Japanese Language

No Problem in Japanese

How to say No Problem in Japanese

This post lists and explains all the possible ways you can say no problem in Japanese. It also teaches you when you should, and should not use each one!

We’ve all made mistakes, and we’ve all done favours for each other too.

Whether you’re searching for a way to reply to an apology, for a perfect response for when someone thanks you, or to say you’re welcome, there will surely be plenty of time where you’re going to want to say: no problem.

This singular phrase actually has quite a few variants in Japanese, and a lot of it depends on the situation and circumstances.

Let’s have a look at the phrases, and I’ll help you become familiar with how and when to use each one.

All of the phrases and expressions are explained in detail with examples and native audio pronunciation samples attached for your reference.

No Problem in Japanese

Let’s jump straight to the most literal way to say no problem in Japanese. But first, you might want to learn about all the ways to say “no” in Japanese with our ultimate guide.

  • No problem
    mondai nai

Being the most direct, and literal expression of no problem in Japanese, you can use 問題ない(mondai nai) when you simply want to say to someone: no problem.

The first part of the expression 問題 (mondai) means “problem”.

The second part ない (nai) means: “to not exist”. So essentially this expression directly translates to “problem does not exist.”

You can use this expression during occasions when someone asks you for a favour or if it’s okay for them to do something. For instance,

  • 今日のパーティー、8時に行っていい?
    kyou no pa-tei-, 8ji ni itte ii?
    Can I go to today’s party at 8?

To which, you can respond:

  • 問題ないよ。
    mondai nai yo.
    No problem.

In this example, the addition of よ (yo) makes the expression more friendly. You’re essentially saying “sure, it’s no problem.” It is very casual and should only be used when speaking with friends or family.

Formality: Note that as Japanese changes depending on the level of formality, this expression is in its casual form, therefore is best used when communicating with friends and relatives.

If you were speaking to a manager or someone who is of higher status, however, you can add the Japanese です (desu) to the end of the expression making it: 問題ないです (mondai nai desu).

If you’d like to learn more about how to read Japanese, you can visit our detailed page which explains how to read Japanese from the ground up.

Of Course, No Problem in Japanese

  • Of course.

When someone thanks you for your help, or asks “Could you do this for me?” you might want to say もちろん (of course).

You can use this expression exactly as you would use it in English. Let’s say you stayed up all night helping a friend build their computer despite having to go to work the next morning. Your friend might say:

  • 昨日ありがとう!
    kinou arigatou!
    Thanks for yesterday!

Your response:

  • もちろん。
    of course.

Related: 25+ Ways to say Thank You and Thanks in Japanese [Ultimate Guide].

You could also combine it with the above expression 問題ない (mondai nai) and say: もちろん問題ない (mochiron mondai nai) meaning: “Of course, it’s no problem!” This one is nice, as it’s fairly easy to understand, as its uses and nuances are the same as in English.

You can also use this expression when you want to say yes to someone’s request.

  • 明日パソコンのことだけど、手伝ってもらっていい?
    ashita pasokon no koto dakedo , tetsudatte moratteii?
    About the computer tomorrow, would you mind helping me?

If you are all up for it, you can of course say:

  • もちろん手伝うよ。
    mochiron tetsudau yo.
    Of course, I’ll help.

If you use it like this, you sound very willing to help and that it’s no problem at all.

Formality: When you’re speaking with people to who you should show a higher level of respect, managers, teachers, and strangers, you can just add です (desu), to the end. This makes it もちろんです (mochiron desu).

I Don’t Mind in Japanese

  • I don’t mind/it doesn’t matter.

You can use this expression in two ways to say no problem in Japanese. Firstly, you can use it as an answer to a request. If your friend were to ask if you could wait for them for instance, you could say 構わない (kamawanai) which would mean “sure, I don’t mind.”

  • 図書館で待ってくれる?
    toshokan de matte kureru?
    Will you wait for me at the library?

You could reply:

  • 構わない.
    kamawa nai.
    I don’t mind waiting.

During these situations, you can also say “no worries,” which is explained in the next entry.

Secondly, you can use 構わない (kamawanai) to say: “it doesn’t matter.” This can be in the context of meaning: “it’s no problem whichever or whatever the case.” For example, if your friend asks if you’d rather meet at the supermarket as opposed to the library you could also reply with  構わない (kamawanai), meaning: “it’s no problem whatever the case.”

Formality: In terms of formality, this expression is in its casual form. To add formality to it, you would say 構いません (kamaimasen).

No Worries in Japanese

Friendly No Problem

Sometimes, “no worries” and “no problem” can be interchangeable, but the purpose of this section is to demonstrate how to say “No Problem” in Japanese with a warmer/friendly touch.

  • No worries/it’s no problem at all.
    zenzen ii yo.

This expression is powerful in conveying a friendly no problem in Japanese.

You can use it in a wide variety of circumstances. For example, you can use it in response to someone when they ask you for a favour, or even when someone apologies to you.

Furthermore, it has a very friendly connotation attached to it, making it a brilliant expression to use when someone thanks you.

いい (ii) has many meanings: “good, okay, no problem”.

In fact, you can just use いいよ (iiyo) by itself as it conveys the meaning of “no problem” in a friendly matter.

