Japanese Hiragana “H”, “B”, and “P” Syllables

The Japanese writing system is split into three parts.  Two of these are syllabaries, and the last is a collection of symbols.  Japanese doesn’t have an ‘alphabet’ so to speak, as it does a ‘syllabary’, or symbols associated with monosyllabic phonemes.  There are two sets of symbols associated with these sounds, one called Hiragana which is used for native words, and one called Katakana which is used for borrowed words or emphasis. The third part is the Kanji or symbols borrowed from the Chinese writing system, that make up all sort of words.

Together, Hiragana and Katakana make up the ‘kana’.  I decided if I was going to learn how to (at least) read Japanese I’d start with the kana.  That’s what inspired me to buy these cards from Amazon (to the left).  I’ve had them for years, that’s why the cover on my set doesn’t match the cover on the cards offered on Amazon.  They’re from the same publisher, so I would be highly surprised if they weren’t the same in spirit.  To purchase these cards directly from Amazon just click the image to the left.  The nice thing about these flash cards is that you can use them with others and solo to practice learning your kana.  I learn the best when I’m being quizzed, something about putting the knowledge in a sense of experience, so Maus quizzes (or quizzed) me over and over and over until I learned all the kana.

These are the first videos I’ve made in this manner, and we made these in a public place (Starbucks, shocker) so the sound is wonky.  But, here is the video explaining the cards, and the “H”, “B”, and “P” sounds of Japanese.  Please pardon my pronunciation, I’m completely self-taught and so I probably do it a bit wrong.

In this particular lesson the “dakuten” and “handakuten” become very important.  In most of the syllables in the Japanese kana “tenten”, as they are colloquially called, are employed to indicate that the syllable is “voiced”.  That means t, teh, becomes d, deh, or s, seh, becomes z, or zeh.  With the “H” sound syllables a new symbol is utilized to indicate a half-voiced (or “handakuten”) syllable.  “H” when voiced becomes b, as in buh, but when half-voiced, becomes p, as in puh.  The “B” sound is indicated by the usual “tenten”, but the “P” sound is indicated by the “maru”.  Technically it is referred to as “handakuten”, but colloquially it is called the “maru”, まる or 丸, because it is a circle.

Below is the video of the “H” consonant syllables with a little vocabulary, the voiced “B” consonant syllables, and then followed by the half voiced “P” consonant syllables with a little vocabulary:

So those are the cards I’m going to be using throughout this tutorial series on the Japanese writing system.  I thought I’d actually put some of the content on the cards in the blog, so to more easily see what’s on the cards I’ve listed below what I went over in the video.  I introduce each syllable, pure and modified, and then the corresponding vocabulary.  So here are the “H,” “B,” and “P” syllables:

は – ha: “hah”

は – “ha” : tooth; leaf; faction

はこ – “hako” : box

はい – “hai” : yes; cup; ash; lung

はち – “hachi” : eight; bee, hornet

ひ – hi: “chee”

ひ – “hi” : day; fire

ひと – “hito” : person

ひま – “hima” : free time

ひる – “hiru” : daytime, lunch

ふ – fu: “foo”*

ふく – “fuku” : clothes; good luck; to blow

ふぐ – “fugu” : fugu, pufferfish

ふる – “furu” : to fall; to swing

ふとん – “futon” : futon, bedding

へ – he: “heh”

へい – “hei” : wall, fence; soldier

へた – “heta” : not good at, unskillful, clumsy

へび – “hebi” : snake

へいわ – “heiwa” : peace, tranquility

ほ – ho: “hoh”

ほう – “hou” : method, law; direction, around

ほり – “hori” : moat, ditch; engraving

ほん – “hon” : book

ほんとう – “hontou” : really, truly

* this is not an exact translation, the “foo” sound in Japanese is slightly different than what I make in the video, but I don’t pronounce it very well.  It is not exactly a “foo” sound.

Those are the “pure” unmodified/unvoiced syllables for this series.  The following you’ll notice are attached to “tenten” which indicate that the syllable should be voiced.  So, ha becomes ba, like the difference between “hand” and “band.” Below are the syllables and the vocabulary that is on the card:

ば – ba: “bah”

ばか – “baka” : crazy, idiot, fool

ばら – “bara” : rose

ばらばら – “barabara” : scattered, all over the place

ばんざい – “banzai” : Hooray!

び – bi: “bee”

びん – “bin” : bottle

びじん – “bijin” : beautiful woman

びっくり – “bikkuri” : surprised

びんぼう – “bimbou” : poor

ぶ – bu: “boo”

ぶた – “buta” : pig

ぶいん – “buin” : club members

ぶどう – “budou” : grapes; martial arts

ぶんか – “bunka” : culture

べ – be: “beh”

べんり – “benri” : convenient, handy

べいこく – “beikoku” : the U.S.A.

べんとう – “bentou” : (pre-)packed lunch

べんきょう – “benkyou” : study, learning, work

ぼ – bo: “boh”

ぼく – “boku” : I, me (used by men)

ぼうし – “boushi” : hat, cap

ぼうず – “bouzu” : shaved, bald head; priest, monk

ぼうえき – “boueki” : (international) trade

Those are the “voiced” unmodified/unvoiced syllables for this series.  The following you’ll notice are attached to “handakuten” which indicate that the syllable should be half-voiced.  This is also known as maru, or まる or 丸. So, ha becomes pa, like the difference between “hat” and “pat.” Below are the syllables and the vocabulary that is on the card:

ぱ – pa: “pah”

ぱっと – “patto” : suddenly, briefly

ぱちぱち – “pachipachi” : crackle

ぱらぱら – “parapara” : sprinkling, in large drops

ぱりぱり – “paripari” : crunch, crisp

ぴ – pi: “pee”

ぴかぴか – “pikapika” : flash, sparkle, glitter

ぴくぴく – “pikupiku” : twitch

ぴったり – “pittari” : perfect (for, fit)

ぴりから – “pirikara” : sharply spicy

ぷ – pu: “poo”

きっぷ – “kippu” : ticket

にんぷ – “ninpu” : expectant mother

ぷいと – “puito” : suddenly

うっぷん – “uppun” : anger, bitterness, vengeance

ぺ – pe: “peh”

ぺこぺこ – “pekopeko” : hungry

ぺらぺら – “perapera” : fluent; thin, flimsy

ぺちゃんこ – “pechanko” : crushed, flattened

ぺちゃくちゃ – “pechakucha” : chatter, prattle

ぽ – po: “poh”

ぽっと – “potto” : blush

ぽんず – “ponzu” : the juice of Japanese citrus

ぽんと – “ponto” : with a thud, tap

ぽつぽつ – “potsupotsu” : fall in small drops; spots

I’ve developed a little quizlet featuring JUST the “h”, “b” and “p” sounds for your practice below:

That’s it for now, have fun studying Japanese!

This post is part of a larger list of Japanese Kana tutorials.

If you appreciate my tutorials please help support me through my Patreon.

If a monthly commitment isn’t up your alley, you can always buy me some coffee.

photo credit: jijake1977 Lantern Festival via photopin (license)


I'm just a wunk, trying to enjoy life. I am a cofounder of http//originalpursuitssoc.com/ and I like computers, code, creativity, and friends.

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