Japanese has a very simple syllabic system which is easy to learn. The most syllables consist of simple combinations as a consonant followed by a vowel. The total number of the syllables are only around 150 including the syllables for loan words. The syllables for Japanese native words are counted to around 100.

Tables of Phonemes


Japanese has the system of 5 stable vowels, which is the most popular among languages in the world, like Spanish.

positions of a tonguefront centerback
flat lips/round lips F R F R F R
high i u
middle e o
low a
  • "a" as in past
  • "i" as in pit
  • "u" as in put
  • "e" as in pet
  • "o" as in pot

Strictly speaking, they are slightly different from the real sound of Japanese. The best way to confirm these sounds is to listen to the real sounds pronounced by a native speaker of Japanese. In this article, I have no purpose to tell the correct sound deeply so I do not mention more details.


Japanese has 22 consonants that are easy to pronounce.

labial alveolarpost-
palatalvelar glottal
voiceless plosives p t k
voiced plosives b d g
voiceless affricates ts ch
voiced affricates dz dj
voiceless fricativesf s sh h
voiced fricatives v z j
nasals m n
lateral approximants r
approximants w y
  • [p] as in space
  • [b] as in base
  • [f] as in fade
    without upper teeth
  • [v] as in vase
  • [m] as in make
  • [w] as in wake
  • [t] as in stay
  • [d] as in date
  • [ts] as in boots
  • [dz] as in cards
  • [s] as in sake
  • [z] as in zoo
  • [n] as in net
  • [r] as intermediate sound
    between l and r
  • [ch] as in chase
  • [dj] as in adjust
  • [sh] as in shake
  • [j] as in jet
  • [y] as in you
  • [k] as in skate
  • [g] as in gate
  • [h] as in head

They are slightly different from the real sounds. If you know the exact sounds, please refer the other sources. I do not focus on the exact sounds as well as the sounds of the vowels in this article.

Special Thanks to

Tables of Syllables

I am using Japanese Hiragana and Katakana font to display the following tables. You can get them without any special fee from Microsoft web site,, if you use Windows OS.

Japanese has two types of phonetic scripts which have the same pronunciation parallelly.

This script describes Japanese native words and loan words from ancient Chinese.
This script describes loan words from foreign languages except ancient Chinese.
Standard Syllables (By Hiragana)
a i u e o
k,ky ka ki ku ke ko kya kyu kyo
きゃ きゅ きょ
s,sh sa shi su se so sha shu sho
しゃ しゅ しょ
t,ch,tsta chi tsu te to cha chu cho
ちゃ ちゅ ちょ
n,ny na ni nu ne no nya nyu nyo
にゃ にゅ にょ
h,f,hy ha hi fu he ho hya hyu hyo
ひゃ ひゅ ひょ
m,my ma mi mu me mo mya myu myo
みゃ みゅ みょ
y ya yu yo
r,ry ra ri ru re ro rya ryu ryo
りゃ りゅ りょ
w wa
g,gy ga gi gu ge go gya gyu gyo
ぎゃ ぎゅ ぎょ
z,j za ji zu ze zo ja ju jo
じゃ じゅ じょ
d,dj,dzda dji dzu de do dja dju djo
ぢゃ ぢゅ ぢょ
b,by ba bi bu be bo bya byu byo
びゃ びゅ びょ
p,py pa pi pu pe po pya pyu pyo
ぴゃ ぴゅ ぴょ
____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
SpecialSyllables Particles
n' c' h' 'wa ''e 'o

Japanese has syllables that are plainly combined with a consonant and a vowel. The following list shows us the standard phonemes

  • V1: a, i, u, e, o
  • V2: a, u, o
  • V3: a
  • C1: k, s, t, n, h, m, r, g, z, d, b, p
  • C2: ky, sh, ch, ny, hy, my, y, ry, gy, j, by, py
  • C3: w
  • S: n', c', h'

The following list shows us the standard combinations

  • V1: 5 syllables
  • C1 V1: 12 x 5 = 60 syllables
  • C2 V2: 13 x 3 = 39 syllables
  • C3 V3: 1 x 1 = 1 syllables
  • S: 3 syllables
  • Total: 108 syllables

However, the following syllables are exceptional.

