Long Vowels / 長音

和文は英文の下に続きます。/ The Japanese translation is on the bottom of this page.
An image to introduce a word with long vowels
(Photo 1) A poster with a “ryoomensoo” /

Long Vowels

  1. A word containing long vowels
  2. How they Romanize Japanese long vowels
  3. Our policy and the reasons
  4. How to pronounce basic short vowels
  5. How to pronounce long vowels
  6. A note for English speakers
  7. An episode with long vowels
  8. The irregularities in spelling
  9. All of us can improve on pronunciation


1. A word containing long vowels

We found an interesting poster at JR Shinagawa Station in Tokyo (See Photo 1), a traditional double-faced image. It was an advertisement for a “rakugo” or a traditional, one-man comedy theater, popular at the beginning of the year (in January).

Turn the picture upside down. Can you see a smiley face, as opposed to his frown you see now? The face can be seen from both sides, so it’s called “ryoomensoo (“ryoo” means both, “mensoo” means face)”. 

2. How Japanese long vowels are Romanized

For those who have not learned hiragana yet, and for those who have wondered at different ways to spell “Tokyo” (Toukyou, Toukiyou, Tokyo, etc) in the alphabet, we would like to discuss the long vowels in this post. 

Actually, there is no established Romanization of the Japanese long vowels.

An image to show there are more than one spelling for a long vowel
Photo 2 This is a credit card statement from January 2019. Tokyo is spelled Toukiyou as well. “-to” after “Toukyiou” means “the Special Prefecture of Tokyo (the capital of Japan)”or “the Tokyo Metropolitan area” and used only after Tokyo. / これは2019年のクレジットカードの明細です。東京はToukiyouともつづります。最後の「と」は、首都東京の後だけに使われる「特別な県」という意味です。

For example, “ryoomensoo” (double-faced image) is spelled in different ways; ryomenso, ryoumensou, ryoomensoo, ryomenso with a short horizontal line on top of each “o” to show it’s a long vowel etc.

In this site, we will adopt the way to spell “roomensoo” and “Tookyoo”. For now we think it’s the simplest.

The following is our reasoning.

3. Our policy on the spelling of long vowels

Our spelling policy has two big strong points.

(1) It’s one rule and there is no exception.

(2) Without the knowledge of hiragana or katakana, you will be able to pronounce Japanese in our posts easily and correctly. 

4. How to pronounce basic short vowels

See below for various shapes of the mouth. Here is how to read the basic, short vowels of the Romanized Japanese.

An image to show how to pronounce vowels
Photo 3 How you should form your mouth in saying (from top left to top right) a, i, u, e, o, and n / 上左、上右の順で、あ、い、う、え、おを言う時の口の形

The top left photo is to pronounce “a”, top right “i”, in the second row on the left “u”, second right “e”, and bottom left “o”. In saying the vowels, just shape your mouth like them and make a sound by letting air out naturally.

For your information, the bottom right is “n”.

5. How to pronounce long vowels

As for the long vowels, we will simply write “aa”, “ii”, “uu”, “ee”, “oo”. In pronouncing them, just prolong the short vowel without changing the shape of your mouth. In other words, for example, you pronounce “aa” as if you were saying two short “a” sounds put together without a break. 

Example 1: Okaasan, おかあさん or mother

6. A note for English speakers

If your mother tongue is English, please pay particular attention to “ee” and “oo” because we hardly hear these sounds in English. Say it as two short “e” sounds put together without a seam, and two “o” sounds likewise, respectively. 

Ex. 2: Sensee, せんせい or teacher

Ex. 3: Daijoobu, だいじょうぶ or “I’m OK”

7. The spelling of long vowels in hiragana

In many books, you see Ex. 2 and Ex. 3 written as “sensei” and “daijoubu” respectively. It’s because people feel like writing “ei” and “ou” instead of “ee” and “oo” due to some special spelling rules with hiragana. The rule is: Prolonged “e” and “o” sounds are spelled with い (“i”) and う (“u”) respectively.

When we were small, we learned the rule this way:  In our first grade class, we learned hiragana. Then we were encouraged to write words we knew. When we wrote せんせえ (se-n-se-e, teacher), because that’s how it sounds, our teacher corrected it. It had to be written せんせい (se-n-se-i) because there is a special rule. A long “e” sound must be spelled with “i”. 

