Speaking Japanese: Pronunciation Does Matter!

By Donald Ash | Articles

I remember listening to the 4-Hour-Workweek audio book by Tim Ferriss. I was interested in hearing more about Tim’s stories in Japan, as I am currently living here myself. One thing that struck me as pretty funny was how he used the work “okasu” instead of “okosu” to ask his host mother to wake him up the following day. For those who haven’t heard either of these words before, one means to wake someone up (okosu) and the other means to rape or deflower someone. Ferriss mentioned that his host mother seemed really confused. I thought that was a pretty funny story.

Another pronunciation snafu happened at work, when one of my coworkers was telling some of the students that he wanted to go to a “gokan” party. He was trying to say “gocon” which is pronounced like “go” and “cone (with a slightly shorter, long o sound)” in Japanese. A “gocon party” is a way to find a potential date or mate in Japan. You have friends who have friends, and everyone meets up to see who might like who (that’s the way I understand it, anyway). On the other hand, the word “gokan” once again…means rape. So instead of a dating party, my coworker was actually telling the students that he wanted to go to a rape party. I’m sure it was probably just a little off-putting, but, roll-on-the-floor hilarious!

Of course, if a Westerner sees this word, it’s very easy to make the mistake of say the “o” the same way it’s said in the word “hot.” With Japanese, it’s a good a idea to try to listen the way native speakers say things. I’m still trying to get it, too. I’ve had many a situation where, in my mind, I know I’m saying the right word, but it’s falling on deaf ears. The reason why is pronunciation. Some people think “Well if it’s close to the sound, won’t they know what I’m saying?” Well, in many cases, they won’t. So I think it’s important to try to speak the way Japanese natives do.

Desperately trying to follow my own advice…everyday,

Donald Ash

The following two tabs change content below.
Donald Ash is an ATLien expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last six years. While in aforesaid time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator, writer, designer, editor, programmer, and occasional bad artist of thejapanguy.com blog (that's just way too many hats, dude). Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.
  • Donald Ash

    I truly truly appreciate your feedback. I hope that you will keep reading, because I’m going to do so much more with this site!!

  • Donald Ash

    Cheers, Elva! Please come back often because I post at least one article per day.

  • Marina

    Oh dear! I admit those mishaps are quiet hilarious 🙂 I sure hope I won’t mess up too much when I’m on my three month long holiday in Japan. I really like your blog Donnie and it’s interessting to see how things changed for you in the last few years.

    • Donald Ash

      Aww, thanks Marina! I truly appreciate the support. I was mentioning that I’m internet-less at the moment, because I recently had to move…again!
      But I’m itching to get my internet connected, because I’ve got some really cool stuff on the way.
      I hope you come back to post again, soon 🙂



    A good way for foreigners to avoid pronunciation errors is to listen to and say the Japanese phonetic alphabet out loud.

    This way, you start pronouncing words the way Japanese do, and stop mispronouncing vowels in Japanese, as if you were speaking English.

    Good helper-


Read previous post:
Japan Troubleshooting: Dealing with Your Frustration in Japan

One firework? One, single, solitary spark?!? That's all I got to see? Sigh...Well tonight, for the third year in a...