The hiragana are used to write native Japanese words and verb inflections (okurigana). While it is possible to write all Japanese words in hiragana, Kanji are used for most instead. This practice often seems counter-intuitive to English speakers, but it confers the advantages of a morpheme-based writing system (as opposed to phoneme-based).

It should be mentioned that there are several obsolete kana that are rarely used today, in both hiragana and katakana. In hiragana:

ゑ - the "we" hiragana
ゐ - the "wi" hiragana
ゔ - the "vu" hiragana

All of these kana are considered obsolete, and exist only for use in transcribing older documents. In cases where the "vu" hiragana is used, the still in use katakana "vu" is placed instead, and when formed into another syllable, a smaller kana vowel is paired with it.

There are an additional 4 obsolete characters in katakana, none of which have a hiragana form.

Hiragana were developed as an alternative writing system by educated women at the imperial court; they were later widely adopted because in combination with kanji they were better fit to represent the Japanese language than the kanji on their own.

In addition to the basic hiragana sounds, other sounds can be made by combining two characters.

The two groups of characters that can be combined are the characters ending in 'i' and the characters beginning with 'y'.

An 'i' character is written normally, with a small 'y' character next to it.

It seems that the resultant sound contains a 'y' only if a character already exists that is the same as the combination without the 'y'.

For example, "sha" is written by combining the "shi" and "ya" characters. (しゃ)
"Cho" is written by combining the "chi" and "yo" characters. (ちょ)
"Ryu" is written by combining the "ri" and "yu" characters. (りゅ)

Here is the complete hiragana syllabary, encoded in HEX Unicode, with the HEXUnicode/HTML character entities displayed, as well as the Romaji transliteration.


Unicode/HTML - Hiragana - Romaji1
________________________________
あ - あ - A
い - い - I
う - う - U
え - え - E
お - お - O
か - か - KA
が - が - GA
き - き - KI
ぎ - ぎ - GI
く - く - KU
ぐ - ぐ - GU
け - け - KE
げ - げ - GE
こ - こ - KO
ご - ご - GO
さ - さ - SA
ざ - ざ - ZA
し - し - SI/SHI
じ - じ - ZI/JI
す - す - SU
ず - ず - ZU
せ - せ - SE
ぜ - ぜ - ZE
そ - そ - SO
ぞ - ぞ - ZO
た - た - TA
だ - だ - DA
ち - ち - TI/CHI
ぢ - ぢ - DI/JI
つ - つ - TU/TSU
づ - づ - DU/ZU
て - て - TE
で - で - DE
と - と - TO
ど - ど - DO
な - な - NA
に - に - NI
ぬ - ぬ - NU
ね - ね - NE
の - の - NO
は - は - HA
ば - ば - BA
ぱ - ぱ - PA
ひ - ひ - HI
び - び - BI
ぴ - ぴ - PI
ふ - ふ - HU/FU
ぶ - ぶ - BU
ぷ - ぷ - PU
へ - へ - HE
べ - べ - BE
ぺ - ぺ - PE
ほ - ほ - HO
ぼ - ぼ - BO
ぽ - ぽ - PO
ま - ま - MA
み - み - MI
む - む - MU
め - め - ME
も - も - MO
や - や - YA
ゆ - ゆ - YU
よ - よ - YO
ら - ら - RA
り - り - RI
る - る - RU
れ - れ - RE
ろ - ろ - RO
わ - わ - WA
ゐ - ゐ - WI
ゑ - ゑ - WE
を - を - WO
ん - ん - N
ゔ - ゔ - WU2

1 Where two transliterations are given, the first is kunreishiki, and the second is Hepburn. The sound is the same. (Thanks to gn0sis for reminding me to include this fact).

2 Something appears to be wrong with the Unicode encoding of entity 3094: Hiragana "WU". Certainly, it does not display correctly for me. Please /msg me with comments on the subject.


Addendum:

Inspired by LX's excellent WU in this node, I've composed a Hiragana HTML-iser.

Instructions:

  1. Cut and paste the code below into a file with the .HTM / .HTML extension
  2. Load the page into a Unicode-compatible browser
  3. Click the Hiragana characters you need to use, and the Unicode HTML entities will appear in the box
  4. When you're done, cut and paste the text from the box into your node (or wherever), and Bob's your uncle
  5. Finish the exercise by thinking kind thoughts of LX, who made this possible

