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
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,
Try using these substitutions. Want to Learn Japanese?
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[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
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."
[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.