The よ (yo) makes this expression sound particularly friendly, as opposed to just いい (ii). You could say いい (ii) by itself, however, but it comes across as somewhat cold.

So, いいよ is a friendly and warm way of saying: “no problem” in Japanese. But what about 全然 (zenzen)?

Grammatically, 全然 (zenzen) is used at the start of a sentence with a negative ending to convey the meaning of “not at all”.

However, recently Japanese people have begun using 全然 (zenzen) to add emphasis to affirmative phrases. Although grammatically incorrect, it is widely understood and accepted by the Japanese that 全然 can be used like this.

Here, 全然 is used to express: “not at all,” and with いいよ coming after it, completes the expression 全然いいよ, literally – “no worries at all”.

Formality: When speaking to non-friends and relatives, be sure to add that extra layer of formality by adding です, making it 全然いいですよ. (zenzen ii desuyo).

It’s Okay in Japanese

how to say no problem in Japanese

  • It’s okay (no problem)
    zenzen  daijoubu

You can use 大丈夫 (daijoubu), to express “No problem” in Japanese. This is a very flexible phrase that you can use in plenty of situations.

It would be best translated as: “that’s okay, no problem” in English. Similarly to the 全然いいよ phrase explained above, 大丈夫 (daijoubu) can also be paired with 全然 (zenzen).

Also, in this case, 全然 (zenzen) exaggerates and amplifies the meaning of 大丈夫 (daijoubu).

See as adding 全然 (zenzen) to the phrase as a way of saying: “It’s absolutely fine” or “It’s absolutely okay, no problem” in Japanese.

As a response to a request:

  • 本当にパソコンを使っていい?
    hontouni pasokon wo tsukatte ii?
    Is it really okay to use your computer?

Your reply:

  • ぜんぜん大丈夫
    zenzen daijoubu
    No problem at all.

As response to an apology:

  • パソコンが壊れた!ごめんね!
    pasokon ga kowareta! gomen ne!
    The computer broke! I’m sorry!

Your reply:

  • ぜんぜん大丈夫
    zenzen daijoubu
    No problem at all.

As a Thank you:

  • 新しいパソコンを買ってくれてありがとう!
    atarashii pasokon wo katte kurete arigatou!
    Thank you for buying me a new computer!

Your reply:

  • ぜんぜん大丈夫
    zenzen daijoubu
    No problem at all.

You can also use 大丈夫 on its own, and you will sound perfectly natural. When you do, you’re simply saying “It’s no problem.”

Formality: Just like the phrases before this one, adding です (desu) to the end of the phrase ups the level of formality.

This makes it 全然大丈夫です (zenzen daijoubu desu). Don’t forget to do this when speaking with a stranger,  your manager, or your teacher!

How to say OK, Okay and It’s Okay in Japanese [Ultimate Guide].

Nevermind in Japanese

Don't worry in Japanese

When we want to say “no problem” to someone,  sometimes we want to say: “No problem, don’t worry about it.” In this section, I’m going to break down the phrases that convey just that meaning!

  • Don’t worry about it (nevermind).

When you use 気にしないで (kinishinaide) you’re essentially saying “Don’t worry about it, it’s no problem, nevermind.” You can use this phrase in situations where you want to tell someone not to worry.

For those of you who have studied Japanese before you might notice that this word has the grammar しないで (shinaide) attached to it. This grammar means “not do.”

The affirmative conjugation of this phrase is 気にする (kinisuru) which means “to mind.” With しないで (shinaide) attached to the word, we can see how the translation for this phrase is “nevermind.”

You can also use it as a response to an apology. Perhaps someone can’t hold back their cravings anymore and eats the chocolate that you’d been saving for a special occasion.

If you’re willing to forgive the person you would say: 気にしないで, conveying the meaning of “nevermind, don’t worry about it.”

Formality: You can add ください (kudasai) to the end of the phrase to increase the formality. ください (kudasai) is a formal way of saying “please” and is often paired with this word when an increase of formality is needed.

Don’t Worry About It in Japanese

  • Don’t worry about it.

This expression is the literal translation of “don’t worry about it.” 心配 (shinpai) means “to worry,” and ないで (naide) means: “without doing,” making the complete expression literally, “don’t worry.”

This phrase is very easy to use, as it has the same functions and uses as it does in English! It conveys the meaning of “it’s no problem, don’t worry about it.” You can use this phrase when you want to reassure someone that they don’t need to worry or overthink something and that everything is okay. When you combine it with 大丈夫 (daijoubu), above, you can say “It’s okay, don’t worry about it.”

  • ケーキの全部をたべちゃった、ごめんなさい。
    ke-ki no zenbu wo tabechatta, gomen na sai.
    I accidentally ate all of the cake, I’m sorry.

Being the nice person you are, you say:

  • 大丈夫!心配しないで。
    daijoubu! shinpaishinaide.
    No worries, don’t worry about it.

You can also use this expression to really try to calm someone down.

By saying:

  • そんなに心配しなくていいよ。
    sonna ni shinpai shinakute ii yo.
    Don’t worry too much.

You’re telling that person that they needn’t worry too much in Japanese. 

