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Ultimate Guide to Japanese Tongue Twisters

By RAI Abhinav | May 18, 2022

暖かくなかった (あたたかくなかった). If you thought this was hard to say, we have a whole lot of surprises for you! 

Do you think tongue twisters are a great way to improve language skills? Are you looking for Japanese tongue twisters to learn Japanese? Do you just want to learn fun and challenging tongue twisters in Japanese? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then this is just the article for you! 

Tongue twisters in Japanese are called 早口言葉 (hayakuchi kotoba). 早口言葉 literally translates to “fast-mouthed words”. These are Japanese phrases designed in a way that makes them difficult to say. And, much like their English counterpart, they hardly make sense. I mean nobody cares how much wood a woodchuck would chuck. But just like in any language, Japanese tongue twisters can be helpful to take your Japanese skills to the next level. 

I spent 30 hours looking for the top 20 Japanese tongue twisters just for YOU, so you don’t have to!

This article is a part of our series of articles on learning Japanese through online Japanese lessons

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    3 ways Japanese tongue twisters can improve your Japanese

    Tongue twisters are not just fun Japanese phrases that make up for a good time. They are also important tools to learn Japanese! We’ve listed 3 ways you can improve your Japanese with tongue twisters!

    Tongue twisters improve Japanese pronunciation

    It’s said that public speakers, actors, actresses, and news anchors use tongue twisters to warm up before they jump into action. We are not sure whether that’s true or not, but we are certain that Japanese tongue twisters can help you polish up your pronunciation.

    It’s widely known that tongue twisters improve pronunciation by training speech muscles. It helps you straighten your muscles and speak out more naturally.  They are designed to be hard to help you practice difficult sounds in order to improve your speech. In fact, you will find even the smoothest native Japanese speakers struggling with these nonsensical phrases.  

    Japanese tongue twisters can be used to identify what sounds are difficult for you to produce. Depending on the languages you already speak, some sounds might be easy for you to pronounce while some might be equally difficult. By going over a couple of tongue twisters, you can identify sounds that are challenging for YOU. 

    Japanese tongue twisters are difficult to say because similar-sounding words are crammed into a sentence. After identifying a sound that is challenging for you, you can repeatedly practice a tongue twister that contains that sound. 

    Say them out loud enough times, and you will eventually be able to pronounce them right!

    Tongue twisters improve Japanese kanji and vocabulary

    If you’re like me and wonder why kanji is a thing when hiragana and katakana exist, then tongue twisters will clear that doubt right away. 

    Just look at this one, 

    にわにはにわとりがいる

    Here, the “には” is the article “に” and “は” and pronounced as "にわ". But it might be difficult to figure that out if the first "にわ" and the second "にわ" are not written in kanji. Keep in mind that the first and second "にわ" are completely different words too! You cannot tell them apart if kanji is not used! Here’s how it looks with kanji,

    庭には二羽鶏がいる 

    Let’s look at another example,  

    すもももももももものうち

    There are 3 separate nouns in this phrase! Going by the kana alone, it can be quite challenging to differentiate each word. You will need kanji to tell them apart. Here’s how the kanji version looks,

    李も桃も桃のうち

    Notice how it’s way easier to distinguish the words?

    Don’t worry about saying these tongue twisters out loud right now. We’ll cover them later in the article.

    In this way, you’ll need to keep the kanji in mind when practicing tongue twisters. And, if you practice tongue twisters enough, you are bound to remember the kanji. If you need more help with kanji, be sure to check our Top 15 Japanese Kanji Tips.

    Also, Japanese tongue twisters are often absurd, funny, and even weird at times. And, absurd things, more often than not, leave an impression. That’s exactly how Japanese tongue twisters will help you memorize vocabulary. 

