What Is “t” In Japanese? [ta, chi, tsu, te, to]

Today’s lesson is going to be a little more interesting than the last couple due to the two special characters in the list. Even so, you came to this lesson because you were looking for an answer. What is “t” in Japanese?

We are going to go over the 5 hiragana that use the [t] sound, one with each vowel of course. Oh wait… There’s only 4!

Yeah, we’ve got a weird [c] hiding among the [t] sounds. How did that get in there?!

Let’s find out.

The 5ish [t] Sounds In Japanese

Do you remember way back when, when things were simple and made sense? That would be… the section on [k] sounds!

Well, I’m just playing around because it wasn’t that long ago. We simply threw out the common patterns in the last section with し and now we are going to do it with not one kana, but two.

So let’s go ahead and jump into these five sounds. Below are the hiragana symbols for each, and then of course is the accompanying audio track to help you learn how each one sounds.

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

た = ta

ち = chi

つ = tsu

て = te

と = to

I think that the first, fourth, and fifth sound are pretty self-explanatory.

So instead of wasting your time going into their nitty-gritty details, I will instead focus exclusively on ち and つ.

What’s The Deal With ち?

As you can see from the above section, when the [i] vowel gets combined with the [t] consonant in Japanese, it actually gets changed to a [c] and forms ち [chi] which is like the initial sound in the English word “cheese.”

You probably won’t need to do any extra work on learning this particular sound. Just being aware of it is usually enough for most students to correctly identify and then recreate it.

But what’s the deal, like why does it get used instead of “ti” or something?

Well, I wasn’t there when they created the rules for Japanese pronunciation, so I don’t know for sure. That being said, what I can share with you are my own thoughts on the matter and what makes logical sense to me.

First we have to remember that the Japanese language didn’t have a writing system for a really long time. That means that natives were using the ち sound way before that written character was associated to it.

Then we have to remember that the people who created romaji (the romanized spelling of Japanese) used the letters that most closely matched the actual Japanese sound.

They determined that a [chi] sound was much more accurate for ち that a [ti] sound would be.

Something else that is important to understand about this sound comes from the way it is created. Try saying [chi] yourself and then [ti] and see if you can notice the difference.

I’m talking about your breath.

When you say [chi] you push some air out of your mouth while making the sound. This isn’t the case with a [ti] sound.

Again, these are just my own thoughts on the matter so don’t quote me in your midterm paper.

Actually, now that I think about it. If you happen to know the real reason for this situation, please share it with me by leaving a comment down below.

What’s The Deal With つ?

Okay, now we get to the other weirdo in our group of words. At least this time it sticks with our [t] sound.

The only problem is that it’s a sound that’s really awkward to make!

Here we’ve got つ which represents a [tsu] sound. I think the reasoning I shared earlier about how a native sound progresses from sound to hiragana to romaji holds true here as well.

So rather than talk about that, let me give you some English words that you can think of and use to help with this sound.

First of all, this sound is created by combining the [u] vowel with the [ts] consonant combination that can be found at the end of English words such as “cats, suits, hits” and so on.

So that’s your first tip. Try saying those words and adding a [u] sound at the end to see how it feels.

Another tactic is to say the words “pant suits” a couple of times and really focus on the end of the first word, and the beginning of the second.

You should notice that it makes the [tsu] sound quite nicely.

Lastly, you can just listen to the recording of it and try mimicking it yourself.

It will probably feel a little strange at first making this つ sound, but it is very common in Japanese, so you will have to learn it at some point.

Just keep a good attitude about the whole thing and then practice it until it feels natural.

Remember To Cross Your t’s

And dot your i’s? What am I saying?

I’m talking about writing!

Hey, this is the fourth time that I’ve asked you to write something down. How do you feel about it? I’m genuinely interested in hearing about the parts of this course that you enjoy, and also the parts that you don’t enjoy.

That way I can work on improving it and creating an even better experience for everyone who goes through it.

Let me know your thoughts on the matter if that’s cool with you.

Now let’s get back to it!

た = ta


ち = chi


つ = tsu


て = te


と = to

I always thought it was cool how the left half of the た hiragana looks like the English “t” but maybe I’m just a language nerd.

Today’s To-Do List

No example words in this lesson, but you will get them in the next one. For now, here’s what you need to do to help solidify the information in today’s lesson.

  • Listen to and repeat each sound 3x or more.
  • Pay extra attention when listening to and repeating the つ sound.
  • Write out each hiragana 5x or more.

Hopefully you are getting into a nice groove by now with the course. Feel free to take a break whenever you need it, or continue on and learn even more.


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