What Is “s” In Japanese? [sa, shi, su, se, so]

Now that we have covered the first Japanese consonant, we can move on to the second one. What is “s” in Japanese?

This group of sounds is actually pretty cool because we are going to be introduced to something entirely new that we haven’t seen yet: a kana with two consonants!

Actually, this isn’t entirely true since it’s not how the Japanese themselves would see this character, but when we transcribe it using English letters, it’s makes more sense for us to use “shi” instead of just “si.”

I’ve devoted an entire section below to just this one sound because it warrants special attention. We get to that in just a second, but first let’s take a look (and a listen) to the Japanese s-sounds!

The 5 [s] Sounds In Japanese

The [s] sound combined with each of the five vowels creates the following:

さ = sa

し = shi

す = su

せ = se

そ = so

In the last lesson I talked a little about how the Japanese [k] sound was less explosive than the English [k]. I would say that for the Japanese [s] sound, it is a little shorter than the English [s].

By that I mean the amount of “sss” sound that their words get is less than when we say words like “snake, snow, slimy” and the like in English.

This pattern of Japanese consonants being a little softer or smoother than the English versions is going to continue for pretty much all of the lessons.

That’s why it’s important to really listen to how natives use these sounds and then do your best to mimic them.

When I really payed attention to the different ways that we use sounds in our respective languages, I felt that English was kind of like a drum set with its beats and clashes, whereas Japanese was more like a flute with its melody and flow.

This observation actually makes more sense when we get to Japanese pitch accent later on in this course and how it differs from English syllable accent. More on that later.

A Special Note On し

Four of today’s sounds are straightforward, but one of them is a little more complex. I’m talking about し which we have listed as using a [sh] sound, but the Japanese [sh] isn’t quite the same as the English [sh].

Listen again to it in the audio recording above and see if you can really hear how the native speaker pronounces it. This is one of those situations where there is a sound in Japanese that is close to, but isn’t quite the same as English.

In English, you protrude your lips when you make a [sh] sound, such as in the word “shoes.”

For me, I feel like when I make this sound in English it feels as if the [sh] sound is being created in between the lips and teeth. Try it yourself and see what I mean.

When it comes pronouncing し in Japanese however, it feels like the sound is being created in the middle of the inside the mouth.

It’s a different feeling from the English counterpart, and also a slightly different sound.

In all honesty, it’s not super important that you master it and sound perfect this early in the game. I just wanted to bring it to your attention because it is these little nuances that can add up and really make your Japanese sound incredible when speaking.

Don’t You Love Writing? 😉

To tell you the truth, being able to physically write in Japanese is something that is much more applicable for people living and working in Japan.

For most people learning the language outside of Japan, it’s more important to be able to type in the language and communicate digitally.

The reason why I recommend you physically write these out is because I’ve read several studies that showed a memory connection between the hand and the brain.

The short version is that people who write things out retain that information better. So, I figured that it was an easy and beneficial way to help you absorb and retain the new hiragana characters and their sounds.

さ = sa


し = shi


す = su


せ = se


そ = so

Now that you have added these 5 new kana into your memory bank, you’re up to a total of 15!

But we are not even halfway through… there’s a lot!

Don’t worry though, it sounds a lot scary than it really is. When you get into the flow of learning, you will actually surprise yourself without much (and how quickly) you pick things up.

The Examples You Were Promised

Alright, so now we can get to the example words for both the [k] sounds that we learned in the last lesson and also the [s] sounds that we picked up here.

Of course there will also be some vowels from earlier, and these pattern of continually reusing older information that we learned will help us to review it and lock it all in.

Remember, it’s not important to memorize the English meaning at this time. Just listen to each of them and get used to how they sound.

かさ = Umbrella

せき = Seat

うそ = Lie

し = Poem

さいこ = The oldest

Isn’t it interesting how small a Japanese word can be? Just the one character し can be used to say “poem” in the language.

Actually, if you did a search for し in a dictionary you would encounter multiple words!

This sounds a little daunting at first because you might think that it would be hard to know which word is correct when they all sound the same.

Don’t worry though, there are some tricks and tips to helping it becomes manageable that I will share later on in the course.

Homework For Today

I almost feel like a teacher giving you guys all these daily assignments. Well, you know the drill!

  • Listen to and repeat each sound a minimum of three times.
  • Pay special attention when you listen to and repeat the し sound in particular.
  • Write out each hiragana on a piece of paper a minimum of five times.
  • Listen to and repeat aloud each example word a minimum of three times.

If you thought that し was an interesting character, just until the next lesson! This time we’ve got two of them!


Did everything make sense? If not, let me know down below!

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