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Talk About Family in Japanese: Father-in-Law and More!

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Learning a foreign language isn’t only about the language itself, but also about its culture, customs, and society. Family is the minimum unit of a social group, and it’s important to understand its characteristics as this is closely related to culture and customs.

When you learn how to explain your family in Japanese, it helps to expand your vocabulary and improve your communication skills in Japanese.

Compared to English, there are many more words to describe family members in Japanese. These words are according to age and the style (formal and informal). For example, what is a Japanese father-in-law called?

Let’s learn how to describe family in Japanese at JapanesePod101.com. Here’s our list of the most useful Japanese words and family member terms, as well as important information about family in Japan.

Table of Contents

  1. Family in Japan - Cultural Perspective
  2. Basic Family Terms
  3. Terms of Relatives
  4. Family Terms as a Married Person
  5. Endearment Terms
  6. How to Describe Family and Ask Question about Family in Japanese
  7. Conclusion: How Japanesepod101 Can Help You Learn More Japanese

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1. Family in Japan - Cultural Perspective

Family Quotes

Before we move onto the actual family vocabulary, it’s important that we go over family roles in Japanese culture, family values in Japanese society, and the importance of family in Japanese culture. This will give you a better idea of what to expect from Japanese families, and give more context to the Japanese family vocabulary and phrases you’re going to learn!

1- Traditional and Modern Family in Japan

The traditional Japanese family is characterized by the 家 (Ie) or family system, which is literally translated as “household.” It refers to a home and family’s lineage, which bestows importance of kinship and loyalty to their family.

Each member of a family is expected to serve their family’s interests (rather than the individual’s) as a priority. The Japanese family is traditionally patriarchal and a household usually consists of grandparents, their son, his wife, and their children. The eldest son is expected to inherit the household assets, and he’s responsible for taking care of his parents when they get old.

In the modern Japanese family, however, the influence of the traditional ie system isn’t as strong as it used to be. A 核家族 (kaku kazoku) or “nuclear family” is very common nowadays, and consists of two parents and their children, typically centering on a married couple.

While a married couple is expected to live together with a husband’s parents in the traditional Japanese family, grandparents don’t live with a kaku kazoku in a modern Japanese family (although they are visited often).

2- Becoming a Family in Japan (Marriage)

In Japan, the 戸籍 (Koseki) or “family registration system” is mandatory to all households. It requires that the family records all changes in family composition and identity, such as births, deaths, marriages, divorces, acknowledgements of paternity, adoptions, and disrupted adoptions.

It’s required to register one person as the head of a household, and the rest of the members in a household must have the same surname as that of the head. Once a couple gets married, spouses are obligated to have the same surname, and registration of different surnames is not allowed.

Due to the traditional system and the importance of kinship as custom, marriage isn’t only a matter of the bride and groom, but also of their extended family. It’s expected that extended families from both sides are going to have a “family relationship” once a couple gets married in Japan. As such, relationships with one’s in-laws become important.

3- Expressions of Family in Japan

There are various words to name family members in Japanese.

Japanese vocabulary words to describe family count age difference, and there are particular names related to age. This is because age is regarded as one of the most important attributions in the Japanese society, which is greatly influenced by the concept of Confucianism that states seniority is highly respected.

As relationships with in-laws are also culturally important, there are particular names for them as well.

In addition, there are variations of how to express family members, ranging from very casual to formal. Which ones to use depend on the occasion.

Let’s dive into the details in the following sections, and get you started with common family words in Japanese.


2. Basic Family Terms

Family Words

Now, it’s time to learn some basic Japanese words for family members. These are the words you’ll most often hear and use!

1- Basic Family Vocabularies

The formal terms are usually used for official occasions and in written form, while the informal terms are commonly used in casual situations (orally) as well as when calling a family member.

