the online database of Japanese folkore

Pronunciation Guide

Japanese is one of the most difficult languages for English-speakers to learn due to its three writing systems, difficult conjugations, and various levels of polite speech. Fortunately, one area where it is not difficult is pronunciation. With only five vowel sounds and no diphthongs, Japanese is very easy to learn to pronounce.

However, when presented in written form, even transliterated Japanese can be difficult to read. Words are often pronounced differently than they would be if they were native English words (due to English’s bizarre and inconsistent pronunciation). To further complicate things, there are numerous romanization systems, each following different standards, resulting in various spellings of the same word. This page presents a brief guide on how to read and pronounce the Japanese words on this site.

Vowels

The five Japanese vowels are a, i, u, e, o. They should be pronounced like the vowel sounds in bat, beet, boot, bet, boat respectively. When two vowels appear next to each other, each vowel receives a full syllable without blending into the others. For example, it is natural in English to read the name komainu as ko/mai/nu, with the vowels blended together. However, it should be read with four separate syllables: ko/ma/i/nu.

Macrons

When transcribing Japanese into English, it is common to have vowel combinations like aa, ee, uu, oo, ou. These pairs are indicated by macrons: ā, ū, ē, ō. This is because combinations like aa look awkward in English, and combinations like ee, ou, oo might be confused with their normal English pronunciations. For example, ōnyūdō is much more legible than oonyuudou. However, these long vowels must be treated like double vowels and read as two full syllables each. For example, ōnyūdō should be read not with three syllables as o/nyu/do, but with six separate syllables: o/o/nyu/u/do/o.

Hyphens and Spaces

Japanese is written primarily with ideograms, and so most words are only a few characters in length. Compound words are much shorter in Japanese than in English, so they are not delineated in any specific way. This is not a problem when reading yōkai names in Japanese, however when writing them in English it can lead to long strings of letters that can be hard to digest. Names like hitotsumenyūdō, suzurinotamashii, and usutsukiwarashi are much more difficult to read in Latin characters than they are in their native script. In order to make these names easier to read, this site occasionally inserts spaces and hyphens in between compound words. This is simply for ease of reading. Broken apart this way, hitotsume nyūdō, suzuri no tamashii, and usutsuki warashi are comparatively easy to break down into readable pieces.

Please note that you can find the same yōkai names with different spellings, spacings, hyphenations, and so on across the internet and in books. The names presented on this site and in my books reflect my own personal preferences for legibility.

Alphabetical list of yōkai