There are 46 basic Japanese hiragana characters. Japanese words, when written phonetically, are made up of combinations of those characters. The three characters just above (と, け, い), for example, can be combined to make the word とけい, which means clock or watch. Because each hiragana character usually represents an entire syllable (in most cases made up of a consonant followed by a vowel), a single character can form a word like じ, which means “o’clock.”


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