Formality: Similarly to the phrase above, add ください (kudasai) to the end of the phrase. By adding ください (kudasai) which means “please,” you add an additional layer of formality to the phrase.

You’re Welcome in Japanese

When we want to say “No Problem” in Japanese, sometimes, a “You’re welcome” will do the job perfectly. Let’s take a look at how you can say “you’re welcome” in Japanese.

  • You’re Welcome.

The most simple way to say “You’re welcome” in Japanese is to use the phrase: どういたしまして (douitashimashite).

This is a very flexible phrase you can use wth anyone without concern for formality. It is the closest phrase to “You’re Welcome” in Japanese and can be used when you want to respond to a “thank you.

Formality: You don’t need to make any additional changes to this phrase as it is already formal.  You can use this phrase to say “You’re welcome” to anyone without the worry of formality.

Modest ways to say You’re Welcome in Japanese

The Japanese language has multiple layers of formality, and it’s in the culture to be modest when saying “You’re Welcome” in Japanese. Let’s take a look at the phrases and ex[ressopms in more detail!

  • No, no, it’s nothing! (no problem).

When you say a single いえ (ie) in Japanese, you’re saying “no.” This expression is いえ (ie) x2, so quite literally this expression can be translated as “No no.”

When you go to Japan and speak Japanese to someone, there’s no doubt you’ll be complimented on your (amazing) Japanese. Japanese people are very polite, and will often say things like 日本語上手ですね!

This translates to: “Wow! You’re Japanese is amazing!” People will often say this to you immediately after you’ve told them: “Hello.”

The best (and sometimes expected) way to reply to this is to be modest.

In Japanese culture, after being complimented it can be polite to say things like “No no, that’s not true at all!” And the same goes for after someone thanks you.

When someone thanks you in Japanese, it is polite to tell them: “no, no, it was no problem at all!” Which is the exact meaning that いえいえ (ieie) conveys.

Formality: いえいえ (ie ie) is perfectly fine in all situations as it’s already an expression you’ll use when you want to be modest.

Check out this video on “Wow” You’re Japanese is amazing.” It’s become a sort of meme in the Japanese language learning community.

Thank You Too In Japanese

  • Thank you too!

When you want to say “Thank you too” in Japanese, こちらこそ (kochira koso) is the expression you’ll need.

This expression is quite on the modest side, and its literal translation would be more something like: “It is I who should be thanking you.”

You’ll want to use this expression after someone has thanked you to show that you’re also (perhaps even more so) appreciative of that person. It is a very polite expression that is used frequently among Japanese people.

  • 今日はとても楽しかったです。ありがとうございます。
    kyou ha totemo tanoshikatta desu. arigatou gozaimasu.
    Today was really fun. Thank you.

Your response can be:

  • こちらこそ
    Thank you too.

Formality: As this is a modest expression, you don’t need to change it in any way.

An alternative response that you can use is 私も (watashi mo), which essentially means “me too” in Japanese. Unlike こちらこそ (kochira koso) this is a very casual expression and should only be used with friends and family.

Recommended: How to say Thank You in Japanese [Ultimate Guide].

No problem using Japanese loan words

The Japanese language consists of borrowed words called katakana. There are ways to say “No Problem” in Japanese, using English (or English-sounding) phrases and expressions. Let’s take a look!

  • Okay

This expression means the same as “OK” in English, and can be used the same way. Convenient, right!

Formality: You can use オーケー (o-ke) as a standalone expression, but adding です (desu) to the end secures that formality if in doubt.

  • I don’t mind

This phrase is borrowed from the English language phrase “I don’t mind.” Just as you’d expect, it means exactly that! You can ドンマイ (donmai) in Japanese the same way as you would use “I don’t mind” in English. You’re probably best off using this one with your friends, as opposed to with your manager or teacher.

Formality: You should use this casual phrase with your friends.

It’s no problem, no big deal In Japanese

  • It’s no problem, no big deal
    taishita koto wa nai

At times when someone is bigging up the fact you’ve done them a huge favour, you can use 大したことはない (taishita koto wa nai). When you use this expression you’re telling the person that “it was nothing, no biggie.” For instance:

  • 家まで荷物を持ってくれてありがとう。
    ie made nimotsu wo mottekurete arigatou.
    Thanks for carrying my things all the way home for me.

As a reply, you can say:

  • 大したことはない
    taishita koto ha nai
    no problem, no big deal.

You can also use this expression to say “it’s nothing special.” Maybe you’ve received many compliments for being really good at something. People talk about you to others and say things like “thanks to them we won the baseball championship!”

By replying with 大したことはない (taishita koto ha nai) you’re telling them “it’s no big deal, nothing special.” Be careful not to sound too cocky of course!

That covers pretty much all of the ways you can say No Problem in Japanese! I hope you found this useful, thanks for reading!

More Resources for learning Japanese? No Problem!

Check out our dedicated page for all of our Ultimate How-To Japanese guides.

More Recommended Ultimate Guides:

How to say What’s up in Japanese

How to say How Are You in Japanese

Free Resources:

Japanese Learning PDF

Free Japanese Reading Practice eLearning PDFs!

How to read Japanese Main

How to Read Japanese: Ultimate Guide

“How do you read those Japanese symbols? How do you understand what they mean?”

