The very first step for everybody who wants to learn Japanese is to study the hiragana and katakana chart (before learning kanji or anything else). And there are 46 hiragana and 46 katakana unique characters to learn. But:
- Add 25 sounds formed by adding double dots " (ば, び, ぼ) or a circle ° (ぱ, ぴ, ぽ) in the top right corner of the character ;
- 21 compound sounds formed by attaching a small ya/yu/yo hiragana or katakana to a normal one (ひゃ, ひゅ, ひょ) ;
- And 20 by combining the two last patterns I mentioned (びゃ, びゅ, びょ).
If I remember my math classes, that makes a total of 112 hiragana and 112 katakana characters that you need to learn (although learning the 46 initial characters of each alphabet will get you 90% of the way).
In the chart below, you will find all these 112 hiragana and katakana characters. The 46 unique hiragana and katakana characters are in the top left corner of the chart:
How Long Does it Take to Learn Hiragana and Katakana?
We wrote a whole article about how long it takes to learn the two Japanese alphabets, but if you want the short answer:
- Count two weeks to learn hiragana
- And one more week to learn katakana
In total, it should take you 7-10 hours.
The Best Way to Memorize Hiragana and Katakana
But after you've learned them, you need to make sure you remember them.
For that, there's no secret: you'll need to review them consistently.
Especially the tricky ones, like ぬ and め, れ, ね and わ, は and ほ, シ and ツ, or ノ,ソ, and ン. Even after years of learning Japanese, it's not rare to confuse them (I sure still do).
But at Hirakan, this is why we make products that will help you remembering your hiragana and katakana. The product that other Japanese students like the most is the Hiragana and Katakana Mug. On this mug you have all 46 unique characters, that you can review easily everyday while sipping on your morning coffee:
Not a coffee person? Go for the Hiragana and Katakana Poster, hang it above your desk or in your toilet, and never forget a character again.
Final Words: On Your Way to Learning Kanji
After learning your hiragana and katakana, it will be time to learn the dreaded kanji. It will take you a few years to learn them all, but you cannot do without it. Start by the most common kanji included in the JLPT N5 level, and slowly build from there.