This document is intended for those who have learnt the two phonetic syllabaries of Japanese but who occasionally confuse similar characters:


and so on.



1.    Certain characters are almost identical in both hiragana and katakana:


Hiragana         Katakana


‚€                  ƒE       u

‚©                  ƒJ       ka

‚«                  ƒL       ki

‚Ή                  ƒZ       se

‚±                  ƒR       ko

‚Ι                  ƒj       ni

‚Φ                  ƒw       he

‚ΰ                  ƒ‚       mo

‚β                  ƒ„       ya

‚θ                  ƒŠ       ri (the similarity is more marked in written hiragana)


*     Thinking of the hiragana ‚€ (u)Afor example, will help you distinguish between the katakana ƒt (fu), ƒ (wa), and ƒE (u), because of the small stroke at the top.


*     Thinking of the hiragana ‚θ (ri) will help you distinguish between the katakana ƒŠ(ri) and ƒ‹(ru).




2.    <*>Similar Katakana:


The more often you see a word, the more likely you are to remember it.  Association will help you call to mind an elusive character:


*     ƒtƒ‰ƒC                furai                (deep-fried food)

ƒƒCƒ“                wain                (wine)

ƒEƒCƒXƒL|        uisukii             (whisky)


*     ƒN(ku) and ƒP (ke):

ƒAƒNƒZƒTƒŠ        akusesari         (accessories)

ƒP|ƒL                kēki                (cake)

- Remember the difference between ƒN (ku) and ƒP (ke) by sound and letter association: Ku has two strokes, Ke has thrEE.


*     ƒ(me) and ƒi(na):

ƒJƒƒ‰     kamera            (camera)

- Note that ƒ (me) is leaning backwards, like a Japanese tourist attempting to photograph a tall building in a narrow street.

- ƒi (na) is more upright, almost as straight as the eonefs in 11, the atomic number of sodium.


*     ƒ€(mu) and ƒ}(ma):

ƒAƒ‹ƒoƒ€ arubamu          (album)

- ƒ€ (mu) is a character that you may not encounter very often.  It may be confused with ƒ} (ma).  Remember:

- You start to write ƒ} (ma) by moving your pen to the right; MAssachussetts is on the right of America.

- ƒ€ (mu) is also similar to the Greek letter ƒΚ (mū).


*     ƒ\(so) and ƒ“(n); ƒc(tsu) and ƒV(shi):

Katakana is sometimes confusing because of:

a)        The difference between Japanese pronunciation and the pronounciation of the word in the language from which it was


b)        The Japanese habit of abbreviation.


For point (a), the sounds that cause most confusion are l/r, f/h, and b/v.  For those of us from Northern England, the pronunciation of euf as eaf further complicates the matter!  Thus ealbumf becomes earubamuf.


An example of point (b) can be found in:

ƒpƒ\ƒRƒ“      pasokon          (personal computer)

- ƒ\(so) and ƒ“(n) are very similar, as are ƒc(tsu) and ƒV(shi), and it may help to learn them as two groups:


- ƒV(shi) and ƒ“(n) form SHIN.  The long stroke starts at the bottom, and works its way up; the short strokes are more horizontal than in ƒc(tsu) and ƒ\(so) – almost at a right angle, like the foot to the shin


- In ƒc(tsu) and ƒ\(so), all strokes form a steeper angle, and the long stroke starts at the top.  Think of SOaring up a blind SUmmit and then plunging down the other side.


*     ƒ†(yu) and ƒˆ(yo):

Visual and sound association: ƒˆ(yo) looks like a cOmb.

For ƒˆ(yo), think of a YOrker being bowled at three stumps.




3.        Similar hiragana:


*     ‚«(ki) and ‚³(sa):

‚«(ki) has 2 horizontal lines, ‚³(sa) has one.  Think of 2 KIdneys.


*     ‚³(sa) and ‚Ώ(chi):

You can trust the Japanese to complicate things!  ‚³ seems to contain a ecf, short for echif – but it must be viewed in a mirror!


*     ‚ί(me) and ‚Κ(nu):

Think of MENU.  Associate by sound: ‚Κ(nu) has a kNot, or a lOOp, at the end.


*     ‚ν(wa), ‚κ(re) and ‚Λ(ne):

‚κ(re) ends to the Right; ‚Λ(ne) has a kNot at the end.


*     ‚ι(ru) and ‚λ(ro):

Sound association: ‚ι(ru) has a lOOp.


*     ‚Δ(te) and ‚Ζ(to):

Visual association: think of ‚Ζ(to) as a sandal with a strap that separates the big TOE.




4.        Similar hiragana and katakana representing different sounds:


*     ƒT(katakana: sa) and ‚Ή(hiragana: se):

- In ƒT(sa), the long, final stroke ends to the left; in ‚Ή(se), the long stroke ends to the right.  SA is the onyomi (Chinese reading) for the kanji Ά, meaning eleftf (kunyomi, or Japanese reading: hidari).  SE stands for Southeast, which is on the right of the country.


- So: SA left, SE right.


- Associate katakana with left, and hiragana with right:


KL, Kuala Lumpur.


HR, Human Rights, Human Resources, Home Run, House Refurbishmentc  Form your own associations!


You may also remember the similarity of SE in hiragana ‚Ή and katakana ƒZ.