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The prospect of mastering the Japanese language can at first appear very daunting to the western ear. Don’t be put off - by applying a few basic rules and learning a few key phrases Japan can suddenly seem a lot more accessible to the traveller.


The simplest method of being understood in Japan is to pronounce words as the Japanese do. The following points apply

Syllables are stressed evenly - whereas in English the second or third syllable is often stressed. In English we might be tempted to stress the second syllable in Osaka but to the Japanese ear this turns the word into Saka and thus makes the word meaningless.

Remember there is no letter ’l’ in the language. Invariably this will be replaced by a ’r’. Hence when asking for accommodation, requesting details of a hoteru may prove more successful than requesting a hotel.

In spoken Japanese, consonents or the letter u when found at the end of a word will often be ignored. Similarly when found in the middle of a word, the letters i and u are usually silent. (eg Takeshita will sound like Takesh’ta)

Vowel sounds only ever have one sound. The following applies in all cases.

a  -  a sound between the a in cat and the u in cut        

e  -  as in beg              

i  -  as in pink          

o -  as in lodge         

u -  as in butcher     

The Alphabet

Written language is comprised of three traditional character sets - hiragana, katakana and kanji. The traveller would be well advised to spend some time studying the syllabaries of hiragana and katakana (or at least have a reference book handy when travelling) in order to transliterate the syllables into recognisable vowels and consonents. Use hiragana when travelling to identify stations where no roman script equivalent name is available and katakana in restaurants to identify western food from the sound of the word. (Increasingly a roman script equivalent - romanji - is found at stations, restaurants etc but do not take it as read that this will always be the case so some basic grounding in the traditional script will always be useful)

However the traveller would be well advised to carry a phrase book at all times when travelling.


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