One of two Japanese phoenetic syllabaries. It has more angular characters than the hiragana system, and is often used to transcribe foreign words into Japanese. When combined with kanji, hiragana, and the roma-ji Roman transliteration system, you have a total of four systems for writing in Japanese. And you thought learning your abc's was bad.

And now, for your fully featured learning pleasure, a complete Katakana chart:

ア イ ウ エ オ
A I U E O

カ キ ク ケ コ K
ガ ギ グ ゲ ゴ G
サ シ ス セ ソ S
ザ ジ ズ ゼ ゾ Z
タ チ ツ テ ト T
ダ ヂ ヅ デ ド D
ラ リ ル レ ロ R
ナ ニ ヌ ネ ノ N
ハ ヒ フ ヘ ホ H
バ ビ ブ ベ ボ B
パ ピ プ ペ ポ P
マ ミ ム メ モ M
ワ ヰ   ヱ ヲ W
ヤ   ユ   ヨ Y
ン         N
ヷ ヸ ヴ ヹ ヺ V


Katakana such as we and wo kana are used relatively rarely, as is vu, outside of imported words. The other v kana, all based off the w series of kana, as well as the wi and we kana are unused even in imported words. Their sounds are created by pairing the vu kana with a smaller form of the vowel kana. There is no WU kana, due to its similarity in sound to the u kana.
A nitpick on Stavr0's pronunciations, if you write "japanese" in romaji using his pronuncations, or try using it in an IME, you'll likely get nowhere. His pronunciations are very vocally accurate, but for the sake of communication/input are useless.
The katakana syllabary is mainly used for writing borrowed foreign words. The Japanese have been using words from other languages for a while now, and even more so durring the technical revolution. Most of the borrowed words are from (British) English, but they have used words from a few other languages like German (ex. arubaito), Portugese (ex. tempura) and others (but I can't think of any more examples right now).
The way they use katakana to make these words Japanese compatable is by attempting to recreate the sound of the original word with the phonetics of the Japanese language.

ASCII art Katakana - no kanji codepage required! As noted by microlith, this is not romaji but a phonetic approximation.

   ---.   /    -+-.  ---   --+-
    |/   /|      /    |     /|
    |     |     /    ---   / |
    ah    ee    ü    eh     o
                                
   -+-.  -+-   /--.  /---  ---
    | |  -+-     /     |     |
    | /   |     /     /    ---
    kah  kee   kü    keh    ko
                               
   -++-  - /   --.   -+-.  | /
    ||   -/     /     |     /
     /   /     /\     '-   /
    sah  she   sü    seh    so
                                   
   /--.  -+-   ||/   ---   |
    ./   -+-    /    -+-   |\
    /`   /     /     /     | \
   tah  tchee  tsü   teh   tow
                                   
    |    ---   ---.  --      /
   -+-          ./   ---.   /
   /     ---    /`    /|\  /
   nah   nee   nü    neh   no
                                   
   / \   |--   ---         -+-
  /   \  |       /   /\    /|\
         '--    /      \     
   ha    hee   fü    heh   ho
                                   
   ---.  ---     /    \/   -+-
    \/   ---    /     /\   -+- 
     \   ---   /--|  /      +-
   ma    me    mü    meh   mow
                                   
   -+-.        --.         --+
    |            |         --+
               --+-        --+
   yah         yü          yo
                                   
   ---   | |   | |   |     +-+
   ---.    |   | |   |     | |
     /    /    / |/  |/    +-+
   rah   ree   rü    reh   row 
   lah   lee   lü    leh   low
                                   
   .--.                    --+
      |                    --+
     /                      /
   wah                     woe
                                   
   - /
    /
   /
   n'
                                   
   -+-." -+-"  /--." /---" ---"
    | |  -+-     /      |    |  
    | /   |     /      /   ---
   gah   ghee  gü    geh   go
                                   
   -++-" - /"  --."  -+-." | /"
    ||   -/     /     |     /
     /   /     /\     '-   /
   zah   gee   zü    zeh   zoh
                                   
