The complete ordering of the fifty letters, separated by syllable is:

I ro ha ni ho he to
chi ri nu ru wo
wa ka yo ta re so
tsu ne na ra mu
u wi no o ku ya ma
ke fu ko e te
a sa ki yu me mi shi
we hi mo se su, n


We, and several other characters are no longer commonly used, and may be romanised differently.

To read it in modern sounds, it goes something like this:

iro wa nioedo
chirinuru o
waga yo tare zo
ui no okuyama
kyou koete
asaki yume miji
yoi mo sezu. n.

The translation is:

Flowers, although fragrant, will be left behind.
Who in this world will remain immortal?
Today, we pass the high mountain
of illusions, there will be no more empty
dreaming and no more drunkenness. Un

In a nutshell, the native Japanese version of "A B C."

Japanese writing uses two syllabaries, hiragana and katakana, collectively called kana. Both are formally based on Chinese ideographs, but they are purely phonetic and hold no other meanings.

I ro ha is an old Buddhist poem that, by coincidence or intention, contains each of the kana characters exactly once. It has been used as a convenient method of alphabetization (inasmuch as a syllabary can be alphabetized) for decades. The poem, in classical Japanese, is:


The sequence is:

i ro ha ni ho he to
chi ri nu ru wo
wa ka yo ta re so
tsu ne na ra mu
u wi no o ku ya ma
ke fu ko e te
a sa ki yu me mi shi
we hi mo se su n

Fr. Francis Drohan translated the i ro ha poem in his excellent Handbook of Japanese Usage (Tuttle, 1991): "The flowers that bloom today so sweetly wither and fall. Our human life, too, is fleeting. Today, again, I will cross the mountain pass of this uncertain world, and will not entertain shallow dreams or give way to drunkenness."

The i ro ha is slowly fading from use, largely because it includes two kana that aren't used in modern writing (we and wi). The a-i-u-e-o order is more prevalent today, but the i ro ha order is still not uncommon.

The creation of the iroha uta (as it is called in Japanese), along with the hiragana alphabet itself is generally credited to Kukai, who also founded the Shingon school of buddhism in the early 9th century.

The poem's form (four sets of seven-and-five syllables) is called imayo and was most popular during the Heian period. Its content elegantly describes the basic ideas if buddhism, namely that our worldly existence is fleeting and meaningless (called mono no aware in Japan), and that one should instead strive to achieve transcendence.

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