Learn to read! Japanese Reading Lesson 002: かきくけこ

Posted by meronpan on November 6, 2008

Welcome back to another reading lesson! I’ll be picking up the pace soon, but for now, just another 5 kana. Don’t want to rush the beginning because knowing the sounds of the first 5 kana (あ い う え お) is the basis for knowing how to say every other character in the alphabet (ok, fine, except for ん (‘n’) but we’ll get to that later). Edit, for easier browsing, here’s a link to lesson 1.

This week’s characters are from the k row (or column, depending on how you write it out ^^;)… and here’s why last week’s lesson is so important – simply add a K sound to each character and you can read them all!

kana Pronunciation Romanization

K + (‘a’ in father, ‘o’ in otter, ‘a’ in saw), hmm like ‘kha’ in khaaaaaan! ka

K + (‘i’ in ski, ‘ee’ in flee, ‘ie’ in sieze), probably a lot like ‘key’ in… well, key ^^; ki

K + (‘oo’ in food, ‘ue’ in clue, ‘e’ in grew), mmm ‘coo’ in cool? ku

K + ‘e’ in egg, ‘e’ in pressure, ‘e’ in blend), ‘kay’ in okay, ‘ca’ in vacation ke

K + (‘o’ in glow, ‘o’ in own, ‘o’ in stoke), ‘co’ in corner? ko

Writing out with last weeks character, you can start to get an idea of how the alphabet is structured:

あ い う え お
か き く け こ
さ し す せ そ

We haven’t covered the third row (s characters!), that’s for next time ^^;  Anyhow, notice how the ‘a’ sound characters line up in the first column, the ‘i’ characters in the 2nd column, etc.  The consonants aren’t completely uniform but the vowel sound in the column is.  As such, given that the third row is s and the first column is ‘a’, yeap, that first character in the third row is ‘sa’.  But again, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, back to this week’s topics ^^;

When pronouncing these letters (or sounding them out in your thoughts ^^;) try to stay true to the underlying vowel.  For the most part, Japanese vowels won’t change sounds when followed by other characters or anything, so if you see か, it’s always, “ka”.  This makes spelling really easy, because if you can sound it out, there are only a couple exceptions.  For the most part words are spelled exactly as they sound.

Try to think of words you’ve heard in anime/drama/music/etc as a guideline, although keep in mind some people talk funny on purpose or abbreviate/alter pronunciation for effect.  If you have access to Japanese news, the anchors generally speak “properly”.

Long Vowels
A repeated vowel becomes a long vowel and basically is just voiced longer than normal.  In practice it’s very difficult to tell the difference until you’ve become familiar with more vocabulary, but for beginners it doesn’t hurt to exaggerate the pronunciation to remind yourself that the vowel is long.

The repeated vowel is always one of あ い う え お but the original sound can be almost any character, as long as it shares the same base vowel.  For example かあ would be kā, きい would be kī, etc. If the vowel sounds of two characters are different, be sure to pronounce each vowel and don’t try to make a diphthong out of it. (well, except for the exception I’m about to go over ^^;)

Fate-mama, or in Japanese, Fate おかあsan

Fate-mama, or in Japanese, Fate おかあsan

For example, from last week we covered the word おおい.  The pronunciation is just a long お sound followed by い, so ōi.  This example brings us to another interesting point – for え and お, usually long vowels are made with い and う, respectively!  This is why you may see strange looking romanization from time to time – like toukyou (tokyo) or kousaka (kosaka) or ryouko (ryoko).  The ‘ou’ is simply the direct romanization of the spelling in Japanese, and pronounced as a long ‘o’.

So what’s up with the word おおい?  Well, unfortunately it’s an exception.  Most long お sounds are spelled おう but it’s not all the time and you simply have to memorize which words use おお.  On the other hand, when you’re reading, it’s all the same… おお and おう are both just long o sounds (ō)

To summarize, おう is pronounced as if it were おお and えい is pronounced like it were ええ.

Reading/Vocabulary Practice!

1. きく、きけ
2. か
3. ここ
4. かこ
5. くうき
6. くう、くえ
7. き
8. あき
9. あく
10. いく、 いけ
11. おか

Answers below the pic~


1. きく、きけ – ‘kiku, kike’ this is the verb to listen, hear, or also, to ask.  きく is the basic, “dictionary” form of the verb – basically the present tense, while きけ is an informal command form (can be very rude in some situations).  Verbs will be covered in great detail later, but I figured I’d mention it here because if you watch anime, you’ve almost certainly heard something along the lines of “yoku きけ!!” (listen up!!).
Some beginning courses don’t introduce you to the dictionary form until later, and instead start you with the “polite” form which would be “ききmasu”, in case きく wasn’t the “to listen” you were familiar with.


きく - to listen!

