Friday, March 9, 2012

Fukushima = Hukushima?

Last night on the nightly news here in Germany, the newscaster pronounced "Fukushima" in a way I had never heard before: Fu-KU-shi-ma – which led me to wonder how the word is actually pronounced.

There is no dearth of information on the subject online. There is this sample, which does not sound completely unusual, whereas this guy felt strong enough about the subject to put up a dedicated website explaining that the SHEE that practically everyone in the English and German-speaking world is stressing is actually schwa, but that's not what I'm hearing in the song video below (warning: Japanese babe alert) – but before you listen to it, you might want to read this explanation of how the fu sound is actually very close to hu (take a look at the way people's lips are positioned in the video for that first syllable):

The hu certainly sound like the first sound in the English name "Hugh" in this rendition.

I have no idea what they're saying in that song (aside from "I love you baby, Fukushima. I need you baby, Fukushima" – if anyone has a translation, feel free to post as I could only find Portuguese, which I do not speak), but it is touching to see that the video seems to have been made only a few weeks after the disaster with various people expressing their affection for Fukushima – and this version is adorable.

Another thing that struck me from the video is how easy it seems to pronounce Japanese, which is indeed considered one of the easiest languages in the world in terms of pronunciation. And though this website does not directly comment on the pronunciation of Fukushima (aside from reader comments), I did enjoy the man's obvious annoyance in all of his instructions  along the lines of "it's To-kyo, not Tow-kee-yo." And while Japanese may be easy to pronounce, see if you can get your head around the proper pronunciation of Hiroshima.

On a similar note, I saw a documentary this week on German television, and a resident of the nearby town of Minamisanriku was actually in good cheer as he talked about what life was like now. He smiled as he said something I found especially interesting: "Since the disaster, everyone has been talking with everyone else."


  1. This pronunciation question comes down to how the Japanese language is structured. The characters are moras- there are five vowel sounds (roughly the same as Spanish vowels), but rather than have separate consonants, each consonant has five characters whose end sound matches each of the five vowels. E.g., there's no "k", but rather "ka", "ke", "ki", "ko", and "ku". This creates difficulty for Japanese people when they pronounce English words. For example, "crack" becomes "ka-ra-ku", and "smash" becomes "su-ma-shi". See "hiragana" on Wikipedia, which has a chart of all of the sounds.

    Several of these consonant groups have one or more that are slightly modified. Examples: the "t" group has "ta", "te", "to", and "tu", but no "ti"; it's pronounced "chi". It's the same with "s"; there's "sa", "se", "so", "su", but no "si"; it's pronounced "shi". The "h" group is the same way; it has "ha", "he", "hi", and "ho", but "hu" is roughly pronounced as "fu". (I say roughly because in all of these instances, it's kind of a cross-between. Depending upon who's speaking, the "shi" mora may have a very noticeable "h" or sound almost like "si"; how much "fu" sounds like "fu" or "hu" depends upon who's speaking.)

  2. There is another city Hukushima... A friend of mine stayed at the hospital of Hukushima last year.