Need a Japanese Accent For a Role?

10/24/2018

Need a Japanese accent for a role?

I recently worked with a young Japanese American actor who needed an authentic Japanese accent for a role in a film. Being 3rd generation American, he had little knowledge of Japanese, or its sound system. I will share with you some of the things we worked on.

There are only five vowel sounds in Japanese; they are similar to [a] like in "father," [i] like in "see," [e] like in "made," [o] like in "go," and [u] like in "true." They are shorter than their American-English counterparts, so SHORTEN your vowels. This gives Japanese a more staccato flavor. It is more regular in rhythm, stress, and rate but has four levels of pitch.

Try using these substitutions.                                      Want to Learn Japanese?

Some Vowels                                                                Best Online Courses 2018   

Change to:

[ɪ ] as in bit [i] as in beat

[ɛ ] as in met [a] like in father

[ɝ] as in her [a] like in father

[ʌ] as in cut [a] like in father

[ʊ] as in put [u] as in true

[ɔ] as i law [o] as in go

Some Consonants

Switch l and r sometimes. Distort them a bit. Omit [r] when it appears after a vowel and before a consonant (like in the words "dark," "charm"...)

Have a "somewhere in the middle" sound for b and v.

Frequently substitute "u" for medial and final [l] (for example "fall> fawuu").

The [s] is mispronounced as [ʃ] before [i] as in "see." Say "sheep" for "seep" and "sheem" for "seem."

The [t] is mispronounced as [ts] before [u] as in "true." Say "tsonight" for "tonight" and "tsooth" for "tooth."

Also,

Change to:

[ð] as in them [z] as in zoo

[ʒ] as in beige [z] as in zoo

Consecutive consonant sounds do not appear in Japanese. Because it is composed of syllabic sounds, there is a tendency to place a vowel (either [ə] as in "about" or [u] as in "true" between consecutive consonants (for example, [bəlak] for [blæk] in "black." 

For some parts, authenticity is very important--the dialect of the character, area he is from, age, time period, and personality must all go into shaping a sound; other times, the "essence" of the sound is all the director needs and all the part calls for. If it is just the "essence," pick a few of the main traits and practice them with your lines, preferably with a dialect coach.