Learning Katakana the Easy Way

Trends & Culture - January 25th, 2010
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Learning Japanese can be very tough, as most Weekender readers know. The huge challenge alongside speaking Japanese, is reading the thousands of kanji, hiragana and katakana: the phonetic symbols used in part to describe foreign words such as ‘biiru’ ビール(beer), ‘kohii’ コーヒー(coffee), etc.

Being a design freak, I stumbled upon a great post on the blog of top London design firm Johnson Banks. Designers have created something called ‘Phoneticana,’ which are fun graphic examples to help learn Japanese katakana characters.

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I love the superhero–sorry, suupahiiro (スーパーヒーロー) and the Heinz-inspired designs. Good work guys!

Note: Phoenticana is legally Jonson Banks’ property, so any ideas for printing your own clever T-shirts are out the window, unless of course you create your own system!


A few easy examples of katakana can be found out on the streets of Tokyo, from Uniqlo (ユニクロ) to Bic Camera (ビックカメラ).

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Another design of note was 2008’s ‘United Kingdom-Japan’ logo, which cleverly combined the kanji for Nippon (Japan), with the letters UK (also created by Johnson Banks).

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There are some great books out there to study kanji and kana. I recommend:

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1. Kanji Pictographix, by Michael Rowley (Amazon)

2. Kanji Starter (Amazon)

3. Remembering the Kanji (Amazon)

There are also some good links here: http://learnjapanesepod.com