Learning Japanese

You too could be sitting here in Starbucks looking over Shibuya Crossing.
You too could be sitting here in Starbucks looking over Shibuya Crossing.

Quite a few people have asked me about resources for learning Japanese language. When i was learning 25 years ago, there were not many books and no internet to help out. I relied upon a few key books published by Gakken and friends to help me on the way.

When I first started, I thought just speaking would be ok so learning in Romaji (alphabet letters) was fine. I quickly realised if I wanted to pronounce words correctly, Hiragana would be a huge benefit.

I thought it might be useful to put together a few resources for those who want to learn some Japanese whilst browsing through the blog. Here are some basic starter lessons for learning Hiragana and Katakana showing the first 5 symbols in the Japanese language.

Hiragana for あいうえお

  • a
  • i
  • u
  • e
  • o

Run your mouse over the card tiles. If you are using Firefox or IE7 and above the cards should turn over to reveal the reading of each Hiragana letter.

Katakana for アイウエオ

  • a
  • i
  • u
  • e
  • o

If people find this format useful I will extend it to include Kanji and build up some practice sheets to use. I will also try and include some street signs and practical symbols.

I will also start to write up some of the ways I studied the language and what discoveries I made along the road.

You too could be sitting here in Starbucks looking over Shibuya Crossing.
You too could be sitting here in Starbucks looking over Shibuya Crossing

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  • I tried to take pictures that starbucks in the same angel as you got, but the staff did not allow me to do so because of the regulation of that “starbucks building” (as i remember it is hmv).

    • The building is mainly Tsutaya dvd/cd rental building. A lot of buildings don’t like people taking pictures, maybe because it inconveniences the other customers, maybe because they are trying to protect their image. Nobody said anything to me, but I was in and out quick 🙂

      • Hmmm; interesting that wcwcheung got the no “X” to take a picture there. Because that Starbucks is *really* popular amongst tourists to take pictures of the scramble crossing from. It’s pretty much a big advertised place in anybody’s mention of Japan to others interested in going/or going and in publications (such as Lonely planet) in other words; there’s a *lot* of people taking pictures from there throughout the day.

        But yes; usually they are worried that it inconveniences customers (i.e leaning over customer who has the window seat to take a pic) or they are worried that you will have customers in the picture (privacy thing that’s big in Japan)
        When I really wanna capture an image in a store; I always ask politely and be sure to mention no other customers will be in the picture and they always agreed.

        Oh, and before i forgot; awesome picture 🙂 !

  • What drives me nuts about katakana is (1) I often cannot convert the sounds into an English word–especially when it’s a French or German word or (2) it turns out to be a Japanese name that I could have read in the original, i.e., Tanaka. But with hiragana, katakana, and kanji, it’s endless fun.

    • It certainly does take some creativity to understand the “foreign” katakana words. But it can also be fun like a puzzle. I find that it helps to pretend to be a Japanese businessman and say the word aloud in an exaggerated accent.

  • in one week i will both be going through the crossing, and viewing it from above…
    can’t wait!!

  • Tried to motivate myself to learn but I dont have the time to do it justice! (also got Rosetta but a having a 4 year old around makes it rather difficult!). Also have some iphone apps but again, time……found some language ‘tapes’ online in mp3 format and did try the subliminal learning thing but the birth of my son at Xmas kind of ruined that as I cant sleep with the ipod in in case he cries!

    @ Alan – I think we have been sitting in roughly the same seat as I have a photo that is pretty well much the same as yours but on a rainy night!

  • To learn hiragana and katakana, I used this site:


    And a lot of paper to write them, there is no use to learn to read and not to write.
    King is to repeat over and over in your head and aloud words, especially katakana, which is a science on it’s own right.

    If Shibuya decides to give us his methods to learn the language it’ll be great, as over time I got to understand that many students need a method to “break” the language in their heads.
    That is the difficult part, to find a way to bundle everything you read and learn; to find a point of view to finally start to piece together what you do.

    I sounded like an ad. Lol

  • I would love to hear your tips on learning the Japanese language and the flash tiles are a great way to practise. I’d love to start recognising a few Kanji (While I’m okay at hiragana and katakana, I only recognise about 10 kanji so far).

  • Any language guides you are willing to do would be of great use and much appreciated. We are coming over to Japan next year and will be starting to learn the language in the next month or so!!