Learn Japanese Hiragana Alphabet: Wa (わ) Warai (わらい)

Alphabet is the foundation of English language, and the same thing can be said about hiragana in the Japanese language. Mastering hiragana is important for anyone who want to learn the basics of Japanese. As one of the two Japanese alphabets — right next to katakana — hiragana is used for both Japanese grammars and function words.

Because of this, having a strong foundation of hiragana means having a generally strong foundation of Japanese skills, too. Yet despite its importance, it shouldn’t take a long time for you to master hiragana. In fact, with the right teacher and support, it should only take no longer than a week for you to master hiragana, including reading and writing them. Hiragana’s shapes are relatively simple, especially if you compare them to kanji. Dwell no further. In this blog series, we’ll be breaking down all the Japanese phonetics (AIUEO or あいうえお) for beginners.

Want to take your kanji skills up a notch? Check our comprehensive kanji page for study tips, kanji life hacks and free worksheets!

Today’s Japanese Hiragana: Wa (わ)

Wa (わ) consists of the consonant “w” and the Japanese vowel “a”. Pronouncing the wa sound is pretty easy, too — you purse your lips and open your mouth when you make the sound. As the last kana or Japanese alphabet on every hiragana chart, wa (わ) is often associated with a word on a brighter note: warai (わらい), meaning laughter.

There’s a Japanese proverb that goes warau kado ni wa fuku kitaru (笑う門には福来る), and who can say no to that? The phrase means “good fortune and happiness will come to those who smile.”

And who shouldn’t live by the statement? In Japan, owarai (お笑い) is a broad term used to describe Japanese comedy. They can be seen on televisions and, just recently, YouTube, but owarai is a deep-seeded representation of Japanese culture. You’ll find that a lot of Japanese comedy can be traced from thousands of years ago, passed from one generation. There are three styles of owarai that perfectly captures the essence of Japan.


Manzai was once a traditional art of storytelling with roots that stemmed from the Heian period. Believed to have its beginnings from the song and dance performances, manzai perfomers would tour around courts, shrines and temples in celebration of the newyear. Manzai was reintroduced in Osaka by Yoshimoto Kogyo, and has since structured modern Japanese comedies.

Today, manzai is generally performed by two comedians, who play the roles of boke (ボケ) and tsukkomi (ツッコミ). Another characteristic is that the pair tend to match their outfits with each other. Boke, otherwise known as the funny man, delivers funny (and otherwise stupid) lines. They’re forgetful and airheaded, and it’s precisely their silly mistakes that stresses their partner, tsukkomi. Tsukkomi will usually hit the boke’s head or chest in retaliation.


Originating from the French word, “conte,” refers to funny skits. In Japanese, the word is written as konto (コント). It’s a type of manzai performance that focuses on storytelling, so it’s not uncommon to find a conte incorporating props and elaborate stage settings. In recent years, you can find a lot of rapid-fire short conte, which only goes less than 30 seconds.


Rakugo is a type of traditional Japanese storytelling that has been handed down since the early modern era. Performers sit on a zabuton cushino, centered on a stage, and let their bodies narrate the story. Interestingly enough, rops, costumes and music are abandoned in favors of fans and tenugui (thin cotton towels). A rakugo performer will adopt various gaze, postures and demeanors to play multiple roles. It is through the performer’s skill and sublime imagination that we can see a world unfurled and understand a deeper meaning in the art of Rakugo.

Pop Quiz

Here’s a question: In 2015, a certain manzai duo debuted and shocked the world. Who was the partner of a male named Kaneko from Tokyo?

The answer might be mind-boggling to some. Believe it or not, a robot named Pepper debuted as part of a duo called “Peppers”. They were able to successfully get past the first round of “M-1,” the most famous manzai contest in Japan. Kaneko went as far as to create a background for Pepper: a part-time worker born in Tokyo in December 1990.

Think you’re ready for another fun crash course? Check out our other Japanese phonetics and hiragana articles!

AIUEO – A (あ)
AIUEO – I (い)
AIUEO – U (う)
AIUEO – E (え)
AIUEO – O (お)
AIUEO – Ki(き)
AIUEO – Ku(く)
AIUEO – Ke(け)
AIUEO – Ko(こ)
AIUEO – Sa(さ)
AIUEO – Shi(し)
AIUEO – Su(す)
AIUEO – Se(せ)
AIUEO – So(そ)
AIUEO – Ta(た)
AIUEO – Chi(ち)
AIUEO – Tsu (つ)
AIUEO – Te (て)
AIUEO – To (と)
AIUEO – Na (な)
AIUEO – Ni (に)
AIUEO – Nu (ぬ)
AIUEO – Ne(ね)
AIUEO – No (の)
AIUEO – Ha (は)
AIUEO – Hi (ひ)
AIUEO – Hu (ふ)
AIUEO – He (へ)
AIUEO – Ho (ほ)
AIUEO – Ma (ま)
AIUEO – Mi (み)
AIUEO – Mu (む)
AIUEO – Me (め)
AIUEO – Mo (も)
AIUEO – Ra (ら)
AIUEO – Ri (り)
AIUEO – Ru (る)
AIUEO – Re (れ)
AIUEO – Ro (ろ)
AIUEO – Ya (や)
AIUEO – Yu (ゆ)
AIUEO – Yo (よ)
AIUEO – Wa (わ)

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