  • sound change: [si] → [shi], [ti] → [chi], [tu] → [tsu], [hu] → [fu], [zi] → [ji], [di] → [dji], [du] → [dzu]
  • same sounds: [ji] = [dji], [zu] = [dzu], [ja] = [dja], [ju] = [dju], [jo] = [djo]

The following list shows us the real sound of the special syllables. The last letter ['] is usually omittable except before vowel and semi-vowel letters ( a,i,u,e,o,y,w ) if it is not ambiguous.

  • n': [m] before [p], [b], [m]. [n] before the others.
  • c': [k] before [k]. [s] before [s], [sh]. [t] before [t], [ch]. [p] before [p].
  • h': [a] after [a]. [i] after [i]. [u] after [u]. [e] after [e]. [o] after [o]. It is usually called "the long vowel mark". It is formally spelled as follows.
    • [ah'] = [â], [ih'] = [î], [uh'] = [û], [eh'] = [ê], [oh'] = [ô].

The following list shows us the sound and the Hiragana spelling of the 3 special particles

  • 'wa: the sound [wa], the spelling [ha].
  • ''e: the sound [e], the spelling [he].
  • 'o: the sound [o], the spelling [wo].

Extended Syllables including The Standard ( Modern and Classic ) ( By Katakana )
a i u e o ya yu ye yo
k,ky ka ki ku ke ko kya kyu kye kyo
キャ キュ キェ キョ
g,gy ga gi gu ge go gya gyu gye gyo
ギャ ギュ ギェ ギョ
s,sh sa si su se so sha shi shu she sho
スィ シャ シュ シェ ショ
z,j za zi zu ze zo ja ji ju je jo
ズィ ジャ ジュ ジェ ジョ
ts,ch tsa tsi tsu tse tso cha chi chu che cho
ツァ ツィ ツェ ツォ チャ チュ チェ チョ
dz,dj dzu dja dji dju djo
ヂャ ヂュ ヂョ
t,ty ta ti tu te to tya tyu tyo
ティ トゥ テャ  テュ テョ
d,dy da di du de do dya dyu dyo
ディ ドゥ デャ デュ デョ
n,ny na ni nu ne no nya nyu nye nyo
ニャ ニュ ニェ ニョ
h,hy ha hi he ho hya hyu hye hyo
ヒャ ヒュ ヒェ ヒョ
p,py pa pi pu pe po pya pyu pye pyo
ピャ ピュ ピェ ピョ
b,by ba bi bu be bo bya byu bye byo
ビャ ビュ ビェ ビョ
f,fy fa fi fu fe fo fya fyu fyo
ファ フィ フェ フォ フャ フュ フョ
v,vy va vi vu ve vo vya vyu vyo
ヴァ ヴィ ヴ  ヴェ ヴォ ヴャ ヴュ ヴョ
m,my ma mi mu me mo mya myu mye myo
ミャ ミュ ミェ ミョ
r,ry ra ri ru re ro rya ryu rye ryo
リャ リュ リェ リョ
w=wh wa whi whe who
ウィ ウェ ウォ
kw kwa kwi kwe kwo
クヮ クィ クェ クォ
gw gwa gwi gwe gwo
グヮ グィ グェ グォ
____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
SpecialSyllables Particles
n' c' h' 'wa ''e 'o

This table shows us all the syllables that Japanese can use for loan words. You may choose the nearest sound that you want to pronounce from this table. The following list shows us some examples. The consonant [wh] is the same as [w]. It is provided due to the spelling distinction of KANA.

