人工 vs 人口 (homophones?)

Hi folks,

Somewhat new here but I have a question about these two words. Their pronunciation (furigana?) is both じんこう, but they are different words. I’ve read elsewhere that japanese is not really an atonal language as well, so I’m wondering:

  • Are these words pronounced the same or is there some tonal difference?
  • If they are pronounced the same, then in spoken Japanese the difference would just be determined by context?
  • If they are pronounced the same, I suppose these are homophones, are there a lot of these in my future?

Related to homophones, are there also words that are spelled the same in kanji but can mean different things in different contexts (homographs?) I know this is the case for kanji within words, but I was wondering if words themselves spelled with the same kanji can mean dramatically different things… Ie. Like the English: ‘She tears apart paper’ ‘tears are falling from his eyes’

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To my knowledge, they’re pronounced the same, and if you want to make sure, listen to the voice actor. For the most part, actually, there is little or no tone difference at all. Good luck.

Yes, you can tell the difference by context most of the time. Atleast, that’s how I do it.

There will be many. Prepare yourself… >_<

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There are a ton of homophones in Japanese and next to no difference in tone to suggest any other difference. In fact, I believe I read on multiple websites that Japanese lacks emphasis on words. So, whereas in English something like hamburger would have the emphasis on the first syllable, ham; Japanese would not have that.

The biggest way you can tell the difference is by looking at the kanji. Other than that, context will dictate which words to use when. Which makes sense considering Japanese is a language very much built on the idea of context.


What they said ^^

There will be dozens or hundreds of words that are pronounced the exact same. To differentiate, they will have their own kanji when reading. Otherwise it will be determined by context. It seems overwhelming, I know, and maybe it is, but as you get more comfortable with the language, it will be suppressed.

To go a little further and give some examples, the pronunciation “はし” can mean (at least) 3 different things: chopsticks (), bridge (), and end () [as in a tip or point]. Inputting this pronunciation into jisho.org you’ll find even more meanings such as “to run” (走る).

As you can see from the kanji, they are all completely different, so when reading them, while you will pronounce them the same way, they all have different meanings. And when speaking/listening to these, while they will still SOUND the same, someone would never say, “I can eat sushi with bridge”, or, “The town is just across the chopsticks”.

I hope this helps! 頑張って!


Listening to the voice actors it sounds to me like they have a different pitch accent, but I’m definitely no expert, so don’t take my word for it.

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For further context regarding the number of homophones, Japanese has a restricted phoneme structure that can be initially confusing if English is your native language. Studying minimal pairs can help, as well as using audio from Forvo or Rhino Spike in your non-WK vocab studying (I just import Forvo audio clips directly into my Anki decks for vocabulary). If you’re using Forvo, when you listen to a recording, go to the user’s profile page to see if they specify what region of Japan they’re from and what dialect they’re using. Not all users will note this, but check anyways to avoid accidentally muddling your pronunciation and listening comprehension.

Here’s a very good Tofugu article from 2015 about common homophones. Bookmark it and return to it periodically as your studies progress.


Pitch accent is a very real thing. Incorrect pitch accent is one of the hallmarks of a non-native speaker. Every beginner resource I started with called Japanese an “accentless” language, and I’m STILL unlearning pronunciations that I learned wrong. Yes, there are homophones, but make sure you listen to each vocabulary you learn, or at very least find a dictionary that indicates the accent marks, like OJAD.


None of those three words sound exactly the same. They have the same morphemes but different pitches. This specific example can be found in Wikipedia.


Some dictionaries mark the pitch (OS X built-in, 三省堂スーパー大辞林).
はし [0] 【端】
はし [1] 【箸】
はし [2] 【橋】

The number marks which mora the pitch changes on.

Here’s some visualisations (the final empty dot denotes the pitch of a following particle は, に etc)


[Edit: as regards the OP’s question, 人工 and 人口 are both [0], so they would sound the same and context would be the determiner - or the speaker might choose different words to avoid misinterpretation!]


Bad example. Thats actually a classic example of pitch accent so those words DO sound different and you dont need context LOL.


It would be good for you to look into pitch accent paterns. Most of the time, words that japanese learners think are pronounced the EXACT SAME WAY, actually have different pitch accent paterns. If a japanese person can’t undertand a specific word you’re saying, try changing the accent patern and it might make the difference.

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I realized minutes later that I didn’t really mean “pronunciation” as much as I meant that the words share the same syllables (は & し). But, I figured I’d leave it, as the guys after me gave really detailed clarifications. applause


I figured lol. I thought it was weird that you used a classic example for pitch accent differences and then made it sound like they shared the same pitch accent.

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I’m a dummy but not THAT much of a dummy. I AM a level 7 after all. :relieved::man_scientist:t4:

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In actual usage there are still lots of context helpers, chopsticks would probably be referred to as お箸, and bridge would likely have the name of the bridge first 丸子橋, . 人工 would likely precede another noun 人工(の)N whereas 人口 would likely follow N(の)人口.


Since no-one seems to have mentioned it yet, I’ll link to the WaniKani Pitch Info userscript, one of the best userscripts for WaniKani, it will show the correct pitch accent along with the words meaning when you learn it (or when you look up the vocab’s page on WaniKani).


I wondered too, given such a specific example LOL. I just know it’s given me headaches to find out so late in the game, so if I can save one person that headache you can bet I’ll do just that!

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Hahaha, I was all-in on it wasn’t I? :sweat_smile::sweat_smile: I realized it quickly after, but yours and @Subversity’s responses were so good that I left mine in there as reference. I completely agree @ the headaches it’s caused, and hopefully this thread as whole will save the OP from making this mistake. I’ll take the hit on this one as the poor example lol. Thanks again!


Only problem with that is it freezes on the review page. At least with firefox 57 and tampermonkey.

Homophones are the number one thing that pisses me off about learning Japanese. With a syllabary / alphabet that has over twice as many characters English, the vast majority of which include both a consonant and a vowel, it should be very easy to eliminate all homophones within the restrictions of the syllabary.

Instead, they have an absurd number of homophones.



I’ve complained about it on the forums before. Some people said that the written Chinese that was adopted for Japanese was never even intended to be spoken aloud. It was meant to purely be read.