When learning hiragana and katakana, we’re quick to notice that some are missing. wu, we, yi… wi (ゐゑ) and we (ヰヱ) are in Unicode and in most fonts, as they were used all the way up until the 1950’s and show up sometimes even now (in places like usernames). Type them in the romaji-style input by writing “wyi” and “wye”.
There is no yi, ye or wu. Historically speaking, the Y sound is really just a short I with a bit more forceful breath, so yi would really be ii. E is the sound created in-between I and A, so it would have historically been iia for the same reason. The Japanese W is actually the same exact sound as its U, it’s just that U uses the voice and W is simply a puff of breath, so saying the two fast and close together is just too difficult (it’d be like saying “sz, td, pb”). Our English W is slightly different from our U, which is why we can say “woo” and Japanese can’t.
In the past, ex. in the late 1800’s, there were dialects that did say “ye” but it wasn’t spelled that way. Back then, even when using hiragana they had an entirely different spelling system that was according to etymology and not according to pronunciation. The only part of the old system we have left today is in words where “ei” sounds like “ee” and “ou” sounds like “oo”, and in the grammatical words “はをへ” being pronounced “wa wo e” instead of “ha ho he”.
I have not found any actual proof that there was a special letter for ye by the time that hiragana was simplified down into 50 characters. Hiragana used to have someting like 200+ characters and it’s possible it was indeed included then, but of course, we can’t count that as “real” hiragana now can we.
If you are using “Glyphs” to make a font that includes the characters, like me, add a glyph called “u1B000” for katakana ye, and “u1B001” for hiragana ye. That way anyone who has the correct Unicode will see it properly.
Here’s old charts of hiragana and katakana.
First, have charts from 1896; these come from the second edition of the book, published in 1906. “An Introductory Course in Modern Japanese” by Clay MacCauley. (Click to enlarge): These have only wi (ゐヰ) and we (ゑヱ):
“A Grammar of the Japanese Written Language” from 1904 (click to make bigger). This has all of them:
“ヰ and ヱ, though belonging to the w column, are not pronounced wi and we, but i and e. No doubt the original pronunciation was wi and we. Wo (ヲ) was formerly considered one of the a (ア) i (イ) u (ウ) e (エ) series, and o (オ)was placed along with wa (ワ) i (ヰ) wu () e (ヱ). Motowari corrected this error, but it is still found in many Japanese books. The Wakun Shiwori, for instance, follows the old practise.”
“If is a curious fact, that notwithstanding its greater simplicity and convenience, the lower classes of Japanese are unacquainted with the Katakana, and even scholars prefer the Hiragana for most purposes.” – p.4
“There is another arrangement of the syllabary called iroha:
i ro ha ni ho ke to chi ri nu ru wo
wa ka yo ta re so tsu ne na ra mu
u wi no o ku ya ma ke fu ko e te
a sa ki yu me mi shi we hi mo se su
This is in the form of a stanza of poetry giving expression to Buddhistic sentiment:
Iro wa nioedo chirinuru wo;
waga yo tare zo tsune naramu.
Ui no okuyama kyou koete,
asaki yume mishi, ei mo sezu.
い ろ は に ほ け と ち り ぬ る を
わ か よ た れ そ つ ね な ら む
う ゐ の お く や ま け ふ こ え て
あ さ き ゆ め み し ゑ ひ も せ す
いろ は におえど ちりぬる を
わが よ たれ ぞ つね ならむ
うい の おくやま きょう こえて
あさき ゆめ みし えい も せず
Though the blossoms (hues) are fragrant they fall away;
In this our world who will abide alway?
To-day I crossed the very mountain-recesses of mutability;
And saw a shallow dream, nor was I intoxicated thereby.”
Translation from “A Japanese Grammar” 1876:
”Color and smell (love and enjoyment) vanish!
In our world who (or what) will be enduring?
If this day passes away into the deep mount of its existence,
Then it was a faint vision; it does not even cause giddiness (it leaves you cold).”
From https://s-opac.sap.hokkyodai.ac.jp/library/?q=kyokasho-1 :
From http://members.jcom.home.ne.jp/manya-isi/iroha.htm :