These are questions that people have asked me a lot.

Before I studied Japanese, I had that same thought. “Can I really learn to read Japanese?”

I thought to myself: Where and how do I even begin to understand the language? It looks like a jumbled mess.

For those of you who have minimal experience in the Japanese language, what do you see when you see this?

Example of reading Japanese

Does it just look like squiggles and random symbols? I know it did for me when I first began my studies!

The Japanese language is certainly unique, and famously complex too. But don’t fret! That’s how it looks to most of us when we first start out! Despite seeming really complex, the Japanese writing system is actually very logical, making it super easy to learn.

In this guide, I will break down the steps on how to read Japanese so that you too, no longer see a squiggly mess, but rather; the enchanting beauty that lies within the foundation of the Japanese language!

Please note that this post features several affiliate links, meaning we’ll earn a small commission at no extra cost to you if you purchase through these links. For more information please visit the Disclaimer page.

How to read the Japanese Alphabet

The Japanese language consists of three alphabets or scripts.

You might be thinking, “three!?” But don’t worry! Actually only one of them requires a significant amount of time (compared to the others) to learn.

Here are the three scripts:




If you want to be able to read Japanese, I highly recommend making learning hiragana a top priority.

Reading Japanese Romaji

Before we jump into hiragana, I wanted to explain briefly about romaji. Romaji literally means Roman Characters, the very same characters we use for the English alphabet. Although Japanese does contain romaji, you will only really see romaji in important circumstances to help those who can’t understand Japanese text. You can often find city names displayed in romaji on signs.

reading signs in japan

This is a picture I took during my 700-mile cycle across Japan. I aimed for Shirakawago (from Nagoya) in one day.

Despite the endless struggle up multiple mountains, somehow I actually made it. You can see the Japanese text on the sign.

Below the Japanese text, you can see the corresponding romaji (the English name). Other than a few minor exceptions, the Japanese language does not use romaji very often at all, and if you want to be able to read Japanese, you should definitely start with hiragana! Let’s begin!:)

What is Hiragana?

Hiragana is the core of the Japanese language.

It is a phonetic script, consisting of 46 characters.

Each character of the hiragana script represents a syllable sound.

You will be able to pronounce any word in the Japanese language once you’ve learned each one.

All of these syllables represent every sound within the Japanese language. This means that once you have learned all 46 of the Hiragana characters, you’ll be able to read and say anything in Japanese.

How to read Japanese Hiragana

Let me show you an example. Two of the 46 characters are す and き.

す is pronounced: su   (as in the su in super).

き is pronounced: ki    (as in the word: key).

By putting them together and you get: すき, (pronounced su key) or in romaji: suki

すき (suki) means: like.

Just like in English, Japanese also has vowels.

All of the hiragana characters will have a vowel in them. Except for the vowels themselves and a few exceptions, you can pronounce all of the characters in Japanese the same way as you would pronounce two Latin letters.

The second letter is always a vowel and the first one is always a consonant.

For example, just now we looked at す (su).

The romaji and pronunciation for the hiragana す is a consonant [s] followed by a vowel, [u].

Just as you might have guessed, you could change the [u] for an [a], and you get [sa] (pronounced the same as [sa] in sat).

The Japanese alphabet doesn’t cover all of the consonants we have in English though. There is no [lu] for instance. We’ll talk about this a little more later.

That’s all there is to it, every sound in the Japanese language is like this, and once you’ve remembered each one, it’s just a matter of remembering the vocabulary! Hiragana is also used in the majority of Japanese grammar too.

A full sentence in Japanese would consist of multiple hiragana characters together. Something like this: にほんがすき. (which means  “I like Japan”) In Japanese, there are no spaces between words!

How to learn Japanese Hiragana

So, that’s great, but how can you learn them?

Firstly, take a look at these.

The hiragana す (su) from the Japanese alphabet.

This is our Japanese Core Hiragana Core card for the character す (su). We have created a study resource called: Hiragana Core to help you learn hiragana. All of the resources that I make for our site are resources that I wish that I had when I first began learning Japanese. So I hope you’ll find them useful!

The best way for you to learn the hiragana, rather than just remember them is through mnemonics.

By using mnemonics you can build a visual connection to each individual hiragana character.

For the す (su) character, we created a connection by linking it to the [su] in superman as the pronunciation is the same. These techniques will allow your brain to recall the hiragana much more effectively and efficiently, burning them into your long-term memory.

Next, let’s take a look at the card for き (ki).

The hiragana character き ki in the Japanese alphabet.

On this Japanese Core card, we have the character き (ki).

As I mentioned earlier, the hiragana き (ki) is pronounced the same as the English word for [key]. It even looks the same as one!

“How can I learn how to read Japanese quickly?” is a question I often see. My biggest advice would be to incorporate this study technique. By using this method you can enjoy studying the hiragana characters, as well as retaining the reading of each one, very quickly.

We have a full resource on the Japanese Core Hiragana Quest in development, be sure to check this page here.

By referring to our hiragana chart you can see all 46 characters and how to pronounce them.

how to read japanese hiragana - alphabet

More Hiragana Reading and Study techniques

Practice reading hiragana through tests and games!