2. か – simple enough, this is ‘ka’.  It’s also the word for mosquito!  Strangely I still remember where I first learned this word – Love Hina vol 10, keitarou fails in another kiss attempt with naru, apparently the opportunity had come up after he said there was a mosquito on her shoulder ^^;


konata about to deal with a か (mosquito)

か is also a spoken question mark.  For example, ‘tabemasu’ (I will eat) becomes a question with か at the end – ‘tabemasuか。’ (tabemasuka?) (will I eat?)

3. ここ – ‘koko’ – you’ll probably hear this a lot, it means “here”.  Also part of a taunt of sorts ‘ここ made おいde’.  Literally it means, “come here” but usually used to mean, “catch me if you can”.


konata's map. In the upper left it says, ココ which is another way to write ここ (specifically it's katakana, yet another thing to come later... ^^;)

4. かこ – ‘kako’ means ‘past’.


A scene from benisu's かこ

5. くうき – ‘kuuki’. Translates to ‘air’ or ‘atmosphere’ so you’ll probably hear it a lot in space themed anime/manga/etc.


chikyuu ni wa, くうき ga arimasu (Earth has an atmosphere)

6. くう、くえ – ‘kuu, kue’ is an informal verb meaning ‘to eat’. The regular version is ‘taberu’ which you’ll probably hear more often (and should use unless you want to offend someone ^^;). Most courses don’t teach you these words since they’re really not something you’d say or hear in normal life… but for an otaku, this is bread and butter. Any male protagonist worth his salt will say ‘kuu’! Well, since it is so informal, the characters are generally more rugged or GAR or what have you – Spike from Cowboy Bebop, Kamina from Gurren Lagann – these are the types of guys that definitely would say ‘kuu’ rather than ‘taberu’.

natose wa gohan wo くう (natose eats rice)

natose wa gohan wo くう (natose eats rice)

Again, くえ is the informal command form, and since the verb is informal to begin with, you have a really rough, potentionally extremely rude command.

7. き – ‘ki’ can have a lot of meanings, the the two you’ll probably recognize most readily are ‘tree’ and ‘spirit/feelings’.  The latter version of the word is used in a lot of idioms, for a example, ‘き ni iru’ (to be pleased with, like), ‘き wo tsukeru’ (be careful), ‘き ni suru’ (to worry, to mind).


き (tree) although in this case you'd more likely hear 'sakura' (cherry blossom/cherry tree)

8. あき – ‘aki’ – fall! Not the verb though, the season.

あきmitai (seems like fall)

あきmitai (seems like fall)

9. あく –  ‘aku’ – to be open.  Yet another thing to be covered later, but this is an intransitive verb – that is, it doesn’t take a direct object. … uhh in normal English, well, let’s just give an example.  Since it’s intransitive, you would say, ’doa wa aku’ (the door is/will be open {ugh, yet another note, technically you’d conjugate the verb differently and say ‘doあ wa あいte いmasu’ …but for the sake of simplicity we won’t discuss that yet ^^;}).  The transitive version of the verb, akeru would be used like this, ‘koyori wa doあ wo あけru’ (koyori opens the door).

koyori wa doあ wo あく (koyori opens the door)

10. いく、 いけ – ‘iku, ike’ – to go, as in “nihon e いく” (going to Japan) or “うmi ni いく” (going to the beach).  Noticed a pattern yet?  いく is the regular version of the verb, while いけ is the informal (often rude) command form.

sonsaku wa gakkoう e いく (sonsaku goes to school)

sonsaku wa gakkoう e いく (sonsaku goes to school)

11. おか – ‘oka’ – hill.  Randomly thought of this example due to the lyrics from H2O’s OP – 「あおnoおかniwa」 is from the third line of the song, meaning “on the green hill”.


minna wa おか ni あtsumatte いmasu (Everyone's gathered on the hill)

Final quiz! Name all the anime the screen shots were taken from! ^_^

Next time we’ll go over the s, t and n rows.



7 Responses to “Learn to read! Japanese Reading Lesson 002: かきくけこ”

  1. Rin said

    Learning japanese…
    My japanese sucks a lot and maybe this will help somehow…

  2. gordon said

    hey how about doing a podcast or videocast. easier to learn if we can get to hear it. ^^;

  3. meronpan said

    @rin once you’ve learned hiragana, you’ll have a nice start! then you can start reading random japanese words even if you don’t know the meaning (including manga ^^) ^^;;

    @gordon i’ve considered it but i’m a little camera shy so probably no video… not sure how i’d go about doing a podcast but perhaps that’s a possibility ^^;

  4. Q said

    Vivio is so lucky….

  5. meronpan said

    @q yes, yes she is ^_^

  6. phossil said

    ahh another cool learning lesson for us—.


  7. meronpan said

    @phossil you’re welcome ^_^ always open for questions and suggestions if anyone’s got ’em~

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