Thursday, June 28, 2007

TAM: Japanese pronunciation guide

Several of you have asked questions about the correct pronunciation of Japanese words and names…


Here is an easy guide to Japanese pronunciation:


Or here (same thing as on website):

A (relatively) easy guide to Japanese pronunciation


Spoken Japanese consists of simple syllables, generally consisting of a vowel, or a consonant plus a vowel.  There are few complex consonant clusters.  All vowels and consonants have consistent pronunciation.  Consonants are crisply pronounced.


Vowels are always pronounced the same way; long vowels (usually marked in English transliteration with a macron ("ū," or as two vowels "ou") are simply longer in duration (actually two syllables), the sound doesn't change:

a =  as in father 

A-sa-ku-sa  -- Tokyo place

i = as in ea

Ni-hon-ba-shi  -- Tokyo place

u = as in food or zoo 

U-e-no – Tokyo place

e = as in end 

E-do – name of Tokyo before 1868

o = as in Ohio 

O-cha-no-mi-zu – Tokyo place


The consonant sounds are:

k = as in cat 

A-ka-sa-ka – Tokyo place

g = as in gourd

Gin-za – Tokyo place 

s = as in Sue 

E-bi-su – Tokyo place

sh = as in seashore 

Shi-ta-ma-chi – Tokyo area

z = as in zoo 


j = as in Jack 

San-gen-ja-ya – Tokyo place

t = as in tick 

To-ra-no-mon – Tokyo place

ts  = this is one of the tricky ones; think tsetse fly.   

Tsu-ki-ji – Tokyo place 

ch = as in chicken

Chi-yo-da – Tokyo place 

n = as in new

Ni-hon – "Japan" 

h = as in have 

Ha-ra-ju-ku – Tokyo place

f  = another slightly tricky one; think of "who" with an f sound 

Fu-ji-san – Mt. Fuji

b = as in Boeing

O-da-i-ba – Tokyo place 

p = as in party, pea, Poe 

I-p'pon-ba-shi – Tokyo place

m = as in mama

Ma-ru-no-u-chi – Tokyo place 

ya = as in yahoo, yeoman,

Ya-su-ku-ni – Tokyo shrine 

r   = the trickiest one – more like a "d" than an "r" (as in a British butler saying "very good, madam") ** 

Ro-p'pon-gi – Tokyo place

w = as in wander

Su-mi-da-ga-wa – Sumida River 


Sometimes syllables are made up of a combination of a consonant and a semi-vowel (ya, yu, yo) – as in Tōkyō, Kyōto, gyūniku (beef), etc.—resist the temptation to pronounce these as Tokiyo, Kiyoto, giyuniku – the consonant plus semi-vowel sound be a single syllable.  Think of kyu and the English word "cute"


All syllables receive the same amount of stress or emphasis. (For most Americans that means pronouncing Japanese without any stress or emphasis.) 

"yo-ko-ha-ma"  NOT "yo-KA-HA-ma"  

"mi-tsu-bi-shi"  NOT "meats-U-bi-shi"

"Ko-i-zu-mi" NOT "COY-zumi" 


You can almost always divide the syllables after a vowel.  (exception: some syllables end in "n" (shinbun = newspaper)  (Nihon = Japan); sometimes a consonant is doubled (Roppongi – Tokyo place; or Hatchōbori – Tokyo place), which actually represents two syllables (pronounced with a slight pause– Ro-p'pon-gi; Ha-t'cho-o-bo-ri).


** this one is the source of the stereotypical difficulties that some Japanese have with pronouncing "L" and "R") – a Japanese "r" is NOT an English 'rolled r' (i.e., NOT "Ralph likes Rock 'n Roll").   


Thanks for your time!



Heide Fernandez-Llamazares

Museum Educator and Docent Coordinator



1701 Pacific Avenue

Tacoma, Washington 98402

T: 253.272.4258 x3018

F: 253.627.1898

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