Why Does Everybody Forget Katakana?

I'll let you into a secret. I hate katakana.

Students of Japanese tend to start with its two phonetic alphabets. We start with hiragana, the loopy, flowing letters that make up all the sounds of Japanese.

Then we move on to katakana - all the same sounds, but in angular blocky font.

Hiragana seems fairly easy, I think. And when you start learning Japanese everything you read is written in hiragana, so by reading you constantly reinforce and remember.

Katakana? Not so much.

The katakana "alphabet" is used extensively on signs in Japan - if you're searching for カラオケ (karaoke) or ラーメン (ramen noodles) you'll need katakana.

But if you're outside Japan, then beyond the letters in foreign names, you don't get a lot of exposure to katakana.

I think that's why a lot of beginning students really struggle to remember katakana.

Here are a couple of suggestions:

1) Use mnemonics

Personally I still can't remember some of those sticky similar katakana without goofy mnemonics.

For example, I still think katakana ウ (u) and ワ (wa) look super similar - I remember that ウ has a dash on the top, just like hiragana う (u) .

2) Practice, practice, practice

I'm not a huge fan of having you copy letters over and over again, but there is something to be said for "writing things out".

By writing letters down, you activate muscle memory, which helps you remember. So get writing katakana!

3) Start learning kanji

It might feel like running before you can walk, but starting to read and write kanji (Chinese characters) before your katakana is completely perfect can be a good option.

Kanji textbooks have the Chinese readings of the characters in katakana, so learning kanji is also really good katakana practice.

And maybe, you'll turn into a katakana lover, not a hater. 

Three Favourite Japanese Jokes

The worst job interview I ever had started with the interviewer asking me to tell him a joke.

I sat there flustered for a while before mumbling something about a man walking into a bar. The interviewer rolled his eyes. Needless to say I didn't get the job.

Sitting in a smokey cafe after the interview I remembered The Michael Jackson Joke which is probably the best beginner-Japanese joke of all time. I should've told him that one! Although he probably would have rolled his eyes at that too...

They say explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog - you understand it better but the frog dies in the process. So with that in mind, here are my three favourite, brilliant, terrible Japanese jokes. Happy Friday!


Maikeru Jakkuson no sukina iro wa nan desu ka.

"What's Michael Jackson's favourite colour?"

You have to really commit to the punchline for this one. You can even tell the question in English and the punchline in Japanese, as long as the person you're speaking to knows the Japanese word ao.

I once told The Michael Jackson Joke to a friend while standing at a traffic light in Nagoya and a stranger in front of us burst out laughing. True story.

↓ (Skip to 1:05)

「どうしてハワイ人は歯医者に行かないの? 」

Doushite Hawaii jin wa haisha ni ikanai no?
Ha wa ii kara.

"Why don't Hawaiians go to the dentist?"
"Because their teeth (=ha) are good (=ii)"

My friend Kendal sent me this one last week. ありがとうケンダル!


Panda no sukina esa wa?
Pan da.

"What's a panda's favourite food?"
"Bread (=pan)"
Pandas and puns are probably two of my favourite things. This joke has both.

What's your favourite Japanese joke? Have you ever told a joke in a job interview? Let me know in the comments!