Japanese Language

Pronounce Japanese vowels like Italian: a as in "father," e as in "sled," i as in "free," o as in "no," u as in "fool." Consonants are like English, with g as in "girl," and j as in "juice." Words tend to be accented on the first syllable, for example, "O-saka" not "O-sa-ka."

Japanese names are written family name first, personal name second - "Toyotomi Hideyoshi" is "Hideyoshi" (personal name) of the Toyotomi family. "No" means "of," and appears frequently in older personal names. For example, Fujiwara no Yorimichi = Yorimichi of the Fujiwara Clan.

Japanese nouns have the same form in singular and plural: "bushi" = "warrior" or "warriors," depending on the context. Written Japanese is greatly complicated by the historical use of Chinese characters. Kanji is the native system of writing.

Honorific speech is frequently encountered (o-cha, "honorable tea"). See, for example, Honorific Speech In Japanese on Wikipedia.

Japanese frequently creates compound words by putting simpler words together. For example, "bushi-do" is "the way of the warrior," and "yama-bushi" means "mountain warriors." Compounds are sometimes hyphenated in English transcription, but not consistently: "bushido" is much more common than "bushi-do", but "To-ji" and "Toji" are about equally common.

Useful combining words:

bushi = warrior
den = hall
dera = temple
do = way, road, hall
dori = street
go- = "the second", in Imperial names (Go-Daigo = Daigo II)
ji = temple
jima = island
jo = castle
mon = gate
no = of
o = honorific
san = mountain
san, sama = honorific
to = east
yama = mountain


1. Japanese distinguishes strongly between long and short "o". The Japanese long "o" is usually written in English as oh, for example, Noh.

2. Do not double the compound words. For example, "Kiyomizu-dera" technically shouldn't be written in English as "Kiyomizu-dera Temple," because -dera already means temple! It is like saying "Kiyomizu Temple Temple." The ultra-proper way to write it in English is either "Kiyomizu-dera" or "Kiyomizu Temple." That said, this is one rule that almost nobody (including the author) follows in practice.

3. Alert readers will, no doubt, find many violations of these and other technicalities on this website. Due to the practicalities of English language guidebooks, computer search, etc., I've kept many spellings that are, technically, incorrect but yet so common in English that it would be counterproductive to try to correct them.