Japanese Phonology Chart (with IPA)

I’ve put together a chart of all the sounds that are used in standard Japanese according the Wikipedia article for Japanese phonology and I thought I’d share it here in case it’s useful to anyone or if anyone can spot any mistakes/oversights in it.

It’s tricky to incorporate all the nuances at first (e.g. palatal before i or central u vs back u), but with a bit of practise, it seems to be becoming second nature. The one that came as the biggest shock to me was わ which turns out is not labial like wa in my first language English.


Oh my goodness, this is just amazing. Thank you so much for making this! I spent so long with what was essentially guesswork, seeing it all just lined up in a nice table like this is going to make things so much better for me.

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Except it’s not a bilabial in English, it’s a labio-velar approximant.


That’s true, but I personally would say that that’s pretty close to bilabial (and if nothing else, you could probably find a dialect where it’s a true bilabial if you look hard enough - there’s a dialect for everything).

For it to be bilabial, you would have to be closing your lips

That’s the meaning of ‘approximant’


I’m glad it’s helpful! Double check it for mistakes of course!

Isn’t that what a plosive is?

I mean pretty close to being bilabial, not pretty close as in an approximate.

My mistake! I’ve only recently delved into phonetics, so you’ll have to forgive me

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Approximant, not approximate.

There are bilabial plosives, but there are other bilabials like the nasal ‘m’.

I noticed that you didn’t include を in your list.

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Phonetics was one of my most challenging linguistics classes, especially all of the non-English vowels (I’m looking at you, Swedish) and it took me an age to get my head (and mouth!) around it all. Ironically, it was learning about phonetics through French that got me interested in linguistics in the first place.

Are you studying it at uni, or for your own interest?

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This was partly deliberate, since phonetically it’s the same as /o/, but on further thought, I guess it was inconsistent of me to omit it. I’ll add it now…

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That’s funny, I’d always assumed it was approximate since “approximant” sounds like a spelling mistake.

Awesome! A month ago I tried pronouncing a Polish friend’s name, and decided that IPA would be useful, but I found myself super interested in it!
I have worked on some natural language processing projects at uni though, so I guess that’s kinda related.

I take it you study/studied linguistics at uni then?

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Last century, yes.:sweat_smile:

I dabbled in Polish with Duolingo for a few months, and the spelling-to-pronunciation is so different to English that studying through IPA would be easier!

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Ta-dah! Just for you


WK Linguistics major rise!!!

Joking aside I assume everyone else does the Palatized sounds? This is preety noice ipa chart you have there mate.


I don’t understand the phonetics for わ if I look up the weird symbol on wikipedia it gives me Voiced velar approximant and it sounds like a not too hard “r” but not a wa and Voiced labio-velar approximant sounds like an actual わ is there a mistake in the chart or am I hearing わ wrong everywhere

Try thinking of it like this: ɰ is to ɯ what j is to i.

Labio-velar and velar approximant sounds very similar to me too. Without the Wikipedia page, there’s no way I’d be able to know which specific sounds to make.

so if I understand correctly j is like as if you are pronouncing an i and mix it a bit with the next vowel
so then ɰ is like as if you are pronouncing a w and mix it a bit with the next vowel or something

I also just noticed that at the bottom of the page of ɰ it’s written “The sound in Japanese often denoted by ⟨w⟩ in IPA notation and described as unrounded is actually pronounced with lip compression and is therefore labio-velar, albeit with acoustic differences from other labio-velar consonants.”

So basically it’s noted as “ɰ” in IPA but it’s pronounced like a “w” in common japanese, right