Japanese tongue twisters are called hayakuchi kotoba (早口言葉), which literally translates to “fast mouth words”. Kayakuchikotoba are a great way to work on your pronunciation and pacing….and impress everyone in the room when you get them right! Here are some classics to get out kicked off.
While every language has tongue twisters (English speakers can challenge themselves with lists like these ), they seemed to be used far more often in Japanese than other languages, with layers of complexity given through different kanji readings and other homophones. Have a go at some of the examples below!
Sumomo mo momo mo momo no uchi.
This hayakuchi kotoba is an absolute classic, and the first that many Japanese language students encounter in their studies. It features eight consecutive “momo” (peach) sounds and translates to “Both plums and peaches belong to the peach family.” While it may sound simple at first glance, it takes practice to pronounce all the “momo” sounds correctly and quickly. This will definitely come up in your classes at Lexis Japan … nail it now to wow your classmates!
Akamakiya no akai makigami, aoi makigami.
This hayakuchi kotoba features the words “akai” (red) and “aoi” (blue) and translates to “The red scroll and blue scroll of the red scroll store.” The repeated “maki” sound adds to the difficulty of this tongue twister.
Shikakui kakkou, marui kakkou
This hayakuchi kotoba features the words “shikakui” (square) and “marui” (round) and translates to “The square brackets, round brackets”. This is one of the easiest ones…great to pull out in a contest when you’re stumbling!
Ebi mau Edo ni hairu
This hayakuchi kotoba features the words “ebi” (shrimp) and “Edo” (the old name for Tokyo) and translates to “Entering into Edo where shrimps dance.” This one is all about the alliteration in the words (and after 20 years of trying, I still can’t get it right!!)
Mudagami, shikabanegane, kurobuchi megane
This hayakuchi kotoba features the words “muda” (waste), “shikabane” (corpse), and “kurobuchi megane” (black-framed glasses) and translates to “Useless hair, dead body, black-framed glasses.” The difficult sounds and the macabre imagery make this a challenging tongue twister to master…and a great one to break out at haloween!
Zou wa hana ga nagai
This hayakuchi kotoba features the word “zou” (elephant) and translates to “Elephants have long noses.” This is a pretty easy one to start off with, though the challenge is to pronounce the “na” sound in “nagai” correctly and quickly.
Aokute marui nori wa tabeyasui
This hayakuchi kotoba features the words “aoi” (blue) and “marui” (round) again, as well as “nori” (seaweed sheets) and translates to “Blue and round seaweed sheets are easy to eat.”
tonari no kyaku wa yoku kaki kuu kyaku da
Simply translated, this means “the customer next to me is a customer who often eats kaki”
This is a classic example of Japanese wordplay, as it uses the homophones “kaki” (persimmon) and “kaki” (to be worth), causing a play on words in the sentence.
And when you’re ready for the masterclass…..
砂漠に咲く花 嵐に散る花 南無阿弥陀仏
Sabaku ni saku hana, arashi ni chiru hana, Namu Amida Butsu
Translated, this hayakuchi kotoba comes out to mean “flowers that bloom in the desert, flowers that scatter in the storm, Namu Amida Butsu”. Considered the most challenging of all Japanese tongue twisters, this phrase is difficult due to its length, complex vocabulary, and repetition of similar-sounding words. The final phrase, “Namu Amida Butsu,” is a common Buddhist mantra in Japan, adding an additional layer of cultural significance to the tongue twister. Get this one down, and roll it out when you need to impress someone!
Hayakuchi kotoba are good fun in any language, and Japanese is no exception. Give these ones a go (and we’ll teach you many more at Lexis Japan!).