   /--." -+-   " /"  ---"  | "
    ./   -+-    /    -+-   |\
    /`   /     /     /     | \
   dah   dee   djü   dzeh  doe
                                   
   / \"  |--"  ---"    "   -+-"
  /   \  |       /   /\    /|\
         '--    /      \     
   bah   bee   bü    beh   boe
   vah   vee   vü    veh   voe
                                  
   / \o  |--o  ---o    o   -+-o
  /   \  |       /   /\    /|\
         '--    /      \     
   pah   pee   pü    peh   poe

When reading manga, the translators will sometimes leave in katakana in for japanese onomatopoeia. It's handy to have a printout of the katakanas to back-translate those ka-shin (blade strikes) and bo-ro-mu (explosions), instead of having to guess all the time.

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


Unicode/HTML - Katakana - Romaji1
________________________________
ア - ア - A
イ - イ - I
ウ - ウ - U
エ - エ - E
オ - オ - O
カ - カ - KA
ガ - ガ - GA
キ - キ - KI
ギ - ギ - GI
ク - ク - KU
グ - グ - GU
ケ - ケ - KE
ゲ - ゲ - GE
コ - コ - KO
ゴ - ゴ - GO
サ - サ - SA
ザ - ザ - ZA
シ - シ - SI/SHI
ジ - ジ - ZI/JI
ス - ス - SU
ズ - ズ - ZU
セ - セ - SE
ゼ - ゼ - ZE
ソ - ソ - SO
ゾ - ゾ - ZO
タ - タ - TA
ダ - ダ - DA
チ - チ - TI/CHI
ヂ - ヂ - DI/JI
ツ - ツ - TU/TSU
ヅ - ヅ - DU/ZU
テ - テ - TE
デ - デ - DE
ト - ト - TO
ド - ド - DO
ナ - ナ - NA
ニ - ニ - NI
ヌ - ヌ - NU
ネ - ネ - NE
ノ - ノ - NO
ハ - ハ - HA
バ - バ - BA
パ - パ - PA
ヒ - ヒ - HI
ビ - ビ - BI
ピ - ピ - PI
フ - フ - HU/FU
ブ - ブ - BU
プ - プ - PU
ヘ - ヘ - HE
ベ - ベ - BE
ペ - ペ - PE
ホ - ホ - HO
ボ - ボ - BO
ポ - ポ - PO
マ - マ - MA
ミ - ミ - MI
ム - ム - MU
メ - メ - ME
モ - モ - MO
ヤ - ヤ - YA
ユ - ユ - YU
ヨ - ヨ - YO
ラ - ラ - RA
リ - リ - RI
ル - ル - RU
レ - レ - RE
ロ - ロ - RO
ワ - ワ - WA
ヰ - ヰ - WI
ヱ - ヱ - WE
ヲ - ヲ - WO
ン - ン - N
ヴ - ヴ - WU

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).


Addendum:

Inspired by LX's excellent WU in this node, I've composed a Katakana 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 Katakana 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>Katakana 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("Katakana 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(12450)
   writelink(12452)
   writelink(12454)
   writelink(12456)
   writelink(12458)
   for (var i = 12459; i < 12469; i++) { writelink(i) }
   document.write("<br>")
   for (var i = 12469; i < 12483; i++) { writelink(i) }
   for (var i = 12484; i < 12485; i++) { writelink(i) }
   document.write("<br>")
   for (var i = 12485; i < 12500; i++) { writelink(i) }
   document.write("<br>")
   for (var i = 12500; i < 12514; i++) { writelink(i) }
    document.write("<br>")
   writelink(12514)
   writelink(12516)
   for (var i = 12518; i < 12519; i++) { writelink(i) }
   for (var i = 12520; i < 12526; i++) { writelink(i) }
   for (var i = 12527; i < 12532; 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.

Katakana is the non-cursive syllabary used to write non-Japanese words phonetically in Japanese. Is is also used to write Japanese words with visual emphasis. Katakana syllables are phonetically equivalent to corresponding Hiragana syllables.

Katakana has two characters, U+30F5    Katakana letter small ka and U+30F6    Katakana letter small ke, that have no direct correspondent in Hiragana; they are used in special Japanese spelling conventions; for example, the spelling of place names that include archaic Japanese connective particles.

