The Hentaigana App

Institution: UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles)
URL: The Hentaigana App (

  • Today, each syllable in Japanese is represented by a single hiragana. But this wasn’t always the case: for more than a millennium, individual syllables were written using a variety of hiragana, each based on the cursive form of a different kanji. In modern times, these traditional kana came to be known as hentaigana, or “variant kana.” The kanji from which hentaigana was derived are called jibo, “parent characters.”
  • The app has a function that lets you track your progress and select particular sets of syllables to practice, and an interactive dictionary that shows all the hentaigana and jibo the app contains. You can choose how many kana to display, and how often to have the readings appear. We have even included a tab where you can read about the precious manuscripts, all housed in the special collections of Waseda University Library, from which the kana were taken. And soon we will be switching on a bonus feature that lets you practice reading a string of syllables forming words and phrases, rather than just individual kana.
  • Developed as a collaboration between UCLA and Waseda University as a project of the Tadashi Yanai Initiative for Globalizing Japanese Humanities, this pioneering app—the first of its kind!—is expected to be the first in a series of similar apps, so keep an eye out for future releases!