  • yes: yesu (イェス)
  • sit: sitto (スィット)
  • shake: sheiku (シェイク)
  • jet: jetto (ジェット)
  • teacher: tih'chah', tîchâ (ティーチャー)
  • too: tuh', tû (トゥー)
  • deep: dih'pu, dîpu (ディープ)
  • duty: dyuh'tih', dyûtî (デューティー)
  • check: chekku (チェック)
  • fight: faito (ファイト)
  • feet: fih'to, fîto (フィート)
  • face: feisu (フェイス)
  • folk: foh'ku, fôku (フォーク)
  • future: fyuh'chah', fyûchâ (フューチャー)
  • violin: vaiorin (ヴァイオリン)
  • victory: vikutori (ヴィクトリ)
  • vendor: vendah', vendâ (ヴェンダー)
  • voice: voisu (ヴォイス)
  • view: vyuh', vyû (ヴュー)
  • week: whih'ku, whîku (ウィーク)
  • west: whesuto (ウェスト)
  • water: whoh'tah', whôtâ (ウォーター)
  • quiet: kwaietto (クァイエット)
  • queen: kwih'n, kwîn (クィーン)
  • question: kwesuchon (クェスチョン)
  • quarter: kwoh'tah', kwôtâ (クォーター)
  • Sunday: Sandei (サンデイ)
  • Monday: Mandei (マンデイ)
  • Tuesday: Tyuh'zudei, Tyûzudei (テューズデイ)
  • Wednesday: Whenzudei (ウェンズデイ)
  • Thursday: Sah'zudei, Sâzudei (サーズデイ)
  • Friday: Furaidei (フライデイ)
  • Saturday: Satadei (サタデイ)

Standard Syllables ( Classic Sounds ) ( By Hiragana )
a i u e o ya yu yo
____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
s,sy si sya syu syo
しゃ しゅ しょ
z,zy zi zya zyu zyo
じゃ じゅ じょ
t,ty ti tu tya tyu tyo
ちゃ ちゅ ちょ
d,dy di du dya dyu dyo
ぢゃ ぢゅ ぢょ
h hu
w wi we wo

These 22 syllables are sometimes spelled as the sequences in this table because of the historical reason. In authorized documents, they might be spelled with this rule. Furthermore, knowing these spellings helps you understand verbal conjugations of Japanese.

In order to distinguish the spellings for real phonetic sounds from the classic spellings, the following real sounds are spelled with an apostrophe followed by their consonant and so no. However, there is neither official nor common rule to spell them.

  • s'i(スィ), t'i(ティ), t'u(トゥ), t'ya(テャ), t'yu(テュ), t'yo(テョ)
  • z'i(ズィ), d'i(ディ), d'u(ドゥ), d'ya(デャ), d'yu(デュ), d'yo(デョ)

This lesson does not use apostrophes for their distinction,

Reference to
Special Thanks to


Japanese has pitch accents whose types are high and low. It is different from stress accents that English speakers use. I express these 2 pitch as follows.

However, The pitch accent of Japanese has various different rules from each dialects and there is no uniformed rule except for occupations like an announcer. When I indicate the pitch of word if it is necessary, The pitch of words is based on Tokyo dialect. In Tokyo dialect, the pitch mark that expresses "low to high" can be omitted because "low to high" always appears between the first syllable and the second syllable of a word if the place between the syllables are not a position from high to low.

I introduce some examples.

  • 2 syllables
    • háshi = ha´shi: edge
    • háshì = ha´shi`: bridge
    • hàshi = ha`shi: chopsticks
  • 3 syllables
    • sàwagi: noise
    • sáwàgu = sa´wa`gu: to make a noise
    • sáwarù = sa´waru`: to touch
    • sáwari = sa´wari: touch
A Dictionary
JapaneseKana English
háshi はし edge
háshì はし bridge
hàshi はし chopsticks
sàwagi さわぎnoise
sáwàgu さわぐto make a noise
sáwarù さわるto touch
sáwari さわりtouch
Special Thanks to