Class 5 Japanese Work Book

Japanese Work Book

Speech Sounds

Who can tell the meaning of the following Japanese words?

  1. dosun
  2. botchan
  3. kokekokko

Well, perhaps you will say, “I’ve never learnt Japanese. How am I supposed to know?” (Of course, some of you may have learnt Japanese and you may know these words).

I’ll give you a hint. One of them is a sound a domestic creature makes. Another one is a sound you hear when a twenty kilogram sack of rice which you can buy in a supermarket in Japan, falls on to the ground or the floor. The one that is left is the sound you hear when your child falls into a dam (before the scream). Answers are at the end of the article.

If you spend some time on it, most of you will get right answers. How could you guess? Because these words are onomatopoeic words, imitation of the sounds the thing makes or associated with the thing concerned.

What about the following?

  1. zarazara
  2. tsurutsuru
  3. nurunuru

They all represent a quality of a surface of something. Which word describes the surface of a mirror? Which word describes a soap which has fallen into the bath? Which one is the tiled floor of a bathroom when your son has undressed himself after he has been to the beach?

Try this one next. They are all vegetables.

  1. kabocha
  2. kuri
  3. horenso

They are pumpkin, spinach and chestnut, but can you tell which is which? Say each Japanese word a few times, with the imagination of each of the three things.

Speech sounds are “alive”. Each consonant represents a certain quality or qualities that relates to outer forms. Each vowel represents a soul quality or mood.

Find the quality of these consonants.

“b”: bean, baby, ball, bun

“d”: deep, dead, down, dull

“f”: fire, flower, fuse, foam

Words are not made arbitrary. They carry within their sounds their archetypal meaning. If you taste these speech sounds, you get to know the quality, the “being” of each sound. Once you begin to know them, you can learn to form your speech according to the character of the sounds.

This can be quite effective when you recite a poem or when you speak in a play on stage. Instead of just saying “flower” or “love”, appealing to the intellect of the listener, you can learn to speak these words with the full strength of their meaning, creating a reality in what you speak. (This is quite different from filling your words with your own sentimentality).

Rudolf Steiner initiated this art of speaking and he called it Speech Formation. When the qualities of sounds are shown in bodily gestures, this is called eurythmy. Through learning foreign languages, eurythmy, recitation and drama, we are given a chance to touch the spirit of human languages. Try it for yourself.


  1. dosun – thump
  2. botchan – splash
  3. kokekokko – cockadoodledoo
  4. zarazara – sandy surface
  5. tsurutsuru – hard, smooth surface
  6. nurunuru – slimy surface
  7. kabocha – pumpkin
  8. kuri – chestnut
  9. horenso – spinach