Until it is completed, I recommend using this site to test your ability to recall the characters.

I used this Japanese hiragana test to test myself over and over again when I was learning hiragana. See how fast you can eventually crack 100 score without getting a single one wrong!

You could also try Dr Lingua’s Drag and Drop Kana Bento.

It adds a little more flavour to your hiragana learning with graphics of a Japanese lunch box (bento).

You simply drag each hiragana to it’s corresponding English (romaji) counterpart. This one also has an integrated timer making it easier to record your timings.

It also comes with a feature allowing you to test your hiragana recall ability vs your katakana recall ability. We’ll be talking about katakana later on in this guide. Definitely give it shot!

Learning how to read Hiragana through videos

I also recommend giving this video a watch to boost your hiragana studies. This video was produced by the guys at Japanesepod101, and they use a similar technique to the ones we use here. I love the creativeness in the visual associations they’ve made to help you learn the hiragana.

You can also try Japanese Ammo with Misa’s video. She adds a lot more vocabulary to her teachings of the hiragana characters. This makes it useful if you’re looking to pick up some vocab on the way too!

Japanese Language Resources

One of the best ways to learn a language in my opinion is without a doubt by taking online classes. But not just any online class, you have to find one that’s right for you. It’s so important to find a tutor who can support you, recognise your weaknesses, strengths and deliver you a fulfilling language learning experience.

Preply    Italki

That is why I recommend Preply or Italki. I have written a full review on Preply here, so if you’re interested in affordable 1-on-1 online classes you can take from the comfort of your own home, take a look! I cover the entire platform, the good and not-so-good, as well as provide my honest opinion on using Preply.

The Difference between Hiragana and Katakana

Katakana is the next of the three scripts in Japanese.

Katakana, like hiragana, is a phonetic script that consists of 46 characters.

In fact, the katakana characters have the exact same pronunciation as their hiragana counterparts. This means you don’t need to learn any new sounds. Rather, katakana is just another symbol that represents the same sounds of each hiragana.

For example, the hiragana す(su), which we learned earlier, actually has a second way to write it.

In katakana, it becomes ス (su). These two characters have the exact same pronunciation.

They just look slightly different. In general, hiragana characters will be more rounded and smooth, cursive almost. Whereas the katakana counterpart of each hiragana will be much sharper around the edges.

Now I bet you’re wondering the same thing as I did when I first learned about katakana’s existence.

Why on earth do they have two alphabets if they’re the exact same bar writing style?

What is Katakana?

The Japanese language has borrowed words. These borrowed words are words that have been taken from other languages, such as English, German, and even Russian.

These borrowed words are katakana. We actually have them in English too, words such as karaoke are examples of words that have been borrowed from Japanese.

There are actually a fair amount of words that the Japanese language has borrowed. Being an English speaker is definitely an advantage to help you learn them.

As spoken Japanese does not mirror the exact same sounds we have in English, some words can’t be said the same.

For example, there are no single letter phonetic characters in the Japanese alphabet that aren’t vowels, bar ん(n).

Take the word [gym] for instance, in Japanese it becomes ジム, (jimu) pronounced jim moo.

Because most of the characters in Japanese are pronounced as two Latin letters, borrowed (katakana) words will often have an additional sound to be pronounced, one that doesn’t exist in the original Latin word.

For example, in English when we say the word [gym], we finish on the [m] sound, because the single letter [m] is a letter in our alphabet.

In Japanese, they don’t have these single letter characters, so naturally, the ending will be pronounced differently. in this case, [gym] becomes [jimu] ending on the [u] sound.

How to read Japanese L and R

Also, there are no distinct L or R sounds in Japanese.

The word [table “” not found /]
, is an example of a borrowed word in the Japanese language. [Table] becomes, teburu. pronounced tay, (as in taylor), bu, (as in Boo!), and ru (But because there is no L or R in Japanese, it becomes a mix between the loo, in loose, and the roo, in room).

This is the case for the entire R+vowel line in Japanese. Have a quick listen!



Just as there is no sound quite like this in English, there is no R sound in Japanese. So words with R’s in them are quite difficult for Japanese people to pronounce without practice. Take the word [rainbow] for instance, it would become [lainbow].

These borrowed words are written in katakana, rather than hiragana, which lets you know that these aren’t original Japanese words. It’s actually quite good fun trying to decipher the meaning of katakana.

Sometimes you can get the meaning straight away, and other times, it might take you a minute. I remember in class spending quite a while trying to work out what Fueisubukku was. (フェイスブック)

Have a look for yourself, and see if you can recognise any words!

Why learn to read Japanese katakana

This is why it’s so important to not skip learning katakana. By learning katakana, you will be able to understand the correct pronunciation of words in Japanese.

This makes you sound way more natural in your speech, and it also means that Japanese people will be able to understand you.

It’s also very useful to learn katakana, as you will find when you go to Japan, a lot of menu items will be written in katakana. You will be able to read them and decipher from the sounds of the katakana what the English word might be.

Say you wanted to order a big mac burger at McDonalds. You could go into the restaurant, and as you can read katakana, you could skip the pointing at the images charade and tell the waiter you’d like a ビッグマックバーガー(biggumakku ba-ga-). The word “burger” is in katakana on the menu too.

