What is hentaigana?

A sign reading
"Kisoba Yabushige"
uses hentaigana

Hentaigana (変体仮名), literally "variant kana", are variant forms of hiragana which have been standardized away in modern Japanese. In 1900, the Japanese education system officially standardized hiragana to one particular form, and the hentaigana fell into disuse.

The hentaigana are still sometimes used on signs, particularly for soba restaurants such as in the illustration, where the word "soba" is written using hentaigana.

There is much less variation in katakana forms, with the forms of the Heian era (794-1185) being similar to the modern ones.[1]

Iroha written in hentaigana, from Genkon Jidō Jūhōki (現今児童重宝記), published in 1886

The above illustration shows the iroha poem written in hentaigana. See How does the ordering go? for more about the iroha poem.

The hentaigana have newly been added to Unicode, version 10.0.


  1. Christopher Seeley, A history of writing in Japan, page 143.; 1985

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