The same thing happened to “oo”. We wrote だいじょおぶ (da-i-jo-o-bu, ”It’s OK!”) as we pronounced, and she corrected it to だいじょうぶ  because that’s the rule.

Later we learned such exceptions as こおり (ko-o-ri, ice), とおい (to-o-i, far), おおきい (o-o-ki-i, large), ほお (ho-o, cheeks of a face) and so on.

Why are there two ways to spell the long “o” and “e” vowels? We should think various changes have occurred to Japanese sounds over the centuries, and these are one of the results arising from them.

8. The irregularities in spelling long vowels

There have been a couple of systems, the so-called the official Romanization method and the Hepburn method, to transcribe Japanese sounds into the Alphabet since the Meiji Era. More recently, a word processing system was developed using the English typewriting keyboard and has become also popular. Which of the systems is the best is yet to be decided.

Our way is none of the above, but the simplest and most true-to-the-sound, as in “Tookyoo”. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if people could learn how to speak Japanese without having to learn hundreds of Japanese and Chinese characters, and travel to Japan and speak with the locals right away? So we hope some easy Romanization system like this will be prevalent one day. 

Of course we would like you to learn Japanese like we did in the traditional way. But we also know there are not many people who have time and energy to do it and to have the exposure to the Japanese language to keep everything in memory.

9. All of us may have room for improvement on Pronunciation

Interestingly, Photo 2 intends to improve the pronunciation of native Japanese speakers. We wondered why.

In Japan, we receive no public speaking training at school. This may be one of the reasons, but we often speak Japanese in a mumble and sound inarticulate. So this can be advice for that situation.

At the same time, we do not always speak in a complete sentence. It’s not wrong to speak like this; it’s just a character of the language. In Japanese, we do not mention what’s already understood from the context, so we give information, ask a question, and answer, in a choppy way. 

In addition, as we discussed on the Japanese nasal sound in =>“The Mini Pocket” [Link is coming soon], there is a wide variety in the pronunciation and accent in different regions in Japan.

Your Japanese teachers, on the other hand, may be speaking to you more slowly and articulately than otherwise. So it’s not your fault if you don’t hear easily when you are in Japan. 

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[End of English text]


  1. ちょうおんふくこと
  2. ちょうおんをローマでどうくか
  3. このサイトのちょうおんのローマ
  4. ほんたんいんかた
  5. ちょうおんかた
  6. えいしゃへのメモ
  7. ひらがなのちょうおんかた
  8. ローマひょう統一とういつ
  9. わたしたちみな発音はつおんこうじょう

1. ちょうおんふくこと

JジェーRアール品川駅しながわえきで、面白おもしろいポスターをつけました。むかしながらのりょう面相めんそうです (写真しゃしん 1)。演芸会えんげいかい広告こうこくでした。1がつによくあるもよおしです。


2. ちょうおんをローマでどうくか



たとえば、この「りょうめんそう」も、いろいろなかたがあります。Ryomenso、ryoumensou、ryoomensoo、ふたつの o のうえにそれぞれみじかせんいた ryomenso などなど。



3. このサイトのちょうおんのローマ




4. ほんたんいんかた




5. ちょうおんかた

ちょうおんについては、そのまま aa、ii、uu、ee、oo ときます。かたは、たんいんくちかたちえずにばすのです。つまり、たとえば、aa は、a のおとをふたつ、らせず発音はつおんします。

れい1:  おかあさん


えいとするかたは、ee と oo にはけてください。このふたつはえいではほとんどかれません。これらは、それぞれ e と o をふたつなしにうのです。

れい2:  sensee せんせい

れい3:  daijoobu だいじょうぶ


おおくのほんでは、sensei や daijoubu など、ee のわりに ei、oo のわりに ou を使つかいます。なぜこのようなちがいがしょうじるかというと、ひらがなのひょうにおけるそくのためです。そのそくとは、e と oのちょうおんはそれぞれ「い」「う」とく、というものです。


o のちょうおんおなじことでした。発音通はつおんどおりに「だいじょおぶ」といて、先生せんせいなおされました。「だいじょうぶ」とかなければいけないのです。



8. ローマひょう統一とういつ




9. わたしたちみなほん発音はつおんこうじょう









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