That’s all you need to do to be able to read a basic menu in Japan!

So, we’ve established that katakana are borrowed words, and hiragana make up the core of the Japanese alphabet and language.

Grammar, and all other words that aren’t borrowed words, is constructed in hiragana. Hiragana can also be combined with other hiragana to make Kanji, but we’ll get onto that section a little later.

How to read Japanese Katakana

Once you’ve got hiragana down, and are fairly confident in it, I recommend making your next step learning katakana.

Another one of the main reasons I recommend learning hiragana first, then katakana is because many of the hiragana and katakana characters’ appearance is relatively similar.

Already being able to recognise hiragana helps a lot when you’re learning katakana as you can make visual connections with them.

Take a look at these.

ki in katakana

Earlier, we saw the hiragana character き (ki). Its katakana counterpart is actually very similar. Here is it! キ (ki) The strokes are much more straight, and firm. I think that katakana is actually much simpler than hiragana, and if you already have hiragana under your belt, you’ll be able to understand katakana and be able to read Japanese in no time!

Let’s take a look at another.

ka in katakana

These two characters, か, and カ are pronounced as ka (as in the [ca] in cat). Can you guess which one is the hiragana and which one is the katakana character?

Going with what we learned previously, we know that katakana is less cursive, and are more straight in their strokes. With this knowledge in hand, this makes we can deduce that か is the hiragana and カ is the katakana!

As you can see, they are quite similar, making them super easy to learn!

More Katakana reading and study techniques

Reading Japanese practice: Katakana tests and Games

Like the test we introduced to you to help you learn hiragana, there is actually a katakana version too. Give it a shot, and see if you can also crack a 100 to 0 score on it.

For the ultimate hiragana to katakana test, I recommend Dr Lingua’s Drag and Drop Kana Bento.

Here you can set the game mode where you have to match each hiragana and its corresponding katakana counterpart together. This is a fantastic way to challenge yourself on both your hiragana and katakana ability.

If you are considering studying Japanese at university, I highly suggest you master hiragana and katakana before your classes begin.

It helps out a ton when you can jump right into the content, and you can start making notes in Japanese immediately from the get-go. (as opposed to romaji).

If you’ve already got hiragana and katakana down, you’re ready to start reading actual Japanese texts with no Latin at all.

The Difference Between the Katakana so (ソ), n (ン), tsu (ツ), shi (シ)

A quick shout to the [so] and [n] katakana for looking so alike, and giving me the best embarrassing memories. I’d say they are almost as bad as シ (shi) and ツ (tsu). But these ones have a special place in my heart.

I’m sure if you’ve already begun your katakana studies, or if not, you’re about to find out, about the beautiful nightmare these four characters can be. I mean, maybe they look not so bad when they’re next to each other like this: シソツン. Maybe they do actually, I take that back.

But when you see one on its own like this: ツ. it tries to trick you for a second, making you stop and just double-check you’ve remembered this character correctly. (This has happened to me multiple times during Japanese university tests, or even in normal Japanese texts).

I want to break down the difference between these characters, to help you be able to recognise the difference in them a little more clearly. After all, you’re going to need to be able to tell the difference straight away in order to be able to read Japanese swiftly.

Let me enlarge them for you a bit.

enlargement of the Japanese katakana tsu, shi, n, so

Let’s start by breaking them down and analysing them as pairs, rather than as a group of four.

So we have ツシ and ンソ

Each katakana in the first group has an additional stroke, making them somewhat easily differentiable from the second group. We’ll take the first group and look at them some more.

What is the difference between the Katakana ツ[tsu] and シ [shi]?

ツシ are [tsu] and [shi] respectively. They both have three strokes, and three letters in their romaji spelling. That’s how you can remember them, three strokes=three letters.

The way I like to look at these katakana is to imagine that a gust of wind is blowing them downwards, or to the side.

difference between katakana tsu and shi

A method you can use to try and help you remember the characters is to think about the direction the wind is blowing the characters.

In the case of シ [shi], the wind is being blown from the west. And the word in Japanese for west happens to be 西 [nishi], which has [shi] in it!

Also, you can see the wind blowing the character eastward. You guessed it! The word for the east in Japanese also contains [shi].

That word is 東 [higashi]. It’s almost like they’ve done this on purpose! From these findings, we can deduce that the second one is ツ [tsu], making it super easy to remember!

What is the difference between the Katakana ソ[so] and ン[n]?

Next up we have ソ [so] and ン [n]. I mentioned earlier that it’s thanks to these characters that I have some embarrassing memories I’ll never forget.

At an exchange party between Japanese students and English students at my university, we all wore name badges.

We wrote our English name, and our katakana name on our name badges ourselves. In Japanese Latin names are written in katakana by the way. Despite not being confident in katakana yet, I gave it my best shot in writing my name.

Now, my name happens to end in an [n], which I ended up writing in katakana as: アーロソ, which in English would be Aaroso.

I didn’t realise the whole time that I had completely butchered my name. I have also made the mistake of writing ソ instead of ン on job application forms, and of course, I had to rewrite the entire thing.

Since then, I no longer make these mistakes with the ソ[so] and ン[n] characters.