 

English Formal Informal
I / me 私(わたし -
watashi
father 父(ちち お父さん
chichi o-tō-san
mother 母(はは) お母さん
haha o-kā-san
older sister 姉(あね) お姉さん / お姉ちゃん
ane o-nee-san / o-nee-chan
younger sister 妹(いもうと) -
imōto
older brother 兄(あに) お兄さん / お兄ちゃん
ani o-nii-san / o-nii-chan
younger brother 弟(おとうと) -
otōto
grandfather 祖父(そふ) おじいさん / おじいちゃん
sofu o-jii-san / o-jii-chan
grandmother 祖母(そぼ) おばあさん / おばあちゃん
sobo o-bā-san / o-bā-chan
great grandfather 曽祖父 (そうそふ) ひいおじいさん/ ひいおじいちゃん
sōsofu hii-o-jii-san / hii-o-jii-chan
great grandmother

曽祖母(そうそぼ) ひいおばあさん/ ひいおばあちゃん
sobo hii-o-bā-san / hii-o-bā-chan
grandchild(ren) 孫 (まご)
mago
great grandchild(ren) ひ孫(ひまご)
himago

 

Family Leaving Home

Average modern Japanese families usually have 1 or 2 children.

2- More Vocabulary

  • 家族 かぞく (Kazoku) : family
  • 両親 りょうしん (Ryōshin) : parents (father & mother)
  • 親 おや (Oya) : parent(s)
  • 子供 こども (Kodomo) : child(ren)
  • 兄弟 きょうだい (Kyōdai) : brothers
  • 姉妹しまい (Shimai) : sisters

3- Examples

Here are some examples of Japanese phrases for family, so you have a better idea how to use the vocabulary above.

  • 私の家族は、お母さん、お父さん、私、弟の4人家族です。
    Watashi no kazoku wa, o-kā-san, o-tō-san, watashi, otōto no yo-nin kazoku desu.
    My family has four members: mother, father, me, and my younger brother.
  • 私は姉と妹がいる3姉妹です。
    Watashi wa ane to imōto ga iru san-shimai desu.
    I have an older sister and a younger sister, and we are three sisters.
  • 私は兄と姉がいます。
    Watashi wa ani to ane ga imasu.
    I have an older brother and an older sister.
  • 私は祖父と祖母が大好きです。
    Watashi wa sofu to sobo ga daisuki desu.
    I like my grandfather and grandmother very much.

To listen to the pronunciation of basic family terms, please visit Must-Know Terms for Family Members on our website.

Also, if you would like to know more about Japanese numbers, please visit our Japanese Numbers article.

Mother and Daughter Smiling

The bond between a mother and a daughter is often very strong.


3. Terms of Relatives

1- Vocabulary for Relatives

  • 親戚 しんせき (Shinseki) : relatives
  • 叔父 おじ (Oji) : uncle
  • 叔母 おば (Oba) : aunt
  • 甥 おい (Oi) : nephew
  • 姪 めい (Mei) : niece
  • いとこ (Itoko) : cousin

2- Examples

  • 私の親戚は全員東京に住んでいます。
    Watashi no shinseki wa zen’in Tōkyō ni sunde imasu.
    All my relatives live in Tokyo.
  • 私は5人いとこがいます。
    Watashi wa go-nin itoko ga imasu.
    I have five cousins.
  • 私の叔父と叔母は教師です。
    Watashi no oji to oba wa kyōshi desu.
    My uncle and my aunt are teachers.
  • 私の姪は5歳で、甥は2歳です。
    Watashi no mei wa go-sai de, oi wa ni-sai desu.
    My niece is five years old and my nephew is two years old.


4. Family Terms as a Married Person

1- Vocabulary to Know as a Married Person

  • 結婚 けっこん (Kekkon) : marriage
  • 既婚 きこん (Kikon) : married
  • 未婚 みこん (Mikon) : unmarried
  • 離婚 りこん (Rikon) : divorce
  • 夫 おっと (Otto) : husband
  • 妻 つま (Tsuma) : wife
  • 息子 むすこ (Musuko) : son
  • 娘 むすめ (Musume) : daughter
  • 義理の ぎりの (Giri no) : in-law

In order to express “XXX in-law,” add 義理の (Giri no) in front of XXX (the family member).