    Show off your new talent! (Tongue twisters can be conversation starters) 

    A group of friends having dinner while talking about Japanese tongue twisters

    You could show off your new skills to your Japanese friends and watch them get excited as many Japanese people find tongue twisters to be quite difficult as well. You can also use tongue twisters as conversation starters. Just ask your Japanese friends to introduce some tongue twisters to you and they’ll happily do so. Or, you could just let them know what tongue twisters you have learned. I personally had a blast trying to figure out the meaning of some Japanese tongue twisters with my friends. 

    In any way, they are great topics for conversations. And this way, you can practice daily conversation and everyday Japanese as well! Hey, maybe you’ll even make a new friend! 

    If you want to learn more about Japanese conversation, check out our Ultimate Guide to Japanese Conversation

    Now that we have established their importance, let’s dive right into our list of Japanese tongue twisters. We’ve separated them into 4 separate lists and categorized them according to their level of difficulty.

      

     

     

     

     

      

     

     

     

     

    Top 5 Beginner tongue twisters in Japan

    1.バス ガス 爆発 

    • Kana: バスガスばくはつ
    • Romaji: Basu gasu bakuhatsu

    Let’s start with a fairly simple and popular one. Literally, it translates to "Bus gas explosion". This is quite short and pretty straightforward and is a great one to get your foot in the door. 

    2.生麦 生米 生卵 

    • Kana: なまむぎ, なまごめ, なまたまご
    • Romaji: Namamugi namagome namatamago

    This is arguably the most popular tongue twister in Japan and you’ll most definitely come across it while in Japan. It translates to "Raw wheat, raw rice, raw eggs". By making use of food words, it reflects the popularity of raw food in Japan. From sushi to raw eggs, you will find that raw ingredients are a delicacy in Japan. Since it contains kanji for wheat, rice, and egg, it will also help you brush up on your everyday Japanese. 

    3.赤巻紙 黄巻紙 青巻紙 

    • Kana: あかまきがみ, きまきがみ, あおまきがみ
    • Romaji: Akamakigami, kimakigami, aomakigami

    This translates to "Red scroll, yellow scroll, blue scroll" in English. There are different versions with different orders of words. But all versions ultimately use the same words, just in a different order, so this is a great one to practice all those "か" and "き" sounds. 

    4.赤パジャマ 黄パジャマ 茶パジャマ 

    • Kana: あかぱじゃま, きぱじゃま, ちゃぱじゃま
    • Romaji: Aka pajama, ki pajama, cha pajama

    This classic tongue twister literally translates to "Red pajama, yellow pajama, brown pajama" in English. Well, just like the previous tongue twister, there are different versions of this one. While some like to add “青パジャマ (あおぱじゃま)” in the mix, some prefer to omit it.  Nonetheless, reading this aloud makes for a great exercise to practice that small "ゃ" sound. 

    5.肩たたたき機 

    • Kana: かたたたきき
    • Romaji: katatatakiki

    If you have sore muscles, then this is the one for you. This is a popular Japanese massage product made into a tongue twister. Literally, it translates to “Shoulder rub machine”. You can see this word all over e-commerce websites in Japan. While the actual product will help you relax your shoulder muscles, the tongue twister will train your speech muscles. As a tongue twister, this works much the same way as “暖かくなかった”. It uses repetitive “た” and “き” sounds to help you improve pronunciation. 

    How were these tongue twisters? Did you have fun? Try saying them as quickly as you can before moving on to the next list.

    Top 5 Intermediate tongue twisters in Japan

    1.坊主が屏風に上手に坊主の絵を描いた 

    • Kana: ぼうずがびょうぶにじょうずにぼうずのえをかいた
    • Romaji: Bouzu ga byoubu ni jouzu ni bouzu no e wo kaita

    Okay, finally a tongue twister that’s a full sentence. It seems monks “坊主 (ぼうず)” in Japan are quite skilled. When translated, this roughly means, "a monk beautifully drew a picture of a monk on a folding screen". This one is particularly good for practicing “B” sounds. 

