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Vocab refresh part 3: Japanese pronunciation

What’s the difference between furigana and okurigana? When do I lengthen a vowel and when do I double a consonant? What on earth is a mora?

When you’re new to learning Japanese, or a foreign language in general, one of the surprising hurdles to overcome is the jargon… in your own language! So many technical terms are thrown around flippantly and rarely explained outright that it’s easy to get lost.

This series serves as a basic introduction to some terms that you’re bound to meet on your journey towards Japanese fluency. This isn’t an exhaustive vocabulary list but rather a primer on a few terms that you might find difficult to wrap your head around as a beginner.

We’ve started with Japanese writing and grammar, and this time we’ll look at Japanese pronunciation.

  1. Japanese writing vocab refresh
  2. Japanese grammar vocab refresh
  3. Japanese pronunciation vocab refresh
  4. Japanese etiquette vocab refresh


Furigana (振り仮名) is a reading aid consisting of small kana characters printed or displayed next to kanji. It is used to indicate the reading of obscure characters, clarify ambiguous names and vocabulary, as well as in children’s and learners’ materials.

Furigana is also known as yomigana (読み仮名), and in technical context, ruby (ルビ).


In our Japanese textbook, we’ve tried our best to avoid technical vocabulary, but there’s one new word that our students have to learn as it’s both difficult to paraphrase in simple terms and extremely important when learning Japanese.

Coming from the Latin word meaning ‘delay,’ a mora divides a word into equal parts, according to how long it takes to pronounce. This means that a long syllable consists of two and a short syllable consists of one mora when written down.

Every word in Japanese is written with the same number of kana characters as there are morae in the word in question, yet it doesn’t necessary have the same number of syllables.

For example, the words Tōkyō (to-o-kyo-o, とうきょう, ), Ōsaka (o-o-sa-ka, おおさか), and Nagasaki (na-ga-sa-ki, ながさき) all have four morae and are written with four kana characters, yet they have two, three, and four syllables respectively.

It is crucial to understand this difference, the importance of morae versus syllables, in order to perfect one’s pronunciation, as well as understand many of the Japanese written arts (e.g., haiku).

What terms do you struggle with?

I hope this brief glossary has shed a little light onto some potentially confusing topics.

Are there any other terms related to the Japanese language that either currently confuse you or have confused you in the past? Let us know in the comments and be sure to check back soon for our Japanese etiquette vocab refresh!

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