<html>
<head><title>Hiragana HTMLiser</title></head>
<body>
<script type="text/javascript">
   function writelink(i) {
      document.write("<a href=");
      document.write(String.fromCharCode(34));
      document.write("javascript:document.result.code.value=");
      document.write("document.result.code.value + '&amp;#");
      document.write(i);
      document.write(";';void('');");
      document.write(String.fromCharCode(34));
      document.write(">");
      document.write(String.fromCharCode(i));
      document.write("</a> ")
   }

   document.write("Hiragana HTML-iser <br>");
   document.write("(by <a href='http://www.everything2.com/?node_id=934790'>liveforever</a>");
   document.write(", with thanks to ");
   document.write("<a href='http://www.everything2.com/?node_id=1037330'>LX</a>)");
   document.write("<form name='result'>");
   document.write("<input type='text' name='code' size='40'>");
   document.write("</form><br><big><kbd>");
   writelink(12354)
   writelink(12356)
   writelink(12358)
   writelink(12360)
   writelink(12362)
   for (var i = 12363; i < 12373; i++) { writelink(i) }
   document.write("<br>")
   for (var i = 12373; i < 12387; i++) { writelink(i) }
   for (var i = 12388; i < 12389; i++) { writelink(i) }
   document.write("<br>")
   for (var i = 12389; i < 12404; i++) { writelink(i) }
   document.write("<br>")
   for (var i = 12404; i < 12418; i++) { writelink(i) }
    document.write("<br>")
   writelink(12418)
   writelink(12420)
   for (var i = 12422; i < 12423; i++) { writelink(i) }
   for (var i = 12424; i < 12430; i++) { writelink(i) }
   for (var i = 12431; i < 12436; i++) { writelink(i) }
   document.write("</kbd></big>");

</script>
</body>
</html>

Many thanks to ex0teric, who caught a bug-of-omission, in this code.

For a more complex, and possibly more useful, version of this, see my kana converter at http://www.scholiast.org/kana-converter.html.

Note that this node requires Unicode compatibility to be displayed correctly.

Hiragana (平 仮 名 in Japanese) with one literal translation of the characters being flat temporary name.

First, allow me to go briefly into the background of the Japanese language a bit.

I have not been able to find much information on a pre-Chinese influenced writing system in Japan. It seems as if there was no written language in Japan before contact with the Chinese, although I am not certain of this. When the Chinese-characters were imported, certain ones were chosen to represent the sounds of Japanese while other ones retained their meaning. That meant that although ancient manuscripts would be written all in kanji, people would have to be very educated in order to decipher which ones were used as phonetical symbols and which ones were used as representations of ideas. Also, writing out each individual stroke of the kanji was a tedious process. Eventually normal folk developed a sort of short hand (done by writing the kanji extremely quickly and not paying much attention to the stroke order) for the kanji used for phonetic representation. These became the hiragana that we knew today.

Many of the hiragana still look like the kanji that they descended from. I have compiled a full list of the hiragana (including the archaic ones) with the kanji it derived from, along with a short explanation of the meaning of the kanji, for those interested. Also note that the meanings for the kanji may not be completely accurate, due to the fact that some kanji in Japanese are never used alone and therefore sometimes only have a concete meaning when combined with another kanji.

If the kanji has already been noded in the Japanese Kanji project, they will be marked with more info and a link that leads to the kanji in question.

あ - 安 meaning peaceful
い - 以 and is a modifier that means approximately compared with
う - 宇 meaning roof or heaven
え - 衣 meaning coating
お - 於 and carries the connotation as for, in, or at
か - 加 meaning join or include
き - 幾 and is used in asking regarding a amount (how much, how many, etc.)
く - 久 meaning long time ago
け - 計 meaning plan
こ - 己 meaning serpent
さ - 左 meaning left | more info
し - 之 and is a modifier meaning of or this
す - 寸 and is an old Chinese unit of length
せ - 世 meaning society, or world
そ - 曾 meaning once, former, or ex-
た - 太 meaning plump or thick
ち - 知 meaning knowledge or wisdom
つ - 州 meaning state or province
て - 天 meaning sky or heaven | more info
と - 止 meaning stop
な - 奈 meaning "what?"
に - 仁 meaning humanity
ぬ - 奴 meaning fellow or manservant
ね - 禰 meaning ancestral shrine
の - 乃 meaning from or accordingly
は - 波 meaning waves or billows
ひ - 比 meaning compare or ratio
ふ - 不 and is the negative modifier
へ - 部 meaning part or section
ほ - 保 meaning protect, preserve, or support
ま - 末 meaning end or tip
み - 美 meaning beautiful
む - 武 meaning warrior or chivalry
め - 女 meaning female | more info
も - 毛 meaning animal fur
や - 也 meaning "to be"
ゆ - 由 meaning reason
よ - 与 meaning to give, award, or provide
ら - 良 meaning good or skillful
り - 利 meaning advantage or benefit
る - 留 meaning detain or stop
れ - 礼 meaning renumeration
ろ - 呂 meaning spine
わ - 和 meaning peace or harmony and also Japan itself
ゐ - 為 meaning to change, make, or as a result of (this hiragana is no longer used in modern Japanese)
ゑ - 恵 meaning grace or kindness (this hiragana is no longer used in modern Japanese)
を - 遠 meaning distant | more info
ん - 无 meaning the abscence of things (nothing)

