Japanese background

Okay, this page relates to, mostly, Pocket Monsters, the Japanese version of Pokemon. However, some things do carry over to the English version. It's not necessary to know these things, obviously, but it would save horrible mispronounciations and perhaps give more understanding over from whence the names come. And since Pokemon was originally Japanese, it's nice to understand some of the things therein.

I do not profess to be a genius. I have not studied Japanese (not professionally, anyway) and I am not Japanese. Thus, there may be discrepancies, mail me if you feel I've totally botched something up.

Thanks very much to White Cat for correcting a coupla things already. ^_^;


Okay. Japanese people/society think English is cool. If you're into anime - Japanese animation - you have probably noticed that interspersed through the Japanese language are phrases in English. So it isn't surprising that a number of Pokemon have names derived from English words. For example, Gallop (Rapidash), Pigeon (Pidgeotto), Ratta (Raticate).

Even the name of the show, Pocket Monsters.

Obviously, the Japanese 'alphabet' is different from ours. It is such that many of the words which we write would not be possible to write in Japanese, so you would have to spell them in Japanese how they would be pronounced. There are three sets of characters in Japanese. This is a major obstacle in an attempt to learn the language. o_O. There is hiragana - a set of characters used most generally. There is katakana, most often used for foreign words (the Pokemon's names are written in katakana) but has other usages. And there is kanji, a large collection of characters (over 2000) that is shared with Chinese, where each character represents a word.

Now, hiragana and katakana are fairly similar, in that they are relatively simple, and that there is a character for each major sound/syllable. The sounds are...

a, ka, sa, ta, na, ha, ma, ya, ra, wa, n
i, ki, shi, chi, ni, hi, mi, ri
u, ku, su, tsu, nu, fu, mu, yu, ru
e, ke, se, te, ne, he, he, me, re
o, ko, so, to, no, ho, mo, yo, ro

There are also ones written in the list I'm referring to, such as 'nya' and 'kyu' and stuff like that, but they are literally written as 'niya' and 'kiyu', a combination of two characters (although the first character is slightly larger). This is where the Miyamoto/Myamoto confusion arose - the two are written almost the same, but her name IS Miyamoto, the difference is in the size of those characters.

So you'll notice that all real Japanese words are written as a series of syllables without consonants with each other (except in cases where they complement, like shi or tsu). But sometimes when they are romanised (ie converted to be written in English/Roman letters), the letters are not literal. It is a little hard for me to explain.

When romanised, the letters are not literal... what I mean is, since it can be impossible to write English words in Japanese characters, the best that can be done is done. (For example, Mew is written as Myuu.) When those Japanese characters are then translated into English, you can have Myuu or how it is meant to be, Mew.

This is why some people spell Togepi as 'Togepy', because that is how it is romanised when written in English from Japanese characters.

Once you know how, Japanese is a very easy language to pronounce. There aren't lots of 'exceptions-to-the-rule' like in English grammar and pronounciation. It's basically wysiwyg. (What you see is what you get.)

You should know that Japanese language doesn't really put emphasis on a particular syllable. Like, we say 'pathetic' and put a slight emphasis on the 'the'. This means that even a name that was kept from the Japanese version of Pokemon to the American version, may be said differently.

For example, Pikachu is pronounced the same in Japanese as English, but it sounds a little different, because of both accent differences, and the way it is said. The English puts more emphasis on the "pi" in Pikachu's name. "Peeekachu." Whereas the Japanese spelling of Pikachu is actually Pikachuu, and so they linger slightly longer on the 'chuu' part of the name.

The absolute best way to learn the sound of Japanese pronounciation is to watch Japanese shows/movies/anime. Especially the pronounciation of English words! You'll see how they say them so that a word can be composed of those above characters. For example, dragon punch would be du-ra-go-n pa-n-chi.

Try even just downloading some Japanese Pocket Monsters songs. Pokemon Invasion has a bunch in the multimedia section. Try... I dunno, Lucky Lucky. It has some words in there you may be able to pick up. At one stage, Kojiro/James snarls "Koiking!" (Magikarp's Japanese name). Because he is spitting the word out, he is really pronouncing each syllable. "Ko-i-ki-n-gu!"

Pronounciation Now, how DO you pronounce things?

The sound of 'a' is like the 'a' in "char", but shorter.
The sound of 'e' is like the 'é' in "Pokémon"... almost a cross between 'ay' and 'eh', but shorter
The sound of 'i' is like the 'ea' in "Seaking", but shorter
The sound of 'o' is like the 'o' in "Koffing"
The sound of 'u' is like the 'u' in "Pikachu"

Common combinations of vowels are usually easy to work out. 'Ai', when said quickly, will rhyme, more or less, with "sky", but with a little sound placed on each vowel. Listen to how Raichu says its name!

Ei is said to rhyme with "say", but the above applies.

