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 is a Japanese syllabary, one component of the Japanese writing system along with hiragana, kanji, and in some cases the Latin alphabet. The word katakana means  "fragmentary kana", as the katakana scripts are derived from components of more complex kanji.

Katakana are characterized by short, straight strokes and angular corners, and are the simplest of the Japanese scripts.

There are two main systems of ordering katakana: the old-fashioned iroha ordering, and the more prevalent gojūon ordering.


In modern Japanese, katakana are most often used for transcription of words from foreign languagesYookoso! An Invitation to Contemporary Japanese 1st edition McGraw-Hill 1993, page 29 "The Japanese Writing System (2) Katakana" (called gairaigo). For example, "television" is written . Similarly, katakana is usually used for country names, foreign places, and personal names. For example, Americamarker is written Amerika (America also has its own kanji (ateji) or for short, , which literally means "Rice Country").

Katakana are also used for onomatopoeia, words used to represent sounds. For example, , the "ding-dong" sound of a doorbell, would usually be written in katakana. Also, katakana is used for words the writer wishes to emphasize.

Technical and scientific terms, such as the names of animal and plant species and minerals, are also commonly written in katakana. , as a species, is written , rather than its kanji .

Katakana are also often, but not always, used for transcription of Japanese company names. For example Suzuki is written スズキ, and Toyota is written トヨタ. Katakana are also used for emphasis, especially on signs, advertisements, and hoardings (i.e., billboard). For example, it is common to see koko ("here"), gomi ("trash") or megane ("glasses"), and words to be emphasized in a sentence are also sometimes written in katakana, mirroring the European usage of italics.

Pre-World War II official documents mix katakana and kanji in the same way that hiragana and kanji are mixed in modern Japanese texts, that is, katakana were used for okurigana and particles such as wa or o.

Katakana were also used for telegrams in Japan before 1988, and for computer systems—before the introduction of multibyte characters—in the 1980s. Most computers in that era used katakana instead of kanji or hiragana for output.

Although words borrowed from ancient Chinese are usually written in kanji, loanwords from modern Chinese dialects which are borrowed directly rather than using the Sino-Japanese on'yomi readings, are often written in katakana. Examples include:

Japanese Rōmaji Meaning Kanji Romanization Source language
マージャン mājan mahjong 麻雀 májiàng Mandarin
ウーロン茶 ūroncha Oolong tea 烏龍茶 wūlóngchá
チャーハン chāhan fried rice 炒飯 chǎofàn
チャーシュー chāshū barbecued pork 叉焼 cha siu Cantonese
シューマイ shūmai a form of dim sum 焼売 siu maai

The very common Chinese loanword rāmen, written in katakana as in Japanese, is rarely written with its kanji ( ).

There are rare cases where the opposite has occurred, with kanji forms created from words originally written in katakana. An example of this is kōhī, ("coffee"), which can be alternatively written as . This kanji usage is occasionally employed by coffee manufacturers or coffee shops for novelty.

Katakana are sometimes used instead of hiragana as furigana to give the pronunciation of a word written in Roman characters, or for a foreign word, which is written as kanji for the meaning, but intended to be pronounced as the original.

Katakana are also sometimes used to indicate words being spoken in a foreign or otherwise unusual accent, by foreign characters, robots, etc. For example, in a manga, the speech of a foreign character or a robot may be represented by, for example, konnichiwa ("hello") instead of the more usual hiragana .

Katakana are also used to indicate the on'yomi (Chinese-derived readings) of a kanji in a kanji dictionary.

Some Japanese personal names are written in katakana. This was more common in the past, hence elderly women often have katakana names.

It is very common to write words with difficult-to-read kanji in katakana. This phenomenon is often seen with medical terminology. For example, in the word hifuka ("dermatology"), the second kanji, , is considered difficult to read, and thus the word hifuka is commonly written or , mixing kanji and katakana. Similarly, the difficult-to-read kanji such as gan ("cancer") are often written in katakana or hiragana.

Katakana is also used for traditional musical notations, as in the Tozan-ryū of shakuhachi, and in sankyoku ensembles with koto, shamisen, and shakuhachi.


Foreign phrases are sometimes transliterated with a space separating the words, called a . When it is assumed that the reader knows the separate gairaigo words in the phrase, the middle dot is omitted. For example, the phrase コンピュータゲーム konpyūta gēmu ("computer game") contains two well-known gairaigo, and therefore is not written with a middle dot.

Katakana spelling differs slightly from hiragana. While hiragana spells long vowels with the addition of a second vowel kana, katakana usually uses a vowel extender mark called a chōon. This is a short line following the direction of the text, horizontal for yokogaki , and vertical for tategaki . It is generally used in foreign loanwords; long vowels in katakana words of Japanese origin are usually spelled as they would be in hiragana. There are exceptions, such as ローソク(蝋燭 rōsoku "candle") or ケータイ(携帯 kētai "mobile phone").

A small tsu (ッ) called a sokuon indicates that the following consonant is geminate; this is represented in rōmaji by doubling the consonant that follows the tsu. For example, "bed" is represented in katakana as ベッド (beddo). The sokuon may also be used to approximate a non-native sound; Bach is written バッハ (Bahha); Mach as マッハ (Mahha).