A note that the meanings of the kanji probably have more or less nothing to do with the hiragana. Also, when writing Japanese, hiragana is considered to give off a "softer" feel because it was often used by women (due to the fact that they usually did not recieve a formal education and could not use many kanji). So next time you're writing a love letter in Japanese, don't strain yourself too hard trying to remember all those kanji that you've forgotten.

Credits go out to liveforever's previous node for the Unicode for all the hiragana, the Kojigen Japanese dictionary for all the origins, and Jim Breen's online Japanese dictionary (located http://www.csse.monash.edu.au/~jwb/wwwjdic.html) for the kanji Unicode.

Hiragana is the cursive syllabary used to write Japanese words phonetically and to write sentence particles and inflectional endings. It is also commonly used to indicate the pronunciation of Japanese words. Hiragana syllables are phonetically equivalent to the corresponding Katakana syllables.

The Hiragana block is based on JIS X 0208-1990, extended by U+3094    vu which is used in some Japanese corporate standards.

Hiragana and Katakana both use U+3099    combining Katakana Hiragana voiced sound mark and U+309A    combining Katakana Hiragana semi voiced sound mark to generate voiced and semi-voiced syllables from base syllables.

The two characters U+309D    Hiragana iteration mark and U+309E    Hiragana voiced iteration mark are punctuation-like characters that denote the iteration, or repetition, of a previous syllable according to whether the repeated syllable has an unvoiced or voiced consonant.

With all due respect to liveforever's excellent writeup, the code listing is incomplete, and so I will include the complete code block below.


Unicode's Hiragana code block reserves the 96 code points from U+3040 to U+309F, of which 93 are currently assigned.

CJK Symbols and Punctuation <-- Hiragana --> Katakana

Number of characters added in each version of the Unicode standard :
Unicode 1.1 : 90
Unicode 3.2 : 3

Number of characters in each General Category :

Letter, Modifier   Lm :  2
Letter, Other      Lo : 87
Mark, Non-Spacing  Mn :  2
Symbol, Modifier   Sk :  2

Number of characters in each Bidirectional Category :

Left To Right       L : 89
Non Spacing Mark  NSM :  2
Other Neutral      ON :  2

The columns below should be interpreted as :

  1. The Unicode code for the character
  2. The character in question
  3. The Unicode name for the character
  4. The Unicode General Category for the character
  5. The Unicode Bidirectional Category for the character
  6. The Unicode version when this character was added

If the characters below show up poorly, or not at all, see Unicode Support for possible solutions.

 

