Script type
Time period
c. 800 CE to the present
DirectionVertical right-to-left, left-to-right Edit this on Wikidata
LanguagesJapanese, Ryukyuan languages, Hachijō, Ainu, Palauan[1]
Related scripts
Parent systems
ISO 15924
ISO 15924Hrkt (412), ​Japanese syllabaries (alias for Hiragana + Katakana)
Unicode alias
Katakana or Hiragana
 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.

Kana (仮名, Japanese pronunciation: [kana]) are syllabaries used to write Japanese phonological units, morae. In current usage, kana most commonly refers to hiragana[2] and katakana. It can also refer to their ancestor magana (真仮名, lit. 'true kana'),[3] which were Chinese characters used phonetically to transcribe Japanese (e.g. man'yōgana); and hentaigana, which are historical variants of the now-standard hiragana.

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

Each kana character corresponds to one sound or whole syllable in the Japanese language, unlike kanji regular script, which corresponds to a meaning. Apart from the five vowels, it is always CV (consonant onset with vowel nucleus), such as ka, ki, sa, shi, etc., with the sole exception of the C grapheme for nasal codas usually romanised as n. The 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 (e.g. 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).

The limited number of phonemes in Japanese, as well as the relatively rigid syllable structure, makes the kana system 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'.[3]

Today it is generally assumed that 'kana' were considered "false" kanji due to their purely phonetic nature, as opposed to mana (真名) which were "true" kanji used for their meanings. Yet originally, mana and kana were purely calligraphic terms with mana referring to Chinese characters written in the regular script (kaisho) and kana referring to those written in the cursive (sōsho) style (see hiragana). It was not until the 18th century that the early-nationalist kokugaku movement which wanted to move away from Sinocentric academia began to reanalyze the script from a phonological point of view.[4] In the following centuries, contrary to the traditional Sinocentric view, kana began to be considered a national Japanese writing system that was distinct from Chinese characters, which is the dominant view today.


Although the term 'kana' is now commonly understood as hiragana and katakana, it actually has broader application as listed below:[3]

Hiragana and katakana

The following table reads, in gojūon 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
a あア かカ さサ たタ なナ はハ まマ やヤ らラ わワ
i いイ きキ しシ ちチ にニ ひヒ みミ 𛀆𛄠* りリ ゐヰ
u うウ くク すス つツ ぬヌ ふフ むム ゆユ るル 𛄟𛄢*
e えエ けケ せセ てテ ねネ へヘ めメ 𛀁𛄡* れレ ゑヱ
o おオ こコ そソ とト のノ ほホ もモ よヨ ろロ をヲ


See also: Dakuten and handakuten, Yōon, and Historical kana orthography

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 l
a がガ ざザ だダ ばバ ぱパ か゚カ゚ ら゚ラ゚
i ぎギ じジ ぢヂ びビ ぴピ き゚キ゚ り゚リ゚
u ぐグ ずズ づヅ ぶブ ぷプ く゚ク゚ る゚ル゚
e げゲ ぜゼ でデ べベ ぺペ け゚ケ゚ れ゚レ゚
o ごゴ ぞゾ どド ぼボ ぽポ こ゚コ゚ ろ゚ロ゚


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 yōon.

Yōon digraphs, hiragana
k s t n h m r
ya きゃ しゃ ちゃ にゃ ひゃ みゃ りゃ
yu きゅ しゅ ちゅ にゅ ひゅ みゅ りゅ
yo きょ しょ ちょ にょ ひょ みょ りょ
Yōon digraphs, hiragana
g j (z) j (d) b p ng
ya ぎゃ じゃ ぢゃ びゃ ぴゃ き゚ゃ
yu ぎゅ じゅ ぢゅ びゅ ぴゅ き゚ゅ
yo ぎょ じょ ぢょ びょ ぴょ き゚ょ

Modern usage

See also: Japanese writing system, Hiragana, and Katakana

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.

Systems supporting only a limited set of characters, such as Wabun code for Morse code telegrams and single-byte digital character encodings such as JIS X 0201 or EBCDIK, likewise dispense with kanji, instead using only katakana. This is not necessary in systems supporting double-byte or variable-width encodings such as Shift JIS, EUC-JP, UTF-8 or UTF-16.


Development of hiragana and katakana

Old Japanese was written entirely in kanji, and a set of kanji called man'yōgana were first used to represent the phonetic values of grammatical particles and morphemes. As there was no consistent method of sound representation, a phoneme could be represented by multiple kanji, and even those kana's pronunciations differed in whether they were to be read as kungana (訓仮名, "meaning kana") or ongana (音仮名, "sound kana"), making decipherment problematic. The man'yōshū, a poetry anthology assembled sometime after 759 and the eponym of man'yōgana, exemplifies this phenomenon, where as many as almost twenty kanji were used for the mora ka. The consistency of the kana used was thus dependent on the style of the writer. Hiragana developed as a distinct script from cursive man'yōgana, whereas katakana developed from abbreviated parts of regular script man'yōgana as a glossing system to add readings or explanations to Buddhist sutras. Both of these systems were simplified to make writing easier. The shapes of many hiragana resembled the Chinese cursive script, as did those of many katakana the Korean gugyeol, suggesting that the Japanese followed the continental pattern of their neighbors.[18]

Kana is traditionally said to have been invented by the Buddhist priest Kūkai in the ninth century. Kūkai certainly brought the Siddhaṃ script of India home on his return from China in 806;[citation needed] 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 Siddhaṃ, but the traditional iroha arrangement follows a poem which uses each kana once.

