byte character sets such as JIS X 0208 were introduced to support the full range of Japanese characters, including katakana, hiragana and kanji. Their display forms were designed to fit into an approximately square array of pixels, hence the name "full-width". For backwards compatibility, separate support for half-width katakana has continued to be available in modern multi-byte encoding schemes such as Unicode.

Although often said to be obsolete, in fact the half-width katakana are still used in many systems and encodings. For example, the titles of mini discs can only be entered in ASCII or half-width katakana, and half-width katakana wereTemplate:Clarify commonly used in computerized cash register displays, on shop receipts, and Japanese digital television and DVD subtitles. Several popular Japanese encodings such as EUC-JP, Unicode and Shift-JIS have half-width katakana code as well as full-width. By contrast, ISO-2022-JP has no half-width katakana, and is mainly used over SMTP and NNTP.


Katakana was added to the Unicode Standard in October, 1991 with the release of version 1.0.

The Unicode block for full-width katakana is U+30A0 ... U+30FF.

Encoded in this block along with the katakana are the nakaguro word separation middle dot, the chōon vowel extender, the katakana iteration marks, and a ligature of コト sometimes used in vertical writing.

Template:Unicode chart Katakana

Half-width equivalents to the full-width katakana also exist. These are encoded within the Half-width and Full-width Forms block (U+FF00–U+FFEF), starting at U+FF65 and ending at U+FF9F (characters U+FF61–U+FF64 are half-width punctuation marks).

This block also includes the half-width dakuten and handakuten. The full-width versions of these characters are found in the Hiragana block.

Segment of Halfwidth and Fullwidth Forms chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+FF7x ソ

Circled katakana are code points U+32D0 to U+32FE in the Enclosed CJK Letters and Months block (U+3200 - U+32FF). A circled ン (n) is not included.

Segment of Enclosed CJK Letters and Months chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F

Extensions to Katakana for phonetic transcription of Ainu and other languages were added to the Unicode Standard in March, 2002 with the release of version 3.2.

The Unicode block for Katakana Phonetic Extensions is U+31F0 ... U+31FF:

Template:Unicode chart Katakana Phonetic Extensions

Historic and variant forms of Japanese kana characters were added to the Unicode Standard in October, 2010 with the release of version 6.0.

The Unicode block for Kana Supplement is U+1B000 ... U+1B0FF. Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points:

See alsoEdit


  1. Roy Andrew Miller, A Japanese Reader: Graded Lessons in the Modern Language, Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle Company, Tokyo, Japan (1966), p. 28, Lesson 7 : Katakana : a—no. "Side by side with hiragana, modern Japanese writing makes use of another complete set of similar symbols called the katakana."
  2. Miller, p. 28. "The katana symbols, rather simpler, more angular and abrupt in their line than the hiragana..."
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Yookoso! An Invitation to Contemporary Japanese 1st edition McGraw-Hill 1993, page 29 "The Japanese Writing System (2) Katakana"
  4. Template:Cite web
  5. Template:Cite web
  6. Template:Cite web
  7. ローマ字文の手ほどき: 標準式ローマ字書き日本語の書き方
  8. Unicode Kana Supplement
  9. (ja) 「いろは と アイウエオ」
  10. (ja) 伊豆での収穫 : 日本国語学史上比類なき変体仮名
  11. Japanese katakana (
  12. "Katakana system may be Korean, professor says", Japan Times,
  13. Template:Citation/core
  14. Mutsuko Endo Simon, A Practical Guide for Teachers of Elementary Japanese, Center for Japanese Studies, the University of Michigan (1984) p. 36, 3.3 Katakana
  15. Simon, p. 36
  16. Reading Japanese, Lesson 1

External linksEdit

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