To represent the pronunciation of consonants and vowels, IPA, International Phonetic Alphabet symbols are used in this page.
Vowel letters are pronounced as in Italian or Spanish, consonant letters are pronounced as in English.
|Ā or Â||/aː/||[aː]|
|Ē or Ê||/eː/||[eː]|
|Ī or Î||/iː/||[iː]|
|Ō or Ô||/oː/||[oː]|
|Ū or Û||/uː/||[uː]|
Long and short vowels are distinguished. For example:
The actual pronunciation of the phonemes /u/ and /uː/ varies according to regions:
In Eastern Japan (including Tōkyō, the current capital), /u/ and /uː/ tend to be pronounced as weakly rounded or compressed close back vowels. Although these vowels are sometimes represented by [ɯ] and [ɯː] respectively, it is not appropriate to use [ɯ] for the pronunciation of /u/ in Eastern Japan because they are different sounds (weakly rounded or compressed vowel vs. unrounded vowel).
In Western Japan, namely Kinki (including Kyōto, the former capital), Shikoku, Chūgoku (except parts of San-in) and Kyūshū regions /u/ and /uː/ tend to be pronounced with roundness, i.e., as [u] and [uː] respectively.
In Northern Japan, /i/, /iː/, /u/, and /uː/ are pronounced as centralised unrounded vowels, [ɪ], [ɪː], [ɯ̈], and [ɯ̈ː] respectively.
Usually [b]. But sometimes [β] unconsciously, in particular between vowels.
Note: Most speakers of Japanese cannot distinguish between the voiced plosives and the voiced fricatives. So, they cannot tell the difference between "b" and "v" by hearing or by speaking.
|C||-||Usually not used.|
|F||/ɸ/||[ɸ]. [f] can be used as a substitution for this sound.|
|G||/ɡ/||[ɡ]. In positions other than the beginning of a word, the phoneme represented by this letter is also pronounced as [ŋ] or [ɣ]. The use of the former sound (ŋ) in the middle of a word is considered as a model, but this sound is fading out nowadays.|
|H||/h/ or /ç/||
[h]: When followed by a vowel except /i/ and /iː/.
Note: The "h" sound is never dropped in Japanese.
Some people use this letter in meaning of lengthening out the preceding vowel, like German orthography. However, as the /h/ sound can appear in the middle of a word in Japanese, this use causes ambiguity. For example: "ohashi" can be considered as "o-hashi (/ohaʃi/)" which means "chopsticks" or as "oh-ashi (/oːaʃi/)" which means "big-foot".
[ʒ]～[ʑ] or [dʒ]～[dʑ].
Note: /ʒ/ and /dʒ/ had been different phonemes until about the 16th century in Japanese, but now in most dialects the distinction has been lost and they have merged into one phoneme. Thus, this unified phoneme has two variants, [ʒ] and [dʒ].
When necessary to distinguish, "zh" can be used for [ʒ]～[ʑ], and "j" can be used for [dʒ]～[dʑ].
Usually not used, because the Japanese language does not have the consonant /l/.
Rarely, "l" is used as a variant of "r" mainly to make some word pretend to be a Western word. Anyhow, even if you find the letter "l" in Japanese text or hear the /l/ sound from a Japanese (especially singers), it is a mere variant of /r/.
(before a vowel)
|/n/ or /ɲ/||
[n]: When followed by a vowel except /i/ and /iː/.
The Japanese language has one unique phoneme called "syllabic nasal". It is usually written as "n", but "m" is also used when this phoneme is followed by a labial consonant /p/, /b/ or /m/.
This "syllabic nasal" does not have its own particular sound. Its sound varies according to the position where it appears:
However, in fact, you do not have to be sensitive to these differences, because most speakers of Japanese do not recognise that these varieties exist in the syllabic "n". You can even always pronounce [n] for every syllabic "n".
The only thing you have to take care of is not to pronounce the syllabic "n" and the following vowel continuously even though a vowel follows a syllabic "n". In such cases, you have to put a pause between them. Otherwise, some confusion may be caused; for example:
|R||/ɾ/||[ɾ]. Usually pronounced as a tap or flap, but some people pronounce it as a trill [r] or a "l"-ish r sound.|
|V||-||Not used. The Japanese language does not have the consonant /v/. See also B.|
[z] or [dz].
Note: /z/ and /dz/ had been different phonemes until about the 16th century in Japanese, but now in most dialects the distinction has been lost and they have merged into one phoneme. Thus, this unified phoneme has two variants, [z] and [dz].
When necessary to distinguish, "z" can be used for [z], and "dz" can be used for [dz].
|ZH||/ʒ/||Seldom used. See J.|
Long and short consonants are distinguished between vowels, as in Italian and Finnish. For example:
|Plosive||p pʲ||b bʲ||t tʲ||d dʲ||k kʲ||ɡ ɡʲ|
|Nasal||m mʲ||n||ɲ||(ŋ ŋʲ)||(ɴ)|
|Tap or Flap||ɾ ɾʲ|