Try These 15 Japanese Tongue Twisters!
We all know about Sally and how she sells seashells by the seashore. This is just one example of a tongue twister.
Many try to repeat a tongue twister until they master it perfectly. This is a phenomenon that stretches into different cultures and languages, and Japanese is no exception.
Called 早口言葉 (hayakuchi kotoba), these popular Japanese tongue twisters are sure to leave your tongue in knots!
If you asked someone in Japan for a tongue twister, they would likely tell you this one. It is the first Japanese tongue twister that I mastered, as well. It goes:
生麦生米生卵 (namamugi namagome namatamago)
It means, “raw wheat, raw rice, raw eggs”. This is one of the easier and shorter tongue twisters. They get tougher from here!
This next one is also pretty popular. It goes:
坊主が屏風に上手に坊主の絵を描いた (bouzu ga byoubu ni jouzu ni bouzu no e (w)o kaita)
This means, “A priest skillfully drew a picture of a priest on a folding screen”. Keep on your toes if you don’t want to mess this one up, as it’s harder than it looks! Also, be careful! Bouzu (坊主) as a way to refer to a priest is very familiar, but can be derogatory in the wrong context.
The Three Scrolls
This next one is short and sweet:
赤巻紙, 黄巻紙, 青巻紙 (akamakigami, kimakigami, aomakigami)
This means, “red scroll, yellow scroll, blue scroll”. There are other tongue twisters that use the same colour but change what’s being described, like swapping out 巻紙 (makigami, scroll) with パジャマ (pajama, pajamas) or the like. The order of the colours can get switched around, too.
The Stuck Nail
This next one may require a bit of focus to get right. It goes:
この釘は引き抜くい釘だ (kono kugi wa hikinukui kugi da)
This means, “This nail is one that is difficult to pull out.” I wonder if it’s better to be a nail that’s difficult to pull out or one that’s difficult to hammer in…
This one may also seem easy, but it can take a bit of focus to make sure you don’t mess it up. It goes:
隣の客は良く柿食う客だ (tonari no kyaku wa yoku kaki kuu kyaku da)
This means, “the customer next to me is one who eats a lot of persimmons.” If you’re really good at tongue twisters and think these have all been a cinch so far, then stick around. Though it may differ from person to person, I think most people would agree that the following tongue twisters are a bit more difficult!
Happy New Year!
This next one is a bit like the English tongue twister of Sally selling seashells by the seashore, in that the ‘s’ sounds and the ‘sh’ sounds are what trip people up. It goes:
新春シャンソンショー (shinshun shanson sho-)
This means, “New Year Chanson show” and refers to a specific New Year show in Japan.
Inspection, the “S/Sh” Infection
This one is also reminiscent of Sally’s seashell selling business:
新設診療室視察 (shinsetsu shinryoushitsu shisatsu)
That s/sh stuff can be a huge problem, yikes! This one means something along the lines of, “an inspection of a newly established clinic”.
The Deer Family
Like others on this list, this next one relies on similar sounding words and repetitive syllables to really give you a tough time. It goes:
鹿もカモシカも鹿の仲間, しかしアシカは鹿ではない (shika mo kamoshika mo shika no nakama, shikashi ashika wa shika de wa nai)
This roughly means, “both the deer and the antelope are part of the deer family, but surely the sea lion is not a deer”. An easy observation to make, but it’s not quite as easy to say!
How Many Chickens?
This next one is difficult because of a lot of repetitive sounds:
裏庭には二羽, 庭には二羽鶏がいる (uraniwa ni wa niwa, niwa ni wa niwa niwatori ga iru)
This means roughly, “There are two chickens in the backyard and two chickens in the front yard”.
This next one is also difficult because of a lot of repetition. It goes:
李も桃も桃のうち (sumomo mo momo mo momo no uchi)
It means, “both Japanese plums and peaches are in the peach family”.
A Nice Shoulder Rub
This next one has an almost poetic feel to it, with the placement of the repetitive syllables:
生暖かい肩叩き器 (nama atatakai kata tataki ki)
This roughly translates to, “a warm shoulder massaging machine”.
The Two Deserve Each Other
The following might seem easier when you just read it if you aren’t paying close attention, but try to say it, then it becomes harder:
駒込のわがまま者, 中野の怠け者 (komagome no wagamama mono, nakano no nokamake mono)
This means, “Komagome’s jealousy, Nakano’s laziness”. They may deserve each other, but they probably would never get along.
Patents in Tokyo
This one has similar sounds that are slightly different, making it sort of hard to say. It goes:
東京特許許可局局長 (toukyou tokkyo kyokakyoku kyokuchou)
This translates roughly to, “the Tokyo Patent authorization bureau manager”. Note: this is not a real position, it’s just difficult and fun to say.
The Mystery of the Banana
This next one is just funny to think about, in addition to it twisting our tongues:
バナナの謎はまだ謎なのだぞ (banana no nazo wa mada nazo na no da zo)
It means, “the mystery of the banana is still a mystery”.
This last one is the longest on this list, so it may really take some focus to get through!:
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 (kono takegaki ni take tatekaketa no wa take tatekaketakatta kara, take tatekaketa)
Did you make it through? Well, if you did, then know it means, “I laid this bamboo against the bamboo fence because I wanted to lay bamboo against it”.
If you found these to be a bit tricky, don’t worry, it’s all part of the learning process. I recommend you checkout this post, Learning to Read in Japanese, before going on to new tongue twisters.
On the other hand, If you had some fun learning about some tongue twisters in Japanese and want to learn more, a simple Google search will do.
You can even import the tongue twisters you find into LingQ and learn the words and phrases by using the platform’s dictionaries. LingQ is the best way to learn Japanese simply because it helps you learn from content you love. That includes things like anime, music, and so much more. You can check out LingQ’s guide to importing for more information. Good luck.
Caiman Cotton has worked as a freelance Japanese translator and has studied the language for years. He hopes to one day also study Latin.