Japanese tongue twisters

Good morning everyone,

It's looking like we can expect to see some rain today, tomorrow, the next day, the next day and...when did it become rainy season?! I was really hoping to get out for a long run on either Sunday or Monday, but it doesn't look like that is going to happen. When will we see the sun again? Not till Wednesday according to the weatherman...

In Japanese the word for “tongue twister” is hayakuchi kotoba, literally “fast mouth words.” I like how the Japanese version of the word gets right to the point – no one cares if you can just say these mouth monstrosities, they care whether or not you can say them fast.

That’s why today we’re counting down the top five most difficult Japanese tongue twisters. We’ve scoured the Japanese internet and asked around, and these five are the ones that come up the most often. We’ve also included a video with each one showing someone attempting the tongue twister so you can have someone to practice with.

So let’s get to it! Starting off with…

Honorable Mention: Raw stuff

The first tongue twister on our list is an honorable mention due to how overused it is. If you were to ask a Japanese person to give you a tongue twister, chances are this one would be their go-to example a lot of the time.

And now you can try it out for yourself. Here it is along with a translation below.

The tongue twister:
Nama mugi, nama gome, nama tamago.

“Raw buckwheat, raw rice, raw egg.”

Hey, as far as translations go, this one’s pretty high up on the “that makes sense” meter compared to some others on this list.

As for the twister itself, it’s not too hard to say. The repetition of the “m” sound over and over can make you stumble if you’re not careful, but you’ll probably be saying this one three times fast in no time.

▼ Listen to a native Japanese speaker say it here. She does it along to a rhythm,
as well as a plethora of other tongue twisters, some of which we’ll see later.

#5. An artistic monk

Next up is another popular hayakuchi kotoba all about monks painting screens. Let’s take a look.

The tongue twister:
Bōzu ga byōbu ni jōzu ni bōzu no e wo kaita.

“The monk drew a picture of a monk well on the folding screen”

Why the monk is drawing a picture of a monk, presumably himself, is a question lost to the ages. Instead, all we have passed down to us is this tongue twister, which puts “raw buckwheat and eggs” to shame.

I personally have trouble by about the fifth word in. All of those long “o” sounds are like giant holes just waiting for me to fall into. Though when I do manage to say it correctly (very, very slowly of course) that “e wo kaita” at the end which is so different from the rest comes in like a refreshing breeze.

▼ Listen to some Japanese YouTubers struggle with this one.
They seem pretty confident at first, but then it all falls apart.

#4. Peeking on persimmon purchasers

For those unfamiliar, persimmons are one of the most popular winter foods in Japan, and for good reason – they’re delicious! They look sort of like a tomato, but they’re sweet and soft with a honeyish flavor like dates.

Persimmons are kaki in Japanese, and the double “k” sound already lends itself to some tongue twister action. Here’s the tongue-twisting sentence in its full mouthful:

The tongue twister:
Tonari no kyaku wa yoku kaki kuu kyaku da.

“The customer next to me is a customer that often eats persimmons.”

Oh god, all of those “k” sounds! And then mixed with the “y” sound it all comes out as a garbled mess.

Peter Piper can pick pecks of pickled peppers all day… it’s the persimmons that are the real tongue killers.

▼ YouTuber Texan In Tokyo attempts this tongue twister when her
Japanese husband gives it to her… after she critiques his handwriting

#3. New Year chanson show

For me, the tongue twister that people have the most trouble with in English is “she sells seashells by the seashore.” Even I can barely say it when I’m speaking at a snail’s pace, and all those “s” and “sh” sounds contort your mouth in weird ways.

And it seems that Japanese has a similarly “s” sound-filled tongue twister. Here it is:

The tongue twister:
Shinshun shanson shō.

“New Year’s chanson (‘song’) show.”

Shanson is a word borrowed from French, and shō is a word borrowed from English, making this a very multilingual tongue twister.

Maybe that’s why it’s so hard? It’s only three words long, but I can’t even get past the third syllable.

If you’ve somehow managed to conquer this one, there is a more advanced version waiting for you:

The tongue twister:
Shinjin kashu shinshun shanson shō.

“The new singer’s New Year’s chanson (‘song’) show.”

Hmmm...I don't think this one is so hard, well if I do it slowly...how about you?

▼ A native Japanese woman attempts this
tongue twister with quite a bit of difficulty.

#2. Uh, lots of frog jumping

I’ve never really had a problem with the “woodchuck” tongue twister in English (“how much wood would a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck would chuck wood”). There’s so many different sounds that even the repeated “w” and “ch” sounds aren’t too bad.

Frogs though? They’re on a whole other level.

This one looks deceptively easy at first, but once you start trying to say it out loud, the reason it’s so difficult quickly becomes apparent.

The tongue twister:
Kaeru pyoko-pyoko mi pyoko-pyoko awasete pyoko-pyoko mu pyoko-pyoko.

“The frogs jump, three (times) jump, together jump, six (times) jump.”

If you’re anything like me, you rattled off the first half of the twister, but then everything fell apart after awasete. And if you did manage to say it all, try it again but a little faster. It’s hard to get all those “pyo” sounds out without it turning into a garbled mess.

▼ YouTuber Sharla in Japan and her friend attempt this one.

And the #1 most difficult Japanese tongue twister is…

1. The boss tongue twister… literally

This one’s a real doozy. It combines the difficult “k” and “ky” sounds from the persimmon tongue twister, the long “o” sounds from the monk tongue twister, and contorts your mouth all over the place like the New Year’s show one.

I have personally never said this one correctly, even when going far slower than is even remotely reasonable. See if you can do better than me:

The tongue twister:
Tōkyō tokkyo kyokakyoku kyokuchō.

“The Tokyo patent authorization bureau boss.”

Whenever I finish reading that one (and messing up somewhere of course), I feel like I’m floating in a hazy soup of syllables. I’m aware of the fact that sounds came out of my mouth, but they feel devoid of any meaning except tongue twister failure.

If you somehow managed to get this one right, then good news, because there’s an even more difficult version awaiting you!

The tongue twister:
Tōkyō tokkyo kyokakyoku kyokuchō kyō kyūkyo kyoka kyakka

“The Tokyo patent authorization bureau boss today quickly denied authorization.”

I’m not even going to attempt that one. Instead I’ll just leave you with this video of some souls far braver and skilled at speaking than I am.

▼ YouTuber mimei attempts this one and her friend Mahoto
shares a tip on how to make it a little easier to say.

So there you have it, the top five most difficult Japanese tongue twisters. What tongue twisters are the most difficult for you?

Have a great day!

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