An interesting one is ou. When romanising, an elongated 'o' sound is sometimes written as 'ou' (although it can be written as just o, or oo... for example, Kojiro, Kojirou, Kojiroo...). Ou does NOT mean you say it to rhyme with "zoo". You say it as the normal 'o', just a little longer. I was confused about that at first.

What else is there... okay, the letter "l". You may have noticed its absence. Well, the letter "r" is pretty much its substitue. In fact, "r" often sounds like an "l" in Japanese, and vice versa. If you listen to Raichu - who had its Japanese voice kept in the English version - you can tell it almost sounds like it's saying "Laichu!"

The letter 'g' is always a hard sound. Like in goat, gate, gorilla. For soft sounds (like geranium, gin, germ), a j would be used.

One last thing I should say is that when a word is said fast, the 'su' sound is sometimes indistinct; rather, the 'u' sound is almost silent. Dogasu (Koffing) is often pronounced do-ga-s. (Get it, gas?) If you go to Pokemon Invasion (link above) and download Pokemon Ondo, you can hear that. Another example, it's not from Pokemon, but something like Tasuki (name of a character from another anime) is usually pronounced tas-ki.

I've noticed that the 'i' on the end of 'shi' can sometimes be lost too. For example, when Musashi announces her name in the speech, it sometimes sounds like she's saying "Musash!" And same deal with Satosh(i). ^_^.

Now that you've seen how to pronounce things, you can try some Pokenames.

Squirtle = Zenigame - pronounced 'zeh-nee-gah-meh', not "zenny-gaym".
Chansey = Lucky - pronounced 'rah-kee', but the 'r' is kind of a cross between 'r' and 'l'
Ivysaur = Fushigisou - foo-shee-gee-sohh
Omanyte = Omanyte (literally spelled omanaito) - oh-mah-ny-toh

Chansey's original name was based on an English word, so that's how it has been romanised.

A really good idea would be to download the Japanese equivalent of the Pokerap. The Pokemon listed can be found here. This could help.


There are lots of small things that apply to Pokemon, some of which I may not even pick up.

Sweatdrops - or 'ase' - are shown to indicate nervousness, or embarassment, or disbelief - like a 'cold sweat'. Those little crosses that appear on characters' heads are bulging veins, showing anger or frustration. The little mushrooms that come out of characters' mouths are just puffs of air; a heavy sigh, usually indicating that the character is becoming fed up. Characters seem to drink tea to show indifference, that their lives are going on despite what another character is saying.

In Japanese, books are read back-to-front, and the words vertically, not horizontally.

Hinamatsuri, or the Doll's Festival (called Princess Festival in Pokemon), is a day (March 3) on which girls' health and happiness are prayed for. Hina-dolls (representing a emporer, emporess and their servants) are set out in a similar style to how the 'Princess Dolls' were in that particular episode.

Kodomo no hi, or Children's Day, it's mostly for boys, not all children. Carp streamers represent how carp swim upstream strongly, and that is an example for boys to have courage and fight hard. Magikarp and Goldeen are both types of carp...

Onigiri - you know those donuts/rice balls that Brock likes to make? - are basically rice balls, a popular food because they are convenient and inexpensive. Kind of like our sandwiches. Most onigiri have some sort of filling, are round or triangular, and the little black thing you may notice on it is seaweed.

Food is more of a big deal in Japan. Meals are taken care to be presented nicely, often in different compartments (you can see examples of this in the Mr Mimie Time and Snow Way Out episodes) on the tray, although this isn't as prominant in Pokemon as some, because the characters are on the road and basically living out of their backpacks for most of the time. ^_^.

Something I've noticed about anime is that characters are very blunt about other females' chest sizes. Because most anime women are large breasted, those that aren't are often deliberately so (or else they're small children). And I'm sure you've all noticed Misty being called scrawny on several occasions.

There is also an ideal woman; one who is good at cooking and housework, who is kind, gentle, pretty, needs to be taken care of, etc... I've noticed even that sometimes the woman is considered less than a man. This is why Misty and Jessie are interesting characters; they've deliberately been made strong, and rough. Women are not supposed to act like boys, but Misty sometimes does...

In "The Problem with Paras", Meowth wants to be Cassandra's mascot, but in the original he wanted to be a manekineko. Maneki neko are cat figurines that are like good luck charms - they have one paw raised, and is sat in a house or store to invite people in, and bring good fortune.

According to history of maneki neko, a few would have koban (coins; in fact, the kind of coin Nyaasu/Meowth has on its forehead!) which were worth a lot of money. I do not know a great deal about maneki neko, but you can find good info at Maneki NekoClub. (Thanks Meowth346!)

Hmmm, what else. I haven't noticed Pokemon being hugely full of cultural references, really. If I have missed something you feel is significant, feel free to let me know.


Japanese surnames are said before their first names. If my name were Lisa Simpson, I would introduce myself in Japanese as "I am Simpson Lisa". ^_^.