For example:

  • 義理の両親 (Giri no ryōshin) : parents-in-law
  • 義理の父 (Giri no chichi) : father-in-law
  • 義理の母 (Giri no haha) : mother-in-law
  • 義理の兄 (Giri no ani) : older brother-in-law
  • 義理の弟 (Giri no otōto) : younger brother-in-law
  • 義理の姉 (Giri no ane) : older sister-in-law
  • 義理の妹 (Giri no imōto) : younger sister-in-law

2- Examples

  • 私は夫と娘が1人います。
    Watashi wa otto to musume ga hitori imasu.
    I have a husband and one daughter.
  • 私の義理の父と母は大阪に住んでいます。
    Watashi no giri no chichi to haha wa Ōsaka ni sunde imasu.
    My father and mother in-law live in Osaka.
  • 私は既婚者で子供が2人います。
    Watashi wa kikonsha de kodomo ga futari imasu.
    I am married and I have two children.
  • 私の義理の両親は、私の息子におもちゃを買いました。
    Watashi no giri no ryōshin wa, watashi no musuko ni omocha o kaimashita.
    My parents-in-law bought a toy for my son.


5. Endearment Terms

Parents Phrases

In addition to the formal and informal terms for family, there are also more casual vocabulary words that you can call family members. It may vary from household to household, or on what kind of relationships there are between family members, but here are some examples. Just note that these are typically used in Japanese family relationships that are close.

1- Father

  • パパ (Papa) : papa

Like in English, “papa” is a common name to call a father in Japan, especially when children are very small. However, most Japanese people don’t use papa as they grow up.

  • 父ちゃん (Tō-chan) : dad

This term includes a nuance of cute and comical affection.

  • おやじ (Oyaji) : dad

This term is usually used by sons who are post-adolescent age. When they become adults, they often feel embarrassed to call their father papa or o-tō-san. This term also indicates a nuance of close affection.

2- Mother

  • ママ (Mama) : mama

Just like papa, mama is used especially when children are still small.

  • 母ちゃん (Kā-chan) : mom

This is the version of tō-chan used for mothers.

  • お袋 (Ofukuro) : mom

This is the mother version of oyaji.

3- Grandfather

  • じじ (Jiji) : grandpa

Grandchildren and their parents usually call a grandfather by this term when the grandchildren are still small. It indicates a nuance of cute affection.

  • じーじ (Jīji) : grandpa

This is very similar to jiji, but the first ji is pronounced longer.

4- Grandmother

  • ばば (Baba) : grandma

This is the grandmother version of jiji.

  • ばーば (Bāba) : grandma

This is the grandmother version of jīji.

Elderly Couple

Grandparents often have endearing nicknames when they have grandchildren.


6. How to Describe Family and Ask Question about Family in Japanese

Most of the time, there’s no problem with talking about family and relatives. When it comes to marital status and children, however, it can be a delicate matter. It can sometimes be inappropriate to ask someone about his/her marital status or if they have children, unless he/she is open and willing to talk. This is especially true for a woman in her 30s.

Here are some example questions and answers related to family.

Q:
何人家族ですか。
Nan-nin kazoku desu ka.
How many family members do you have?

A:
お父さん、お母さん、お姉ちゃん、私の4人家族です。
O-tō-san, o-kā-san, o-nee-chan, watashi no yo-nin kazoku desu.
I have four family members: father, mother, older sister, and me.

—–

Q:
兄弟はいますか。
Kyōdai wa imasu ka.
Do you have brothers and sisters?

*When asking a question, kyōdai can also refer to sisters.

A:
私は姉と弟がいます。
Watashi wa ane to otōto ga imasu.
I have an older sister and a younger brother.

—–

Q:
結婚していますか。
Kekkon shite imasu ka.
Are you married?

A:
はい、妻と子供が2人います。
Hai, tsuma to kodomo ga futari imasu.
Yes, I have a wife and two children.

—–

Q:
孫はいますか。
Mago wa imasu ka.
Do you have grandchildren?

A:
はい、私は孫が6人います。
Hai, watashi wa mago ga roku-nin imasu.
Yes, I have six grandchildren.

—–

Q:
ご両親はお元気ですか。
Go-ryōshin wa o-genki desu ka.
How are your parents?

*It’s polite to put go in front of ryōshin when you talk about someone’s parents.

A:
はい、私の父と母は元気です。
Hai, watashi no chichi to haha wa genki desu.
Yes, my father and mother are doing well.

—–

For more about self-introductions, please visit Introducing Yourself in Japanese on our website.


7. Conclusion: How Japanesepod101 Can Help You Learn More Japanese

I hope this article about family in Japanese culture is useful and that it helps to improve your Japanese communication skills.