    Also, "坊主" can have bad connotations in the wrong context, so we recommend that you don’t use it during daily conversations. Instead, use the word “お坊さん (おぼうさん/ Obousan)”, which also means monk.

    2.隣の客はよく柿食う客だ

    • Kana: となりのきゃくはよくかきくうきゃくだ
    • Romaji: Tonarino kyaku wa yoku kakikuu kyaku da

    Do you like persimmons (柿/かき/kaki)? Well, the person sitting beside me sure seems to. This tongue twister means, “the guest next to me is a guest who eats a lot of persimmons”. At the very least, this guest has a very healthy diet. Japanese persimmons are orange-colored fruits that are rich in fiber and vitamins. They are popular in autumn and you can find many kinds. You should definitely try them out when you visit Japan. These can also be great Japanese Omiyage (おみやげ)! If you want to learn more about the Japanese customs and culture of Omiyage, check out our Ultimate Guide to Japanese Omiyage.

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    3.ニャンコ 子ニャンコ 孫ニャンコ

    • Kana: にゃんこ, こにゃんこ, まご にゃんこ
    • Romaji: Nyanko, konyanko, magonyanko

    You might have guessed it by now, but Japan loves cats! And, this kawaii tongue twister shows exactly that. In English, it becomes “Kitten, baby-kitten, grand baby-kitten”. The “にゃん” sound can be quite challenging for some, so try to start off slow with this one.

    4.スモモも桃も桃のうち

    • Kana: すもも も もも も もも の うち
    • Romaji: Sumomo mo momo mo momo no uchi

    Did you know that plums and peaches both belong to the peach family? Well, this tongue twister says just that. If you stumble upon its kana form, you’ll for once start missing kanji because it has 8 “も” sounds. When practicing this, identify the 3 particles first. The first “も”, the second“も”, and the “の”. This will help recognize the nouns and the sentence will become more comprehensible. 

    5.蛙ぴょこぴょこ三ぴょこぴょこ合わせてぴょこぴょこ六ぴょこぴょこ

    • Kana: かえる ぴょこぴょこ みぴょこぴょこ あわせてぴょこぴょこ むぴょこぴょこ
    • Romaji: Kaeru pyokopyoko mipyokopyoko awasete pyokopyoko mupyokopyoko

    “ぴょこぴょこ” is the Japanese onomatopoeia for the sound that frogs make when jumping, so it’s quite difficult to translate into English. If you really tried to translate it to English, a rough translation would be “A frog jumps 3 times, another frog jumps 3 times, 6 jumps altogether”. 

    This is popular among elementary kids in Japan for its frequent use of  “ぴょこぴょこ”. It’s very fun to practice and you’ll look cute trying to pronounce “ぴょこぴょこ”. 

    Now, let’s take it up a notch! Let’s try some pre-advanced tongue twisters before moving to the really challenging ones!

    Top 5 Pre-advanced tongue twisters in Japan

    1.新設診療室視察

    • Kana: しんせつしんりょうしつしさつ
    • Romaji: Shinsetsu shinsatsushitu shisatsu

    Apparently, the new examination room is shady. We don’t know what goes on there and why it’s up for inspection. This Japanese tongue twister translates to, “inspection of the new examination room” and will make you practice “S” sounds. If all the sounds seem too similar, you can divide them up into 3 parts. 

    新設 (しんせつ) 

    診療室 (しんりょうしつ)

    視察 (しさつ)

    Try it now!

    2.新人シャンソン歌手 新春シャンソンショー

    • Kana: しんじんしゃんそんかしゅ しんしゅんしゃんそんしょー
    • Romaji: Shinjinkashu shanson shinshun shanson sho

    Looks like there’s a new Chanson singer in town. And, it seems like they will be performing in the New Year Chanson show. We don’t know how good they are, but we’re sure this is a good tongue twister to polish your Katakana skills. It’s also a good example to show that some sounds change when they are written down in Katakana. Notice how the “cha” changes to “sha”?