To help you, I’ve come up with a knack to remember them.

difference between katakana so and n

We can use English to help us remember these characters this time! In the case of ソ [so] we draw a line from the small stroke, to the closest end of the long troke.

You will find that when you do this, the closest end will always be southward, and as the word [south] begins with[so] we can deduce that this one is ソ [so]!

Similarly, if we do the same with ン [n] and draw a line from the small stroke to the closest end of the long-stroke, you will find that the closest end will always be northward. And as coincidence has it, the word [north], begins with [n]!

I hope that helps you better understand the difference between ツ、シ、ソ、ン.

What is Japanese Kanji

what is kanji?

Now we’re onto the big one; kanji.

Put simply, kanji are Chinese characters. They were brought to Japan from China, many years ago. Some of them are very slightly different from the actual Chinese characters, but they are mostly similar.

 this is a kanji. It means [love].

Kanji are the things that you’ve probably read about being the most difficult part of learning Japanese.

I mean, at first glance, they do look complex, they’re a mess of squiggles. There are thousands among thousands of these things, and their numbers just keep increasing totalling up to 50000. But don’t worry! I’m going to show you how you can come to 愛 kanji.

The Japanese government has done us a huge favour and has given us a list of the top 2136 most used kanji in Japanese. These kanji are called the joyo kanji.

So, if you want to be able to read most Japanese texts,  you’re going to have to know the 2136 joyo kanji.

  Of course, children’s books won’t use as many kanji as something like a newspaper. But it’s kind of understood by everyone who is studying Japanese, that to read a newspaper, you need to know the kanji.

The difference between Japanese Kanji, Hiragana, and Katakana

Unlike hiragana and katakana, each kanji has its own (multiple) meaning(s). Some kanji may have more meanings than others.

Let me teach you three now.  一、二、三 are the kanji for one, two, and three respectively. Unfortunately the kanji for four changes from just increasing the numbers of lines, to 四 instead. But hey, now you only have 2133 more to go!

This doesn’t mean that every word will have its individual kanji though, some words will be made up of multiple kanji.

After you know the meaning of each kanji, it becomes quite easy to make educational guesses on the meanings of words even though you don’t know how to read them.

The kanji for [person] is 人, and the kanji for [two] is 二. Put them together and you have 二人, literally meaning [two people].

That’s all there is to it in regards to getting the meaning of words down. It’s the reading and writing that make it more tricky, but it’s worth doing.

How to read Japanese Kanji?


Remember the hiragana earlier? Kanji are made of one or more hiragana that constitute the reading of a kanji.

Let’s take the kanji 愛 for example. The reading for this kanji is あい [ai] (pronounced [I]). This is why it is important to learn the hiragana first, so you read kanji later.

You could just write Japanese all in hiragana, but there are two reasons why Japan doesn’t do this. Take a look at these two sentences.



The first sentence uses all hiragana, and the second uses kanji for the hiragana.

I have highlighted the hiragana reading for the kanji in both sentences. As the Japanese language doesn’t use spaces between words, the first sentence is much more difficult to read.

The second reason is homonyms. A sequence of hiragana together can actually have two completely different meanings, which is why kanji is used to allow for clear differentiation.

Let’s take a look at the kanji for [kanji] for example.

漢字, in its hiragana form, would be かんじ [kanji]

The kanji for [feeling] in Japanese is:

感じ, and in its hiragana form かんじ [kanji]

The two have different kanji but the same hiragana. This is why having kanji can be very useful in helping readers work out the meaning is of a word.

Kunyomi vs Onyomi

Kanji often have two different types of readings too. These are the Kun-reading, and the on-reading, or the kunyomi. and the onyomi.

When learning kanji, and how to read Japanese, you’re going to have to remember the two readings of every kanji. Which one you have to use, depends on the word, and the context. It comes naturally to you as you learn the Japanese language, so I wouldn’t worry about it too much!

How to read Japanese Onyomi


As we mentioned earlier, Chinese characters were brought over to Japan a long time ago.

When they were introduced to Japan, the Japanese began to adopt the characters into their language. Originally they tried to keep the pronunciation the same, but there are plenty of differences in pronunciation between the Japanese and Chinese languages, so that didn’t quite work.

So, Japan adopted Chinese characters and altered their pronunciation. These characters are Onyomi.

This is not to say that all of the Chinese characters that were brought over into the Japanese language had their pronunciation changed though.

Some actually remain the same. For example, let’s take the Japanese kanji for the number three.

As I mentioned earlier, it consists of three horizontal lines. 三, pronounced さん (san). All of the Japanese kanji for numbers are the same as Chinese kanji for numbers, and out of all of them, only 三 remains the same in terms of pronunciation.

A lot of the time, Onyomi will be used in more complex words, where multiple kanji are attached together to form a single word, and often have an increased formality associated with them. Lots of them are used in writing, or when speaking formally.

Reading Japanese: Onyomi Examples

This isn’t always the case though. For instance,  kanji for the days of the week use onyomi.

Did you know that the Japanese days of the week in English are associated with elements? For example, Sunday is actually the day of the sun, and Monday is the day of the moon. Well, the Japanese language actually has this too with its days of the week.

days of week in Japanese

Credit goes to Percivalias for this image. 