If you would like to learn more about the Japanese language, you’ll find more useful content on JapanesePod101.com. We provide a variety of free lessons for you to improve your Japanese language skills. For example, Must-Know Terms for Family Members is helpful if you want to practice family terms in Japanese with audio.

We also have YouTube channel: JapanesePod101. It’s always fun to learn Japanese by watching videos and listening to actual Japanese pronunciation.

Before you go, let us know in the comments if there are any family terms you still want to know! And to practice, write a short paragraph about your family in basic Japanese. We look forward to hearing from you!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Family Phrases in Japanese

The 10 Day Hiragana Challenge

September either sounds like back to school or end of holidays. Getting back to work? Well, that’s usually harder, but if the summer didn’t get rid of your motivation to learn Japanese, then you’re about to start on the bleeding edge thanks to:

The 10 Day Hiragana Challenge

The “Challange” is quite simple: within 10 days you’ll be able to perfectly READ and WRITE all Hiragana. That’s all you’ll need to master one of the three alphabets of Japanese language.

From Tuesday, the 6th of September we will release one video per day during 10 days on our YouTube channel, to give you all the resources and tips to learn those Japanese characters. Every day from the 6th to the 15th, Risa will teach you the secret to easily learning 46 hiragana in 10 days.

Don’t miss any video of this upcoming series and not only you’ll know the basics of Japanese pronunciation but you’ll be able to identify a lot words used in everyday life. It’s your best way to get started learning Japanese!

Click Here to Subscribe to JapanesePod101 YouTube channel!

And if you want to access the Full version of the Videos lessons and take this Challenge a step further by learning both Hiragana and Katakana in less than 1 week, sign up for a Free Lifetime Account and enjoy the entire series from the 6th of September!

Learn to Read and Write Japanese Kanji Characters

You all have experienced that feeling, right?

…Or this one.

But what if I told you…

THIS IS POSSIBLE NOW!

With this new series, you will discover the Radical Approach to Mastering Kanji. It’s perfect for Japanese Beginners! You’ll learn how to read, write and understand Kanji through an easy, step-by-step method – radicals – the building blocks of Kanji.

And here is the first Kanji achievement you can successfully unlock: one of the most useful characters, the radical for “person,” 亻.

Next episodes of this series to Master Kanji are already available on the wesbite!

You are just a click away from becoming a Kanji Master!

Top 5 pop culture things/icons you need to know about Japan

Japan is a country rich in pop culture that has started to gain recognition and popularity throughout the world. As popular culture changes quickly and drastically, we focus this lesson on the most recent pop culture.

Popular Music

  • Japan boasts the second largest music industry in the world after the United States.
  • Pop music is especially popular in Japan, although you can find all sorts of music in Japan done by Japanese artists-including rock, rap, hip-hop, reggae, and more.

Popular Movies

  • Recently, the popularity of domestic Japanese movies has been on the rise, with the annual box-office revenue for domestic movies hitting an all-time high in 2008.
  • Of the top Japanese films of 2008, the highest-grossing title was the animation film Gake no
  • Ue no Ponyo (”Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea̶ ;)
  • Hayao Miyazaki directed this movie as well as other popular animated titles such as My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Princess Mononoke, and Spirited Away, which was the first anime film to win an Academy Award.

Popular Television

  • Variety shows, true to their name, feature a variety of different content-cooking segments, comedy segments, skits, and quizzes are just some of what you’ll find on a typical Japanese variety show.
  • Variety shows often feature a large panel of currently popular celebrities and sometimes a studio audience.
  • Quiz shows that feature contestants (who are almost always celebrities) answering questions on numerous subjects, such as science, history, math, the Japanese language, pop culture, and so on, also enjoy great popularity.
  • Japanese dramas are also very popular among Japanese people of all ages.
  • Many current dramas’ running in Japan are adaptations of popular movies, comics, or animated shows.

Popular Foreigners in Japan

  •  Jero, is an African-American singer who was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
  • He has gained popularity singing enka, a traditional type of pop music that is especially popular among older people.

