Experiencing Japan the “Write” Way – Preparing for JCMU by Learning Hiragana and Katakana

Nagatomi May 2017 Blog

You don’t need to be fluent in Japanese to get around in Japan, but a basic understanding of the writing system sure helps! JCMU Japanese language instructor Nagatomi-sensei discusses the importance of learning hiragana and katakana, complete with practical study tips and learning methods.

Learning the three Japanese writing systems can be one of the most challenging but exciting aspects of your language studies. To make the most of your stay in Japan at JCMU (no matter how short or long your time abroad may be), I strongly suggest that you familiarize yourself with ひらがな (hiragana) and カタカナ (katakana) before your arrival. Even if you’re an advanced language learner, taking the time to practice how to recognize and read Japanese characters quickly can greatly benefit you.

Using Google Translate to help you get by in Japan may seem like a good idea at first. Since it requires international data and often incorrectly translates characters though, an understanding of hiragana and katakana can really help you get around in Japan. When you first discover that you can read many of the signs and labels in Japanese, you’ll certainly feel an amazing sense of accomplishment!

Practical katakana/hiragana study tips

I have a few ideas for you as you begin developing your proficiency with these two Japanese syllabaries:

1 – First, take advantage of the various useful (and free!) Japanese language-learning apps developed by The Japan Foundation

2 – Next, explore the Nihongo Navigator blog to see if you can read the various Japanese signs pictured within

3 – Enjoy your lunch at Coco’s family restaurant located next door to JCMU’s academic building in Hikone. Read through their menu and practice reading what foods they’re serving. What kind of pasta is「モッツァレラチーズのトマトスパゲッティ ランチ」? Do you know what 「ドリア」is? Don’t worry, Melville-sensei will provide you with tips to read menus in Japanese soon!

4 – Practice by reading the labels on the appliances and devices you’ll be using at JCMU! Here are some examples:

Coffee Maker


Can you identify certain katakana terms like 「コーヒーカップ」 and 「アイスコーヒー」?



Which button would you press when you want to heat up your pizza?



What is the difference between 「モノクロ」and 「カラー」here?

Vending Machine

Vending machine.png

Would you like 「ミルクティー」or「カフェオレ」?


Do your best to learn as much hiragana and katakana as you can before you arrive in Japan! We look forward to seeing you here at JCMU.

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