Katakana is one of the two Japanese 'syllabaries', the writing systems used to represent the sounds of Japanese syllables. (The other is hiragana.) Katakana symbols are used to spell out words phonetically, especially non-Japanese terms.
The term katakana is usually written in katakana - as カタカナ, but it originally comes from 片仮名, which means 'fragmentary kana' - most of the characters are fragments of more complex kanji with the same reading.
If you are just starting out with your Japanese studies, you should learn hiragana first. Once you have learnt hiragana, learning katakana is a great second step.
For more information on how to go about learning written Japanese, see our other detailed guides:
Study katakana now: use QUICK TEST to find out what you know. Hone your writing with DRAWING PRACTICE then study with free FLASHCARDS. When you are ready, take the Kanshudo katakana CHALLENGE.

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1. Basic katakana chart
The basic katakana chart is as follows.
a ka sa ta na ha ma ya ra wa n
i ki shi chi ni hi mi   ri    
u ku su tsu nu fu mu yu ru    
e ke se te ne he me   re   dakuten
o ko so to no ho mo yo ro (w)o handakuten
2. Dakuten and handakuten
The 'dakuten' symbol ( ゛) and the 'handakuten' symbol ( ゜) are not used on their own - they are used to modify the katakana symbols they appear after.
When ゛is displayed after another katakana symbol, it indicates that the symbol should be 'voiced'. 'Voicing' is a linguistic term for a sound that makes the vocal cords vibrate - as opposed to just emanating from the mouth. In Japanese, this means that the sound of a consonant moves further down your throat. So, for example, the unvoiced sound カ (ka) becomes the voiced sound ガ (ga).
When ゜is displayed after a katakana symbol, it changes the sound to a 'p' sound, so for example, ハ (ha) becomes パ (pa).
ga za da ba pa
gi ji   bi pi
gu zu   bu pu
ge ze de be pe
go zo do bo po
3. Yōon and sokuon
The basic katakana can be modified in a couple more ways. Katakana ending in 'i' can be followed by a small ya, yu or yo (ゃ, ゅ or ょ), which elides the sounds of the two characters. For example, キ (ki) plus ヤ (ya) would become キャ (kya). This type of modification is known as 'yōon'.
キャ ギャ シャ ジャ チャ ニャ
kya gya sha ja cha nya
キュ ギュ シュ ジュ チュ ニュ
kyu gyu shu ju chu nyu
キョ ギョ ショ ジョ チョ ニョ
kyo gyo sho jo cho nyo
ヒャ ビャ ピャ ミャ リャ
hya bya pya mya rya
ヒュ ビュ ピュ ミュ リュ
hyu byu pyu myu ryu
ヒョ ビョ ピョ ミョ リョ
hyo byo pyo myo ryo
Finally, a small tsu (ッ) can be used between two katakana to double the second consonant. For example, サッカ is read as 'sakka' (author). This is known as a 'sokuon'.
4. Drawing practice
To learn the katakana, there is no substitute for lots of practice! Practice your recognition with flashcards (use the link at the top of this guide), and use this section to practice drawing. Most importantly of all, practice using katakana in context by reading Japanese sentences whenever you can.
Use our Katakana Drawing Practice, or practice any individual katakana by using one of the links below.

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Change component list
By default the component builder shows the most common components (themselves joyo kanji, or used in at least 3 other joyo kanji). Select an alternative set of components below.

Full details of all components and their English names can be found here.
Help with the component builder
For detailed instructions, see the Component builder how to guide.
To find any kanji, first try to identify the components it is made up of.
For any components you recognize, if you know the English meaning or name, start typing it in the text area. Full details of all components and their English names can be found here.
Alternatively, count the strokes of the component, and scan the list to find it visually.
To find the kanji :
  • Notice that it is made of several components: 氵 艹 口 夫.
  • 氵 艹 口 all have three strokes, so you could look in the list in the 3 stroke section. 夫 has four strokes.
  • Alternatively, you could start typing 'water' (氵), 'grass' (艹), 'mouth' (口) or 'husband' (夫) in the search area, and the components will be highlighted in yellow.
  • Keep adding components until you can see your kanji in the list of matches that appears near the top.