Popular Japanese Men/Women Abroad

  • Actor Ken Watanabe became a recognized name after appearing alongside Tom Cruise in the 2003 war film The Last Samurai.
  • Issey Miyake is the most well-known Japanese designer in the world, and he is considered the first Asian designer to gain worldwide recognition.

Popular Sports Figures

  • Ichiro Suzuki joined the Seattle Mariners in 2000, a move that many watched with great interest, as he was the first Japanese position player to play regularly for a Major League Baseball team.
  • Shizuka Arakawa made headlines when she received a gold medal in the 2006 Winter Olympics, a first in the event for a Japanese skater.

Japanese Pitch Accent

Can you imagine offering to buy your new girlfriend a box of “rain” while shopping in Tokyo instead of “candy?” Impressive if you can pull it off, but not much help if she has a sweet tooth! When you can hear and say the pitch properly in Japanese, you won’t be caught making embarrassing mistakes!

Pitch accent refers to a characteristic of language where every syllable can be pronounced with a high or low pitch. Pitch accent is considered different from the concepts of stress and tone that appear in English and Chinese, respectively.

English: Stress
Chinese: Tones
Japanese: Pitch

Some assert that English has over 30,000 syllabic sounds. In contrast, Japanese has only 111 (112, according to some linguists). There are many homophones (words that have the same pronunciation as another but different meanings) in Japanese that differ only in their pitch. There are only two levels of pitch - high and low.

Romaji

AME

Kanji
Pronunciation [ a ↓ me ] [ a  ↑ me ]
Meaning “rain” “candy”

So, it is true that the concept of pitch seems foreign (because it is), but it is impossible to ignore, there is no way around it!

Did You Just Call Me Grandma?

The concept of long and short vowel sounds is an important concept to understand when learning Japanese pronunciation. Vowels can be lengthened, and there is a very distinct difference between long and short vowels. Note that in this lesson, a macron (small horizontal line over a vowel) denotes a long vowel that we hold for twice as long as a regular vowel.

double vowels
and vowel pairs
Sounds like…
ああ aa あー ahh
いい ii いー ee
うう uu うー  ooh
ええ ee
えい ei
えー ehh
おお oo
おう ou
おー ohh

In many cases, whether the vowel is long or short will determine the meaning of the word. Let’s illustrate this with some examples:

かど カード
kado kaado
“corner” “card”

in the case of kaado (”card”), we 持old the “a” 音ound for approximately twice as 長ong as the “a” 音ound in kado (”隅orner”). As you can see, the meaning is very different depending on whether the vowel is 長ong or 短hort! Let’s look at a 少ew more examples:

おばさん おばあさん
o-ba-san o-baa-san
“aunt” “grandmother”
おじさん おじいさん
o-ji-san o-jii-san
“uncle” “grandfather”

A slight change in how long you make the vowel sound will make all the difference!

The Second One Counts!

You try your hand at Japanese at the ramen shop, and ask for “plain” ramen…but your bowl comes back covered in clams! Turns our you asked for asari (”clams”); when you meant assari (”plain”).
in Japanese, sometimes you will see double consonants in the middle of a word, like (kk, ss, tt, cc, etc.). Here, you need to pause in the middle as we take extra time to pronounce double constanents.
As with the example of “asari” and “assari”, the double consonants can really change the meaning of words, so it is key to not overlook them.

Did you know about these very similar sounding words?

にし (nishi)“west”  and  にっし (nisshi) “daily report

スパイ (supai) “spy”  and  すっぱい (suppai) “sour”

かた (kata) “shoulder”  and かった (katta) “won”

in what may seem strange to English speakers, in Japanese sometimes you will encounter a double “n” sound.

This can be observed in the case of  :  おんな(on’na), which means “woman”

Again, the extra “n” DOES make a difference! For example, don’t confuse:

こんな (konna) “this kind of” and  こな (kona) “powder”

ほんね (honne) “true feelings” and ほね (hone) “bone”

As you can see, it is important to say attention to those little details. Otherwise, you might end up talking to your doctor about your feelings, and to your shrink about that pain in your backbone!

When Size Does Matter!

Are your eyes failing you, or is that hiragana character tinier than the other one? In Japanese, since there is a limit of hiragana characters, there is the need for some combinations. There are in total, 33 combination sounds that are made using small ya, yu, and yo.

