Learning Hiragana

Spending quite some time in the Tokyo Metro each day I thought I might as well use it to learn some Japanese syllables.

Tokyo metro stations are well-arranged as station names are written on the wall of each station in three different writing systems: Kanji, Hiragana, and roman letters. Being exposed to the names of the stations in both roman letters and Hiragana, I can use my rides each day to practice the syllabary by reading the current station or predicting how the next is written in Hiragana.

To help me internalize the stations, I describe them here and break them down into their syllables.

Morning Rush Hour

I start my ride each morning entering the Yurakucho line at Kanamecho station which is written like this in Hiragana: かなめちょう. If I transcribe each syllable I can recognize the name Kanamecho.


The syllable cho consists of a contraction of ち (chi) and ょ (yo, written smaller) and a subsequent う (u) which is not pronounced as u but makes the preceding o sound longer. The Hiragana version of each station is shown in two different styles. The serif version shows the stroke styles in detail while the sans-serif version is usually simpler.

The first stop is Ikebukuro station, after Shinjuku station the second-busiest train station in the world.


Next is Higashi-Ikebukuro which is apparently similar to the previous station.


Higashi means east and the syllable ga looks similar to ka which I have seen in Kanamecho. Two abbreviated strokes at the upper right corner transform か into its voiced counterpart が. The ぶ in Ikebukuro is also a voiced counterpart, of the syllable ふ (fu).

The next stop is Gokokuji.


This station is a good example for voiced counterparts, also called dakuon, as already seen at the previous station. The first syllable go is the voiced counterpart of the second syllable ko and the last syllable ji is the voiced counterpart of shi which I have seen in the word Higashi. I have also seen ku before (in Ikebukuro), so the only new thing to learn here is the syllable ko which is almost written like a reflected version of i.

Now the train is heading for Edogawabashi.


Here the syllables e and wa are new. do and ba are voiced counterparts of と (to) and は (ha) respectively. Interesting that the voiced counterpart of ha starts with b. I have already seen ga and shi in Higashi

The final stop on the Yurakucho line is Iidabashi where I change to the Tozai line for the final two stations.


The only new syllable in Iidabashi is da so it should be easy to predict after riding past the previous stations. い is familiar from いけぶくろ and ば and し appeared similarly at the end of the previous station えどがわばし. da is the voiced counterpart of た (ta) which I will see at the last two stations.

After a few minutes walk through Iidabashi station I enter the Tozai line heading for Kudanshita.


The symbol for ku is already familiar from いけぶくろ and ごこくじ. da, the voiced counterpart of た, appeared at いいだばし and し as well as its voiced counterpart じ appeared at various previous stations.

The final stop is Takebashi where I exit to walk to my office at NII.


All of the syllables in Takebashi appeared previously. ta at the end of くだんした, ke at いけぶくろ and the ending bashi is familiar from えどがわばし and いいだばし.

Heading Home

On my way home, I usually enter at Jimbocho rather than Takebashi because it is closer to where we have dinner. My colleagues do an excellent job in finding restaurants that serve vegetarian food which seems to be more difficult than I had expected.

At Jimbocho I take the Hanzomon line which crosses the Yurakucho line that brings me back home.


Jimbocho is another example for the contracted syllable cho that appeared at the end of かなめちょう. The syllable bo did not appear at any previous station and is the voiced counterpart of ほ (ho), that is, another example that h becomes b in dakuon. The syllable ji is the voiced counterpart of し and appeared in ごこくじ. The syllable ん for m is familiar from くだんした where it was pronounced as n. ん is pronounced as m when it precedes a b, m, or p sound and as n otherwise.

The first stop after entering the Hanzomon line is Kudanshita again.


I rode through Kudanshita already in the morning using the Tozai line.

The next station is Hanzomon which contains a couple of new syllables.


In the ending bashi I have already seen ば, the voiced counterpart of the first syllable ha. It is followed by ん which is pronounced as n in this context. The syllable zo is new and the voiced counterpart of そ (so). Again, a subsequent う makes the o sound longer. mo is a syllable that did not appear at a previous station.

At the next station Nagatacho I change to the Yurakucho line.


Nagatacho shares its ending with かなめちょう and じんぼちょう. The first syllable na also appeared at the first station Kanamecho. ga appeared in the word ひがし and at the station えどがわばし. ta is familiar from くだんした and たけばし.

The first station after changing to the Yurakucho line is Kojimachi which contains one new syllable.


The new syllable is ma which looks similar to mo in はんぞうもん. ko already appeared in ごこくじ together with its voiced counterpart go and is followed by う, again to make it longer.

The last new station is Ichigaya which contains one last new syllable.


The last syllable ya did not appear at any previous station, the other syllables did. For example, i at いけぶくろ, chi at こうじまち, and ga at ながたちょう which also contains ち in the ending cho.

The next station is Iidabashi where I changed to the Tozai line in the morning. From there the Yurakucho line just passes the same stations I have already seen in the morning.

Which syllables are missing? Time to plan weekend trips based on the Kana in station names..