U+30FB    Katakana middle dot   is used to separate words when writing non-Japanese phrases.

U+30FC    Katakana Hiragana prolonged sound mark   is used predominantly with Katakana and occasionally with Hiragana to denote a lengthened vowel of the previously written symbol.

The two iteration marks U+30FD    Katakana iteration mark   and U+30FE    Katakana voiced iteration mark   serve the same function in Katakana writing that the two Hiragana iteration marks serve in Hiragana writing.

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


Unicode's Katakana code block reserves the 96 code points from U+30A0 to U+30FF, of which all 96 are currently assigned.

Hiragana <-- Katakana --> Bopomofo

Number of characters added in each version of the Unicode standard :
Unicode 1.1 : 94
Unicode 3.2 : 2

Number of characters in each General Category :

Letter, Modifier    Lm :  3
Letter, Other       Lo : 91
Punctuation, Dash   Pd :  1
Punctuation, Other  Po :  1

Number of characters in each Bidirectional Category :

Left To Right    L : 94
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.

 

Katakana

     Katakana punctuation

U+30A0   ゠   Katakana Hiragana double hyphen Pd ON 3.2
ref U+003D   =   equals sign (Basic Latin)

     Based on JIS X 0208

U+30A1   ァ   Katakana letter small a Lo L 1.1
U+30A2   ア   Katakana letter A Lo L 1.1
U+30A3   ィ   Katakana letter small i Lo L 1.1
U+30A4   イ   Katakana letter I Lo L 1.1
U+30A5   ゥ   Katakana letter small u Lo L 1.1
U+30A6   ウ   Katakana letter U Lo L 1.1
U+30A7   ェ   Katakana letter small e Lo L 1.1
U+30A8   エ   Katakana letter E Lo L 1.1
U+30A9   ォ   Katakana letter small o Lo L 1.1
U+30AA   オ   Katakana letter O Lo L 1.1
U+30AB   カ   Katakana letter ka Lo L 1.1
U+30AC   ガ   Katakana letter ga Lo L 1.1
U+30AD   キ   Katakana letter ki Lo L 1.1
U+30AE   ギ   Katakana letter gi Lo L 1.1
U+30AF   ク   Katakana letter ku Lo L 1.1
U+30B0   グ   Katakana letter gu Lo L 1.1
U+30B1   ケ   Katakana letter ke Lo L 1.1
U+30B2   ゲ   Katakana letter ge Lo L 1.1
U+30B3   コ   Katakana letter ko Lo L 1.1
U+30B4   ゴ   Katakana letter go Lo L 1.1
U+30B5   サ   Katakana letter sa Lo L 1.1
U+30B6   ザ   Katakana letter za Lo L 1.1
U+30B7   シ   Katakana letter si Lo L 1.1
aka shi
U+30B8   ジ   Katakana letter zi Lo L 1.1
aka ji (not unique)
U+30B9   ス   Katakana letter su Lo L 1.1
U+30BA   ズ   Katakana letter zu Lo L 1.1
U+30BB   セ   Katakana letter se Lo L 1.1
U+30BC   ゼ   Katakana letter ze Lo L 1.1
U+30BD   ソ   Katakana letter so Lo L 1.1
U+30BE   ゾ   Katakana letter zo Lo L 1.1
U+30BF   タ   Katakana letter ta Lo L 1.1
U+30C0   ダ   Katakana letter da Lo L 1.1
U+30C1   チ   Katakana letter ti Lo L 1.1
aka chi
U+30C2   ヂ   Katakana letter di Lo L 1.1
aka ji (not unique)
U+30C3   ッ   Katakana letter small tu Lo L 1.1
aka small tsu
U+30C4   ツ   Katakana letter tu Lo L 1.1