Thursday is the day of the tree, and the word for tree in Japanese is 木, in its hiragana form き. (ki, pronounced [key]).

However, because it is read in its onyomi when it is read as a day of the week, it becomes, もく, (moku, pronounced mo as in [mono] and ku as in the coo in [cucoo].

As you can see, all of the days of the week have multiple kanji together that form each word for each day of the week.

This is why when you search a Japanese word up in the dictionary, (we recommend Jisho for your online Japanese dictionary) it will show a katakana reading and a hiragana reading.

As we discussed earlier, katakana are borrowed words from other languages.

The same goes for the readings. All of the onyomi for every kanji will are often in katakana because they are borrowed readings from China!

It’s important to note though, that this is only the case for dictionaries. If you want to write an onyomi word without writing it in kanji, you’d write it in hiragana.

How to read Japanese Kunyomi

This leaves us with Kunyomi, the original Japanese pronunciation for words.

Some kanji will have multiple kunyomi too. Although it can seem overwhelming, you’ll find that a lot of words use similar patterns.

For example, the Japanese kanji for a person is 人. When this kanji is by itself it’s pronounced as ひと [hito], pronounced as (he toe). But when you put it together with other kanji, its reading changes.

For example, if you want to say [Japanese person], you would put the kanji for [Japan] which is 「日本」 before the kanji for [person]「人」, making it [日本人]. This also changes the reading from kunyomi to onyomi, making it pronounced as じん [jin].

Many Japanese adjectives and verbs are kunyomi. Sometimes additional hiragana accompany kanji and complete a word. Whereas, onyomi will not have any accompanying hiragana necessary to complete word. These hiragana are okurigana.

Maybe you noticed earlier during the initial kanji explanation, the kanji for the word [feeling] (which happens to be pronounced and read the same way as the kanji for [kanji], despite having different kanji) had an accompanying hiragana.

The word for [feeling] in Japanese is 感じ (kanji). The じ (ji) hiragana is pronounced as the letter [G].

The word for hot is another example of an accompanying hiragana. 暑い、(pronounced atsui).

These accompanying hiragana are okurigana.

How to learn to read Japanese Kanji

Luckily, there is a system in place to help us learn to read kanji. They are Radicals.

Radicals are small parts that make up a kanji. By learning the radicals, you can break down even the most complicated-looking kanji, and eventually, kanji stop looking like squiggles and like a bunch of radicals squished together instead.

There are 214 of them, and some of them are actually standalone kanji. Although all radicals aren’t kanji, I highly suggest learning them straight away if you want to be able to read Japanese. If you know the radicals, learning the kanji becomes significantly easier, as you can begin to understand the construction of each kanji.  You can find them, here.

How to read Japanese by learning the Radicals

Kanji and radicals are actually very clever. They work together extremely well. Let me show you. The kanji (and radical) for a tree is 木. Can you see it? It kind of looks like a tree doesn’t it?


reading kanji

The magic with radicals is that they can make sense, and help you to learn kanji if you let them. Let me show you another example. You have this tree radical, but what would happen if you put two together like this. 林.

reading kanji 2

Well, two trees make it a grove. But, we can actually go one step further and make it three trees: 森. Any idea what three trees together might mean?

Reading kanji 3

You guessed it! It’s a forest! So we have, 木、林、森, meaning tree, grove, and forest respectively.

This is why taking the time to learn radicals are so important if you chuck in a little bit of creativity in the learning process if you can pick up multiple kanji just from knowing one radical, makes learning the radicals super attractive!

Let’s take another look at the kanji for love 愛 あい [ai] (pronounced [I]).

We can also break this one down using radicals too. Take a look!


understanding kanji

We have the radical for heart 心, and the radical for accept 受. The act of accepting someone’s heart is the same as accepting their love, so naturally, by putting them together, we can make [love]! (no pun intended)

Have a look at some radicals, learn a few, and you’ll notice this will definitely help you with your kanji studies. You’ll be reading Japanese in no time!

So, how do you read Japanese?

Well, sometimes Japanese is written vertically, so you read it from top to bottom.  On top of that, authentic Japanese books follow are read right to left, as opposed to the left to right system we’re used to here in the west.

Sometimes you read Japanese both vertically and horizontally at the same time. An excellent example of this is a newspaper.

reading Japanese newspaper

It allows more information to fit onto the page, making use of as much white space as possible.

Websites and mobile phones display the text horizontally, however, reading from left to right. That’s it for the different layouts.

The number of different layouts might feel a little discouraging, but I promise you, it’s not that bad!

Other than that, reading Japanese is a matter of learning the hiragana, katakana, and kanji respectively. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be reading Japanese no problem!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this guide! If you need any help, feel free to message me or write us a comment below!

Japanese Reading Practice

Now that you know how to read Japanese, how about learning how to say some expressions and phrases right off the bat?

Ready to start reading some Japanese? I have developed a Japanese Reading Practice eLearning Interactive PDF resource free for you. My goodness, that certainly was a mouthful! You can read all about it, and get free lifetime access here!

There is no better way to learn Japanese than to converse with native speakers. Have a look at my full honest review of Preply here!