Foreign sounds can be difficult to express in Japanese, resulting in spellings such as フルシチョフ Furushichofu (Khrushchev), アリー・ハーメネイー Arī Hāmeneī (Ali Khamenei) and イツハク・パールマン Itsuhaku Pāruman or イツァーク・パールマン Itsāku Pāruman (Itzhak Perlman).

Table of katakana

This is a table of katakana together with their Hepburn romanization and their IPA pronunciation. Katakana with dakuten or handakuten follow the gojūon kana without them. Characters in gray are obsolete. Modern additions are used mainly to represent sounds from other languages. Learning to read katakana is often complicated by the similarities between different characters. For example, shi シ and tsu ツ , as well as so ソ and n ン , look very similar in print except for the slant and stroke shape. (These differences in slant and shape are more prominent when written with an ink brush.)



Katakana was developed in the early Heian Period from parts of man'yōgana characters as a form of shorthand. For example, ka カ comes from the left side of ka 加 "increase". The table below shows the origins of each katakana: the red markings of the original Chinese character eventually became each corresponding symbol.

Japanese language instruction

Some instructors "introduce katakana after the students have learned to read and write sentences in hiragana without difficulty and know the rules." Most students who have learned hiragana "do not have great difficulty in memorizing" katakana as well.

Other instructors introduce the katakana first, because these are used with loanwords. This gives students a chance to practice reading and writing kana with meaningful words. This is the approach taken by Eleanor Harz Jorden.

How to write katakana

The following table shows how to write each katakana character. It is arranged in the traditional way, beginning top right and reading columns down. The little numbers and arrows indicate the stroke order and direction.

Computer encoding

In addition to fonts intended for Japanese text and Unicode catch-all fonts (like Arial Unicode MS), many fonts intended for Chinese text also include katakana (such as MS Song).

Katakana have two forms of encoding, halfwidth and fullwidth . The halfwidth forms come from JIS X 0201 originally. This includes halfwidth katakana in right side area of ASCII. That is, most halfwidth katakana could be represented by one byte each. In the late 1970s, two-byte character sets such as JIS X 0208 were introduced to represent hiragana, kanji, and other characters. JIS_X_0208 has its own katakana area independently of one-byte character set such as JIS_X_0201. katakana of JIS_X_0208 takes two-byte (at least), so many (especially old) devices output these katakana as two-byte-width. This is why katakana of JIS_X_0201 is called halfwidth and JIS_X_0208, fullwidth. Therefore, most encodings have no halfwidth hiragana.

Although often said to be obsolete, in fact the halfwidth katakana are still used in many systems and encodings. For example, the titles of mini discs can only be entered in ASCII or halfwidth katakana, and halfwidth katakana were commonly used in computerized cash register displays, on shop receipts, and Japanese digital television and DVD subtitles. Several popular Japanese encodings such as EUC-JP, Unicode and Shift-JIS have halfwidth katakana code as well as fullwidth. By contrast, ISO-2022-JP has no halfwidth katakana, and is mainly used over SMTP and NNTP. Halfwidth katakana are commonly used to save memory space.


In Unicode, fullwidth katakana occupy code points U+30A0 to U+30FF :
    0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F

Encoded in this block along with the katakana are the nakaguro word separation middle dot, the chōon vowel extender, the katakana iteration marks, and a ligature of コト sometimes used in vertical writing.

Halfwidth equivalents to the fullwidth katakana also exist. These are encoded within the Halfwidth and Fullwidth Forms block (U+FF00–U+FFEF) , starting at U+FF65 and ending at U+FF9F (characters U+FF61–U+FF64 are halfwidth punctuation marks):
    0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
FF7   ソ

This block also includes the halfwidth dakuten and handakuten. The fullwidth versions of these characters are found in the hiragana block.

Code points 32D0 to 32FE list circled katakana. A circled ン (n) is not included.
    0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F

Katakana uses in non-Japanese languages


Katakana is commonly used to write the Ainu language by Japanese linguists. In Ainu language katakana usage, the consonant that comes at the end of a syllable is represented by a small version of a katakana that corresponds to that final consonant and with an arbitrary vowel. For instance "up" is represented by ウㇷ゚ (ウu followed by small pu). Ainu also requires three additional sounds, represented by セ゜ ([tse]), ツ゜ ([tu̜]) and ト゜ ([tu̜]). In Unicode, the Katakana Phonetic Extensions block (U+31F0–U+31FF) exists for Ainu language support. These characters are used mainly for the Ainu language only:

    0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
31F   ㇰ() ㇱ() ㇲ() ㇳ() ㇴ() ㇵ() ㇶ() ㇷ() ㇸ() ㇹ() ㇺ() ㇻ() ㇼ() ㇽ() ㇾ() ㇿ()


Taiwanese kana (タイ ヲァヌ ギイ カア ビェン) is a katakana-based writing system once used to write Holo Taiwanese, when Taiwanmarker was ruled by Japanmarker. It functioned as a phonetic guide to hanzi, much like furigana in Japanese or Zhuyin fuhao in Chinese. There were similar systems for other languages in Taiwan as well, including Hakka and Formosan languages.

Unlike Japanese or Ainu, Taiwanese kana are used similarly to the Zhùyīn fúhào characters, with kana serving as initials, vowel medials and consonant finals, marked with tonal marks. A dot below the initial kana represented aspirated consonants, and チ, ツ, サ, セ, ソ, ウ and オ with a superpositional bar represented sounds found only in Taiwanese.

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