The meaning of iroha (いろは) in Japanese and how to use it

This article will give you all of the knowledge you need on the Japanese word iroha, including its Japanese definition and translation, example sentences, alternative expressions, and more!

What does iroha mean?

The Japanese word iroha (いろは) means the basics or the fundamentals of a certain domain. You might also translate it as the ABCs. The modern usage of the word is based on an old poem known as the iroha, which historically served as a kind of alphabet. Iroha is therefore about starting something from the very start.

How to use iroha

Iroha is written with hiragana characters instead of the now rarely used kanji (伊呂波).

Just so you know, iroha is not all that common in daily conversation, although it does appear a fair amount in writing. I would say that kihon (基本) is more widely used when discussing the basics of something.

Below, we take a look at some examples of how to use iroha in Japanese. I will also explain a related expression at the end of the article.

To make it easier for you, I have written each example in full Japanese kanji on the first line, followed by roman letters (romaji), and hiragana, with the English meaning coming last. I have also highlighted the new word in bold.

Example sentences using iroha

In Japanese, the iroha are the basics or fundamentals of something.

Nihon rekishi no iroha
The basics of Japanese history

Tai ryouri no iroha
The ABCs of cooking Thai cuisine.

Nee nee, iroha gurai oshiete.
Hey, teach me the basics at least.

Sono koosu no mokuhyou wa unten no iroha wo oboeru koto desu.
The aim of that course is to remember the fundamentals of driving.

Iroha mo shiranai = Not knowing the first thing about

One common expression that incorporates iroha is …no iroha mo shiranai (…のいろはも知らない), which means that you know next to nothing about…(insert your something here). Shiranai is the negative form of the verb shiru (知る, to know).

This phrase indicates you haven’t even learned the very basics of a subject or skill. You need to master the iroha first!

Watashi wa takkyuu no iroha mo shiranai.
I know next to nothing about ping-pong.

Kanojo wa waado no iroha mo shiranai.
She doesn’t know the first thing about Word.