However, hiragana and katakana did not quickly supplant man'yōgana. It was only in 1900 that the present set of kana was codified. All the other forms of hiragana and katakana developed before the 1900 codification are known as hentaigana (変体仮名, "variant kana"). Rules for their usage as per the spelling reforms of 1946, the gendai kana-zukai (現代仮名遣い, "present-day kana usage"), which abolished the kana for wi (ゐ・ヰ), we (ゑ・ヱ), and wo (を・ヲ) (except that the last was reserved as the accusative particle).[18]

Identical man’yōgana 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 gojūon (あ い う え お ... わ を ん), though iroha (い ろ は に ほ へ と ... せ す (ん)) 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

Main articles: Hiragana (Unicode block), Katakana (Unicode block), Katakana Phonetic Extensions, Halfwidth and Fullwidth Forms (Unicode block), and Kana Supplement (Unicode block)

See also: Hiragana § Unicode, and Katakana § 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
1.^ As of Unicode version 15.1
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
1.^ As of Unicode version 15.1

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 (より) sometimes used in vertical writing. U+30FF is a ligature of koto (コト), 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 15.1

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
1.^ As of Unicode version 15.1
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+1B13x 𛄲
U+1B15x 𛅐 𛅑 𛅒 𛅕
U+1B16x 𛅤 𛅥 𛅦 𛅧
1.^ As of Unicode version 15.1
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.[19] It also includes a further 31 archaic Hiragana in the Kana Extended-A block.[20]

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 15.1
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 𛄟
U+1B12x 𛄠 𛄡 𛄢
1.^ As of Unicode version 15.1
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points

The Kana Extended-B block was added in September, 2021 with the release of version 14.0:

Kana Extended-B[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+1AFFx 𚿰 𚿱 𚿲 𚿳 𚿵 𚿶 𚿷 𚿸 𚿹 𚿺 𚿻 𚿽 𚿾
1.^ As of Unicode version 15.1
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points

See also


  1. ^ Thomas E. McAuley, Language change in East Asia, 2001:90
  2. ^ Hatasa, Yukiko Abe; Kazumi Hatasa; Seiichi Makino (2010). Nakama 1: Introductory Japanese: Communication, Culture, Context 2nd ed. Heinle. p. 2. ISBN 978-0495798187.
  3. ^ a b c スーパー大辞林 [Super Daijirin].
  4. ^ Tawada, Yoko (2020). On Writing and Rewriting. London: Lexington Books. p. 43. ISBN 978-1-4985-9004-4.
  5. ^ a b Seeley, Christopher (1991). A History of Writing in Japan. BRILL. pp. 109 (footnote 18). ISBN 90-04-09081-9.
  6. ^ a b c "Is there a kana symbol for ye or yi?". SLJ FAQ. Retrieved 4 August 2016.
  7. ^ a b c Katō, Nozomu (14 January 2008). "JTC1/SC2/WG2 N3388: Proposal to encode two Kana characters concerning YE" (PDF). Retrieved 4 August 2016.
  8. ^ a b "Kana Supplement" (PDF). Unicode 6.0. Unicode. 2010. Retrieved 22 June 2016.
  9. ^ More information is available at ja:ヤ行エ on the Japanese Wikipedia.
  10. ^ "Japanese Kana Chart from the Netherlands". www.raccoonbend.com.
  11. ^ Cabinet of Japan. "平成3年6月28日内閣告示第2号:外来語の表記" [Japanese cabinet order No.2 (28 June 1991):The notation of loanword]. Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. Archived from the original on 6 January 2019. Retrieved 25 May 2011.
  12. ^ Katō, Nozomu. "L2/08-359: About WG2 N3528" (PDF).
  13. ^ a b "伊豆での収穫" (in Japanese). Archived from the original on 3 March 2008.
  14. ^ More information is available at ja:わ行う, ja:ヤ行イ and ja:五十音#51全てが異なる字・音: 江戸後期から明治 on the Japanese Wikipedia.
  15. ^ "Kana Extended-A" (PDF). Unicode 14.0 Delta Code Charts. Unicode Consortium. 2021.
  16. ^ Haruo), 海津知緒(KAIZU. "■米国規格(ANSI Z39.11-1972)—要約". ローマ字相談室 (in Japanese). Retrieved 21 May 2024.
  17. ^ Haruo), 海津知緒(KAIZU. "■英国規格(BS 4812 : 1972)—要約". ローマ字相談室 (in Japanese). Retrieved 21 May 2024.
  18. ^ a b Frellesvig, Bjarke (2010). A History of the Japanese Language. Cambridge University Press. pp. 12, 17, 23–24, 158–160, 173. ISBN 978-0-521-65320-6. Retrieved 7 March 2022.
  19. ^ "Kana Supplement" (PDF). Unicode 15.1. Unicode. Retrieved 11 March 2024.
  20. ^ "Kana Extended-A" (PDF). Unicode 15.1. Unicode. Retrieved 11 March 2024.