    3.バナナの謎はまだ謎なのだぞ

    • Kana: ばななのなぞは, まだなぞなのだぞ
    • Romaji: Bananano nazowa mada  nazonanodazo

    In English, this means, “the banana’s mystery is still a mystery”. We won’t blame you if you don’t know the banana’s mystery. Even Detective Konan hasn’t been able to solve it yet. You’ll probably figure out how to say this quickly before you figure out the banana’s mystery. That doesn’t mean it’s any easier to pronounce though. This one is particularly difficult because the “なぞ” and “だぞ” are confusing and the “な” is frequent.

    Learning Japanese tongue twister with friends in the library

    4.この釘はひきぬきにくい釘だ

    • Kana: このくぎはひきぬきにくいくぎだ
    • Romaji: Konokugiwa hikinuki nikui kugida

    This translates to something along the lines of, “this nail is a nail that is difficult to pull out”. Seems like even the strongest of people find it difficult to pull out this one particular nail because this tongue twister has been around for some time now. 

    Much like the nail itself, this tongue twister is hard to nail too! See what I did there?  

    Anyway, this is great for practicing “K” sounds.

    5.右目右耳 右耳右目

    • Kana: みぎめ みぎみみ みぎみみ みぎめ
    • Romaji: Migime migimimi migimimi migime

    This tongue twister means, “right eye, right ear, right ear, right eye”. This one looks pretty easy at first, but it will sneak up on you! All those “み” can get annoying at first, so try separating this into 4 parts.

    右目 (みぎめ) 

    右耳 (みぎみみ)

    右耳 (みぎみみ) 

    右目 (みぎめ)

    Done with these? Let’s try on some of the challenging ones now. Put your game face on!

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    Top 5 Advanced tongue twisters in Japan

    1.摘出手術中

    • Kana: てきしゅつしゅじゅつちゅう
    • Romaji: Tekishutsu shu jutsu chu

    Tongue twisters don’t have to be long to be difficult. Our first tongue twister in the advance list is proof of that. When translating, it turns to, “in the middle of removal surgery”. This tongue twister can be utterly challenging because it contains “しゅ”, “じゅ”, and “ちゅ”. On top of being difficult on their own, they also sound somewhat similar.

    2.東京特許許可局 

    • Kana: とうきょうとっきょきょかきょく
    • Romaji: Tokyo tokkyo kyokakyoku

    Oh, the famous Tokyo Patent Office. Be careful though! It doesn’t exist. This is a nightmare for Japanese government offices because people always ask if a Tokyo Patent Office really exists. The answer is no. It doesn’t and never existed.  

    The different variations of “きょ ” are what make this troublesome. 

    If you’ve perfected this, try its even more challenging version: 

    東京特許許可局局長

    • Kana:とうきょうとっきょきょかきょくきょくちょう
    • Romaji: toukyou tokkyo kyokakyoku kyokuchou

    They just added a fictional manager “局長 (きょくちょう)” to a fictional office.

    3.この竹垣に竹立て掛けたのは 竹立て掛けたかったから 竹立て掛けた

    • Kana: このたけがきにたけたてかけたのは たけたてかけたかったから たけたてかけた
    • Romaji: Kono takegaki ni take tatekaketa no wa take tatekaketakattakara  take tatekaketa

    Do you ever just want to listen to those intrusive thoughts inside your head? Seems like this person did just that. This one roughly translates to, “I put a bamboo against this bamboo fence because I wanted to put a bamboo against it”. Maybe it’s okay to let those intrusive thoughts win sometimes because in this case, it resulted in a great tongue twister. 

    It’s easy to say it slowly but as soon as you try to pick up the pace, you’ll find yourself stumbling by the middle of the sentence. So, like all tongue twisters, separate them into bits and start off slow.

