Guide to Pronunciation of Japanese Terms

Hatson no Yoten

This Nippon Budō Seishin-Kan website makes extensive use of Japanese terminology since we are, after all, presenting information about Japanese and Okinawan budō, including extensive information on Japanese history, culture, and institutions.  While we endeavor to explain terms that may be unfamiliar as we present them, it is not always possible to do so—especially with so many Japanese words in widespread use within the budō community.  Recognizing that not every visitor to our site is familiar with common budō terminology we have developed several glossaries of Japanese terms, as well as this Guide to Pronunciation to assist site users in understanding and correctly pronouncing frequently used terms.

Below are links to the glossaries of Japanese terminology available on this site:

  n Glossary of General Terms Used on This Site
  n Glossary of Terms Used in Karate-dō
  n Glossary of Terms Used in Okinawa Kobujutsu
  n Glossary of Terms Used in Nippon Budō

We hope you will find this information useful, and we welcome your suggestions (to our Webmaster) for additions or changes to this glossary.

Pronunciation of Japanese Vowels

Fortunately for non-Japanese speakers, Japanese vowels are pronounced with reasonable consistency.  Whereas vowels in English and many other languages often have more than one pronunciation (for example, the "a" in ball, bat, and cake), Japanese vowels are pronounced essentially the same in every usage, as shown in the table below:

  Vowel Written in Hiragana/Katakana Written in Rōmaji Pronunciation (Nearest English Equivalent)
  あ ア a "ah" as in "all"
  い イ i "ee" as in "eel"
  う ウ u "oo" as in "pool"
  え エ e "eh" as in "egg"
  お オ o "oh" as in "old"
  Long Vowel Written in Rōmaji Pronunciation (Nearest English Equivalent)
  ああ アア aa or ā "ah" as in "all" but voiced twice as long
  いい イイ ii or (uncommon) ī "ee" as in "eel" but voiced twice as long
  う ウ uu or ū "oo" as in "pool" but voiced twice as long
  え エ ee or ē "eh" as in "egg" but voiced twice as long
  お オ oo or ō "oh" as in "old" but voiced twice as long
Diphthongs Written in Rōmaji Pronunciation (Nearest English Equivalent)
  あい アイ ai "eye"
  あう アウ au "ow" as in "cow"
  あえ アエ ae "ah-eh" (no English equivalent)
  あお アオ ao "ah-oh" (no English equivalent)
  いあ イア ia "ya" as in "yacht"
  いう イウ iu "you"
  いえ イエ ie "yeh" as in "yet"
  いお イオ io "yo" as in "yoke"
  うあ ウア ua "wa" as in "water"
  うい ウイ ui "we"
  うえ ウエ ue "weh" as in "wet"
  うお ウオ uo "wo" as in "woke"
  えい エイ ei "a" as in "ate"
  おい オイ oi "oi" as in "oil"
  おう オウ ou "ou" as in "dough"
  おえ オエ oe "oh-eh" (no English equivalent)


The five vowels, a, i, u, e, and u can stand alone as syllables or follow one of the consonants in the table below to form a syllable.

Pronunciation of Japanese Consonants

Most Japanese consonants are pronounced nearly the same as their English counterparts. The include (in order) K, S, Sh, T, Ch, Ts, N, H, M, Y, W, G, D, J, B, and P.  Only one consonant in the Japanese language ever occurs alone, which is the final "n" in a syllable.  All other consonants are always followed by a vowel as shown in the table below:

  Base Consonant ~a ~i ~u ~e ~o
K ka ki ku ke ko
  S sa shi su se so
  T ta chi tsu te to
  N na ni nu ne no
  H ha hi fu he ho
  M ma mi mu me mo
  Y ya   yu   yo
  R ra ri ru re ro
  W wa       wo
  G ga gi gu ge go
  D da ji zu de do
B ba bi bu be bo
  P pa pi pu pe po
  Ky kya   kyu   kyo
  Sh sha   shu (she)* sho
  Ch cha   chu (che)* cho
  Ny nya   nyu   nyo
  Hy hya   hyu   hyo
  My mya   myu   myo
  Ry rya   ryu   ryo
  Gy gya   gyu   gyo
  J ja   ju (je)* jo
  By bya   byu   byo
  Py pya   pyu   pyo


The Japanese consonants which are pronounced differently from their English counterparts include:  G (sometimes), F, R, and Z.   As the first consonant in a word, the G is usually pronounced the same as in English, but otherwise it is usually pronounced more like "ng" as in "song" (example:  o-negai shimasu).  F in Japanese is not formed by pressing the upper teeth against the lower lip, as in English, but by pursing the lips as if blowing out a candle (so "fu" sounds like a cross the "foo" in "food" and "who").  Similarly, the R in Japanese is formed by pressing the tip of the tongue against the roof of the mouth, so that it sounds like a cross between the English L and R.  Z in Japanese has a faint D sound initially, so that "zu" sounds more like "dzoo" than "zoo." 

When a syllable ends with N and is followed by an M, B, or P that N is pronounced as an M.  In this way, "senmon" is pronounced "semmon," "sanbyaku" is pronounced "sambyaku." and "senpai" is pronounced "sempai."  In rōmaji (Roman alphabet), these words are often written with the N replaced by an M to avoid confusion for foreign speakers.

*NOTE:  the syllables she, che, and je are used only in words borrowed from foreign languages.  They do not occur in any native Japanese words.

Japanese Names

Throughout this website we follow the customary Japanese method of placing the surname (family name) first, followed by the given name.  For instance, Japan's most famous samurai was Miyamoto Musashi.  Miyamoto was his surname, and Musashi his given name.

If John Smith was Japanese, his name would be stated as Smith John.

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