Japanese sounds

Japanese sounds are counted as 101 in total. It sounds more than English which has 44 or 45 sounds comprising 19 vowel sounds and 25 or 26 consonant sounds. However, if it is counted in the same way as English, Japanese has only 20 sounds which consists of five vowel sounds and 15 consonant sounds.

The difference from English is though, Japanese sound system is heavily dependent on vowel sounds. Each sound always come with a vowel sound except for one sound 'n'. Therefore, it does not reasonable to count a consonant sound as one in Japanese. Instead, five vowels, 95 consonant-vowel combinations and 'n' are summed up to 101 sounds. The set of phonetic symbols written with the English alphabet is called Roomaji.


Generally speaking, Japanese vowel sounds are pronounced shorter and clipped than English. For consonant-vowel combinations, several sounds are tricky for English speakers. For example;
  • tsu is pronounced as in 'its' with short 'u'.
  • r is pronounced like a sound in between 'r' and 'l' in English.
However, you should not worry too much about the accuracy because Japanese sounds accept wider range of ambiguity than English. Due to the limited number of sounds, Japanese are less sensitive to the distinctions between similar sounds. This is why Japanese people tend to mix up the sounds of rice and lice, storm and stone, or sea and she. In other words, similar sounds are enough for Japanese pronunciation.

Japanese sounds are organised very well and pronouncing each sound is surprisingly easy. Give it a try and you will find the same after practicing a couple of times. Enjoy.

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