Hiragana

     Based on JIS X 0208

U+3041   ぁ   Hiragana letter small a Lo L 1.1
U+3042   あ   Hiragana letter A Lo L 1.1
U+3043   ぃ   Hiragana letter small i Lo L 1.1
U+3044   い   Hiragana letter I Lo L 1.1
U+3045   ぅ   Hiragana letter small u Lo L 1.1
U+3046   う   Hiragana letter U Lo L 1.1
U+3047   ぇ   Hiragana letter small e Lo L 1.1
U+3048   え   Hiragana letter E Lo L 1.1
U+3049   ぉ   Hiragana letter small o Lo L 1.1
U+304A   お   Hiragana letter O Lo L 1.1
U+304B   か   Hiragana letter ka Lo L 1.1
U+304C   が   Hiragana letter ga Lo L 1.1
U+304D   き   Hiragana letter ki Lo L 1.1
U+304E   ぎ   Hiragana letter gi Lo L 1.1
U+304F   く   Hiragana letter ku Lo L 1.1
U+3050   ぐ   Hiragana letter gu Lo L 1.1
U+3051   け   Hiragana letter ke Lo L 1.1
U+3052   げ   Hiragana letter ge Lo L 1.1
U+3053   こ   Hiragana letter ko Lo L 1.1
U+3054   ご   Hiragana letter go Lo L 1.1
U+3055   さ   Hiragana letter sa Lo L 1.1
U+3056   ざ   Hiragana letter za Lo L 1.1
U+3057   し   Hiragana letter si Lo L 1.1
aka shi
U+3058   じ   Hiragana letter zi Lo L 1.1
aka ji (not unique)
U+3059   す   Hiragana letter su Lo L 1.1
U+305A   ず   Hiragana letter zu Lo L 1.1
U+305B   せ   Hiragana letter se Lo L 1.1
U+305C   ぜ   Hiragana letter ze Lo L 1.1
U+305D   そ   Hiragana letter so Lo L 1.1
U+305E   ぞ   Hiragana letter zo Lo L 1.1
U+305F   た   Hiragana letter ta Lo L 1.1
U+3060   だ   Hiragana letter da Lo L 1.1
U+3061   ち   Hiragana letter ti Lo L 1.1
aka chi
U+3062   ぢ   Hiragana letter di Lo L 1.1
aka ji (not unique)
U+3063   っ   Hiragana letter small tu Lo L 1.1
aka small tsu
U+3064   つ   Hiragana letter tu Lo L 1.1
aka tsu
U+3065   づ   Hiragana letter du Lo L 1.1
aka zu (not unique)
U+3066   て   Hiragana letter te Lo L 1.1
U+3067   で   Hiragana letter de Lo L 1.1
U+3068   と   Hiragana letter to Lo L 1.1
U+3069   ど   Hiragana letter do Lo L 1.1
U+306A   な   Hiragana letter na Lo L 1.1
U+306B   に   Hiragana letter ni Lo L 1.1
U+306C   ぬ   Hiragana letter nu Lo L 1.1
U+306D   ね   Hiragana letter ne Lo L 1.1
U+306E   の   Hiragana letter no Lo L 1.1
U+306F   は   Hiragana letter ha Lo L 1.1
U+3070   ば   Hiragana letter ba Lo L 1.1
U+3071   ぱ   Hiragana letter pa Lo L 1.1
U+3072   ひ   Hiragana letter hi Lo L 1.1
U+3073   び   Hiragana letter bi Lo L 1.1
U+3074   ぴ   Hiragana letter pi Lo L 1.1
U+3075   ふ   Hiragana letter hu Lo L 1.1
aka fu
U+3076   ぶ   Hiragana letter bu Lo L 1.1
U+3077   ぷ   Hiragana letter pu Lo L 1.1
U+3078   へ   Hiragana letter he Lo L 1.1
U+3079   べ   Hiragana letter be Lo L 1.1
U+307A   ぺ   Hiragana letter pe Lo L 1.1
U+307B   ほ   Hiragana letter ho Lo L 1.1
U+307C   ぼ   Hiragana letter bo Lo L 1.1
U+307D   ぽ   Hiragana letter po Lo L 1.1
U+307E   ま   Hiragana letter ma Lo L 1.1
U+307F   み   Hiragana letter mi Lo L 1.1
U+3080   む   Hiragana letter mu Lo L 1.1
U+3081   め   Hiragana letter me Lo L 1.1
U+3082   も   Hiragana letter mo Lo L 1.1
U+3083   ゃ   Hiragana letter small ya Lo L 1.1
U+3084   や   Hiragana letter ya Lo L 1.1
U+3085   ゅ   Hiragana letter small yu Lo L 1.1
U+3086   ゆ   Hiragana letter yu Lo L 1.1
U+3087   ょ   Hiragana letter small yo Lo L 1.1
U+3088   よ   Hiragana letter yo Lo L 1.1
U+3089   ら   Hiragana letter ra Lo L 1.1
U+308A   り   Hiragana letter ri Lo L 1.1
U+308B   る   Hiragana letter ru Lo L 1.1
U+308C   れ   Hiragana letter re Lo L 1.1
U+308D   ろ   Hiragana letter ro Lo L 1.1
U+308E   ゎ   Hiragana letter small wa Lo L 1.1
U+308F   わ   Hiragana letter wa Lo L 1.1
U+3090   ゐ   Hiragana letter wi Lo L 1.1
U+3091   ゑ   Hiragana letter we Lo L 1.1
U+3092   を   Hiragana letter wo Lo L 1.1
U+3093   ん   Hiragana letter N Lo L 1.1
U+3094   ゔ   Hiragana letter vu Lo L 1.1

     Small letters

U+3095   ゕ   Hiragana letter small ka Lo L 3.2
U+3096   ゖ   Hiragana letter small ke Lo L 3.2

     Voicing marks

U+3099   ゙   combining Katakana Hiragana voiced sound mark Mn NSM 1.1
U+309A   ゚   combining Katakana Hiragana semi voiced sound mark Mn NSM 1.1
U+309B   ゛   Katakana Hiragana voiced sound mark Sk ON 1.1
U+309C   ゜   Katakana Hiragana semi voiced sound mark Sk ON 1.1

     Iteration marks

U+309D   ゝ   Hiragana iteration mark Lm L 1.1
U+309E   ゞ   Hiragana voiced iteration mark Lm L 1.1

     Vertical form digraph

U+309F   ゟ   Hiragana digraph yori Lo L 3.2

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