    A picture of a bamboo fence

    4.あのアイヌの女のぬう布の名は何?あの布は名のない布なの

    • Kana: あのあいぬの おんなのぬうぬののなはなに?あのぬのはなのないぬのなの
    • Romaji: Ano ainuno  onnano  nununono  nawa  nani? ano nuno wa nanonai  nunonano

    Do you name your clothes? That Ainu woman certainly does not. Literally, this tongue twister translates to, “what is the name of the cloth that Ainu woman is sewing? That cloth has no name.”

    This one is quite long and difficult with all those repeated “な”, “ぬ”, and “の” sounds. It can be intimidating at first, but don’t give up. Take your time! Take it slow!

    5.裏庭には二羽, 庭には二羽鶏がいる

    • Kana: うらにはにわ, にわにはにわとりがいる
    • Romaji: Ura niwa ni wa niwa, niwa ni wa niwa niwatori ga iru

    Why did the chicken cross the road? Apparently, to go to this person’s backyard and front yard. This one means, “two chickens in the backyard and two chickens in the front yard”. It’s a harder version of the “庭には二羽鶏がいる” that we introduced earlier in the article.  

    If you’ve perfected this, there’s an even harder version too!

    丹羽の庭には二羽鶏俄にワニを食べた

    • Kana: にわのにわにはにわにわとりにわかにわにをたべた
    • Romaji: Niwa no niwa ni wa ni wa niwatori niwaka ni wani wo tabeta

    This is even more bizarre because it translates to, “two chickens suddenly ate a crocodile in Niwa’s garden”. Niwa is a person here.

    Japanese study planner on a desk

    How can I add tongue twisters into my study?

    Now that we have listed out the Japanese tongue twisters that you should be practicing, let’s answer how you can add them to your study routine.

    Do I need to study tongue twisters for the JLPT? 

    No. If you’re studying strictly for the JLPT and your only goal is to pass the JLPT, then you don’t need to brush up your tongue twister skills. Tongue twister questions are not asked in the JLPT and you won’t be marked on your speaking skills. Instead, we recommend that you go through our Guide to Japanese Study Tips for tips on studying Japanese.

    How do I get better at Japanese tongue twisters quickly? 

    First, find the sound or tongue twister that you want to practice. Limit this to 1 tongue twister a week, so you can focus on improving one sound at a time. Start your practice with easy tongue twisters at first, and then gradually increase the difficulty. 

    Okay, now that you’ve chosen your tongue twister, say it OUT LOUD! Yes, out loud! Start off slowly. Then, 

    Repeat! Repeat! Repeat! 

    Repetition is the key. After you’ve got the hang of it, increase the speed. And then, repeat again! Keep on going until you can say the tongue twister as fast as you can 3 times in a row. 

    If you’re looking for materials to learn Japanese tongue twisters, there are many online resources that provide audio and visual help with pronunciation. For example, 早口言葉ナビ【動画チャンネル】 is a YouTube channel that provides helpful audio materials.

    Also, you can jump on to Reddit and Quora to discuss your favorite tongue twister or to find new ones. Apps like はやくちことば - 聞いて、話して、日本語スラスラ for iOS users and  早口言葉 for Android users are also great tools to practice tongue twisters. Quizlet also has lots of Japanese tongue twister flashcards that you can add to your study, or you can also create your own series of flashcards. If you’re interested in finding more Japanese learning apps, check out our Guide to Japanese Learning Apps.

    Final Thoughts

    That’s it! You’ve got all the weapons you need in your arsenal to master Japanese tongue twisters. Like any new thing, these can be challenging at first. But, don’t give up! Take it slow, start with the easy ones! With enough practice, you’ll definitely be able to say them fast. 

    Talking about a non-existent Tokyo patent office can seem pointless at first, but you’ll see that it will improve your pronunciation and kanji in no time. 

    Also, if want to take your Japanese to the next level and start speaking like a native speaker, you can look at our Ultimate Guide to Japanese Idioms

    And if want to improve your Japanese skills further, you can enroll in our private lessons. Book a free consultation with us today!

      

     

     

     

     

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