The following are examples of these combinations:

KYA

KYU

KYO

example :
きゃく kyaku ( “customer” ), きゅう  kyuu  (”nine” )

SHA

SHU

SHO

example :
しゃかい  shakai  (”society” ) ; しゅみ  shumi  (”hobby” )

CHA CHU CHO

example :
ちゃいろ  chairo  (”brown” ) ;  ちゅんちゅん  chunchun  (”chirp chirp” )

NYA

NYU

NYO

example :
ぐにゃぐにゃ  gunyagunya  (”crooked” )

HYA

HYU

HYO

example :
ひゃく  hyaku  (”one hundred” )

MYA

MYU

MYO

example :
みゃく  myaku  (”pulse” ) ; みょうじ  myouji  (”family name̶ ;)

RYA

RYU

RYO

example :
りゃく  ryaku  (”abbreviation” );  みりょく  miryoku  (”charm” )

GYA

GYU

GYO

example :
きんぎょ  kingyo  (”goldfish̶ ;)

JA

JU

JO

example :
ジャズ  jazu  (”jazz̶ ;)

BYA

BYU

BYO

example :
さんびゃく  san-byaku  (”three hundred̶ ;)

PYA

PYU

PYO

example :
はっぴゃく  ha-ppyaku ( “eight hundred̶ ;)

It is important to keep notice if the character is full size or half-width, as it can really change the pronunciation and meaning. Fore example, こんにゃく(con-nya-ku  ”Kojnac”..a type of Japanese food ingredient) and こんやく ( con-ya-ku..”engagement” ) !

And The Evolution Continues…

Because the range of syllables (spoken and written) in Japanese is limited, we cannot properly render many foreign sounds in Japanese. And as many more foreign words are used daily in Japanese, the solution was the addition of “new” katakana characters.

Here are a few of the more common ones:

FA

FI

FE

FO

example words:
ファイル fairu (”file” ) ; フィンランド Finrando (”Finland” ) ;  サンタフェ Santa fe (”Santa Fe” ) ;  アイフォン aifon (”iPhone” )

VA

VI

VU

VE

VO

example words:
ヴァイオリン vaiorin  ( “violin” ) ;  ヴィクトリア Vikutoria  (”Victoria” (name)) ;  デジャヴ deja vu (”déjà vu” ) ;  ラスヴェガス Rasu Vegasu (”Las Vegas” )

TI

TU

Pronounced in English as “tee” and “too.”

example word:
パーティー paatee ( “party” )

DI

DU

TYU

DYU

example word:
デュエット dyuetto (”duet” )
コメディー comedee (”comedy” )

Sometimes people find their own names to acquire a “funny” translation into Japanese sounds as a result of these similar, but not quite the same, approximations. However, it is awesome to see how the Japanese language finds a way to evolve and adapt despite its ancient origins.

The Case of The Missing Syllables

Have you noticed that in words like shika (”deer” ) and hiku (”to pull” ), the “i” sound is almost inaudible?  This often happens also at the ends of the grammatical endings desu and masu, which are pronounced [dess] and [mahs], respectively. We call this devoicing “i” and “u”. That means that they become almost “whispered.” This happens when these vowels come between two of the voiceless consonants: p, t, k, s, or h.
Also, you will notice that in Japanese, there are some sound syllable sounds that don’t exist.

For example:
“si” doesn’t exist, but is replaced by “shi”.
“ti” becomes “chi” and “tu  which becomes “tsu”
“hu” doesn’t exist, “fu” is used. However, the “fu” sound is a lot lighter than in English.
(To make the sound, blow air between the lips, and not between the lips and teeth. Imagine this sound as being a combination of both “h” and “f.” )

“yi” and “ye” sounds don’t exist  in modern Japanese.There is also no “L” block of syllables in Japanese. Instead, you will find that in many words borrowed from English, in Japanese pronunciation and katakana writing, it has become replaced by a very light “r” sound. To make this “r” sound, lightly tap the roof of your mouth with your tongue, and try to think of it like a light “d” sound, as in saying the name “Eddy” quickly.
It may take some getting used to, but remember that the “r” sound is the closest sound there is in the Japanese pronunciation group. What borrowed words can you think of that have been apparently changed when pronounced in a Japanese way?