Hiragana are a set of phonetic Japanese characters, sometimes referred to as a syllabary. This is one of the two sets of kana; Katakana being the other.
Hiragana can typically be differentiated from Kanji and Katakana by their simplicity and curvy lines. Katakana being more angular and Kanji usually having more strokes.
Hiragana has multiple uses:
- Adding grammar to Kanji characters in writing. (i.e., conjugating verbs, providing part of speech markers,…)
- Spelling out words. Not everyone can read Kanji, so sometimes they are replaced in writing. This happens a lot in books for very young children and in cases where the Kanji are particularly difficult or slow to write.
- Providing readings for Kanji. Sometimes tiny hiragana characters are written to the right of or above Kanji characters. This is done for clarity when a strange reading of a character is used or when a rare Kanji is used. Also, it is done in books for young children and adolescents who are learning Kanji. These small characters are usually called furigana.
All of the Hiragana characters are simplified versions of Kanji written in cursive.