Kasumi means misty, so when she was put into English, her name, Misty, is actually a translation of the original.

Musashi is a famous Japanese swordsman, and Kojiro his final opponent (Musashi killed him -_-;). Their names were quite cleverly changed to Jessie and James, playing on Jesse James, someone who we have heard of. (I'll confess, until I got into Pokemon I had never heard of Miyamoto Musashi.)

A lot of the Pokemon's names are puns that you can understand if you can speak Japanese. For example, Tamatama (Exeggcute, and tamago is an egg... hmm, origin of Tamagotchi ^_^.), Kamex (Blastoise, and kame is a turtle) or Kusaihana (Gloom), which means Smelly flower. It is obvious why some of these names were not directly translated. I mean, I can't picture myself crying "Smellyflower! I choose YOU!" Doesn't quite have a ring to it. ^_^;

Satoshi = Ash
Kasumi = Misty
Takeshi = Brock
Kojiro(u) = James
Musashi = Jessie
Nyaasu = Meowth

Oh, btw, nya is associated with cats, as 'nyan' means 'meow', 'nyao' is the sound a cat makes (and Nyaasu nyaaos all the time) and 'nyanko' means cat.

Shigeru = Gary
Joi = Joy

Joi means woman doctor.

Junsa = Jenny

Junsa means policewoman.

Pewter = Nibi
Boulderbadge = Greybadge
Cerulean = Hanada

Interestingly, hanada means 'it's flowers' or something to that extent. And Cerulean does have the Waterflower theme.

Cascadebadge = Bluebadge
Surge = Matise
Thunderbadge = Orangebadge
Vermilion = Kuchiba
Erika = Erika
Rainbowbadge = Rainbowbadge
Celadon = Tamamushi
Sabrina = Natsume
Saffron = Yamabuki
Marshbadge = Goldbadge
Koga = Kyou
Fuchsia = Sekichiku
Soulbadge = Pinkbadge
Blaine = Katsura
Cinnabar = Guren
Volcanobadge = Crimsonbadge
Giovanni = Sakaki
Viridian = Tokiwa
Earthbadge = Greenbadge
Indigo Plateau = Sekiei Stadium
Lorelei = Kanna
Bruno = Shiba
Agatha = Kikuko
Lance = Wataru

Cassidy = Yamato
Butch = Kosaburo

I have no will to go through ALL the Japanese/English Pokemon names. They will, through time, be revealed in the Pokedex. -_-;

Common words/terms

Okay. Please can I request, don't lapse into Japanese phrases. Not fair on people who don't understand, and also it doesn't really make you look cool, more like a newbie. I used to do it too. ^_^; But accepted ones are anime, manga, shoujo, etc... they just show that you're referring to Japanese animation, comics, etc...

But here are some you may come across, either on the 'net or on anime.

anime - animation, cartoon
manga - comic book... generally this refers to a small, thick comic, of course read backwards... but it can be used to refer to both cartoons and comics (usually comics)
shoujo - girl, 'shoujo anime' are cartoons aimed at girls (often with love themes, or strong emotions, or flowery transformations, etc)
shounen - boy, 'shounen manga' are comics aimed at boys (usually with violence or more action-orientated themes)
bishounen - beautiful boy, often used to describe James -_-;
kawaii - cute
kakkoii - cool
sugoi - excellent, great OR terrible, awful
neko or nyanko - cat
yo - hey
hai - yes
baka - idiot
shimatta/kuso - unpleasant words ^_^; but you hear shimatta used reasonably often
suteki! - great!
iku yo! - let's go!
abunai! - look out!
arigato - thanks
onegai! - please!
konnichi wa - hello
moshi moshi - hello (usually used on the phone, or when trying to bring someone back to earth, as in "hellooo? are you in there?!", "moshi moooshi?")
ja ne! - see ya!
sayonara - goodbye
ai shiteru/daisuke - I love you (former romantice, latter friendly)
matte! - wait!
wakatta - I understand
anou - umm
yurusenai! - I won't forgive you!
ike! - go! (Satoshi/Ash yells "ike! monsterball!" - "go! pokeball!")

Note, since these words ARE in another language, you should treat them as such. Japanese nouns do not have singular or plural distinctions. Meaning, you have one manga or twenty manga, you do not have twenty mangas...


If you want to know more, it's very easy to find out things just by doing a simple search (I recommend altavista.com, my fave ^_^.), or you could always ask me.

An online Japanese-English dictionary, if it is something that interests you, is here. Do note that you could get words in Japanese for a word in English, that have slightly different meanings, so be cautious if you use them.

I do not mean anyone to take offense at this page, I apologise if it does offend somebody. (Yeah, I guess this is a disclaimer.) I always feel a bit weird talking about other countries; REAL countries, as if I know them, when I have little real experience other than a lot of anime and internet pages. ^_^. But I have taken care to say things that have only been backed up by at least two other sources. ^_^;

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