aka tsu
U+30C5   ヅ   Katakana letter du Lo L 1.1
aka zu (not unique)
U+30C6   テ   Katakana letter te Lo L 1.1
U+30C7   デ   Katakana letter de Lo L 1.1
U+30C8   ト   Katakana letter to Lo L 1.1
U+30C9   ド   Katakana letter do Lo L 1.1
U+30CA   ナ   Katakana letter na Lo L 1.1
U+30CB   ニ   Katakana letter ni Lo L 1.1
U+30CC   ヌ   Katakana letter nu Lo L 1.1
U+30CD   ネ   Katakana letter ne Lo L 1.1
U+30CE   ノ   Katakana letter no Lo L 1.1
U+30CF   ハ   Katakana letter ha Lo L 1.1
U+30D0   バ   Katakana letter ba Lo L 1.1
U+30D1   パ   Katakana letter pa Lo L 1.1
U+30D2   ヒ   Katakana letter hi Lo L 1.1
U+30D3   ビ   Katakana letter bi Lo L 1.1
U+30D4   ピ   Katakana letter pi Lo L 1.1
U+30D5   フ   Katakana letter hu Lo L 1.1
aka fu
U+30D6   ブ   Katakana letter bu Lo L 1.1
U+30D7   プ   Katakana letter pu Lo L 1.1
U+30D8   ヘ   Katakana letter he Lo L 1.1
U+30D9   ベ   Katakana letter be Lo L 1.1
U+30DA   ペ   Katakana letter pe Lo L 1.1
U+30DB   ホ   Katakana letter ho Lo L 1.1
U+30DC   ボ   Katakana letter bo Lo L 1.1
U+30DD   ポ   Katakana letter po Lo L 1.1
U+30DE   マ   Katakana letter ma Lo L 1.1
U+30DF   ミ   Katakana letter mi Lo L 1.1
U+30E0   ム   Katakana letter mu Lo L 1.1
U+30E1   メ   Katakana letter me Lo L 1.1
U+30E2   モ   Katakana letter mo Lo L 1.1
U+30E3   ャ   Katakana letter small ya Lo L 1.1
U+30E4   ヤ   Katakana letter ya Lo L 1.1
U+30E5   ュ   Katakana letter small yu Lo L 1.1
U+30E6   ユ   Katakana letter yu Lo L 1.1
U+30E7   ョ   Katakana letter small yo Lo L 1.1
U+30E8   ヨ   Katakana letter yo Lo L 1.1
U+30E9   ラ   Katakana letter ra Lo L 1.1
U+30EA   リ   Katakana letter ri Lo L 1.1
U+30EB   ル   Katakana letter ru Lo L 1.1
U+30EC   レ   Katakana letter re Lo L 1.1
U+30ED   ロ   Katakana letter ro Lo L 1.1
U+30EE   ヮ   Katakana letter small wa Lo L 1.1
U+30EF   ワ   Katakana letter wa Lo L 1.1
U+30F0   ヰ   Katakana letter wi Lo L 1.1
U+30F1   ヱ   Katakana letter we Lo L 1.1
U+30F2   ヲ   Katakana letter wo Lo L 1.1
U+30F3   ン   Katakana letter N Lo L 1.1
U+30F4   ヴ   Katakana letter vu Lo L 1.1
U+30F5   ヵ   Katakana letter small ka Lo L 1.1
U+30F6   ヶ   Katakana letter small ke Lo L 1.1
U+30F7   ヷ   Katakana letter va Lo L 1.1
U+30F8   ヸ   Katakana letter vi Lo L 1.1
U+30F9   ヹ   Katakana letter ve Lo L 1.1
U+30FA   ヺ   Katakana letter vo Lo L 1.1

     Conjunction and length marks

U+30FB   ・   Katakana middle dot Po ON 1.1
ref U+00B7   ·   middle dot (Latin-1 Supplement)
U+30FC   ー   Katakana Hiragana prolonged sound mark Lm L 1.1
ref U+2014   —   em dash (General Punctuation)

     Iteration marks

U+30FD   ヽ   Katakana iteration mark Lm L 1.1
U+30FE   ヾ   Katakana voiced iteration mark Lm L 1.1

     Vertical form digraph

U+30FF   ヿ   Katakana digraph koto Lo L 3.2

http://unicode.org
Some prose may have been lifted verbatim from unicode.org,
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