How are Japanese loanwords spelt and pronounced? Are they spelt the same way that they'd be spelt in English, and are they pronounced the same way they'd be pronounced in English or Japanese? For example, how are words with the syllable "ge" or "gi" in English and Japanese (げ/ゲ or ぎ/ギ to use Japanese hiragana or katakana) spelt and pronounced?

I suspect that in English, recent loanwords are more faithful to the original Japanese than older loanwords, so I'm especially interested in recent loanwords to Spanish.

I tried looking at Categoría:ES:Palabras de origen japonés in the Spanish edition of Wiktionary and also Idioma japonés in the Spanish edition of Wikipedia, but there didn't seem to be any information in Wikipedia about Japanese loanwords in Spanish, and Wiktionary only listed a handful of Japanese loanwords.

More general question: Do any Spanish words exist that aren't pronounced as expected from their spelling?


2 Answers 2


Related: What was the first Spanish word imported from the Japanese language?

In Spanish, established loanwords normally adopt nativised spellings - i.e. ones that reflect the Spanish pronunciation of the word (to whatever degree it has or hasn't deviated from the original pronunciation) e.g.

Most recent or rare Japanese loanwords are as yet unnativised and spelled as in English (Hepburn romanisation), but italicised in the DLE:

Given the large overlap in Japanese phones and similar ones in Spanish (and that the Hepburn romanisation is based on Italian orthography), loanwords are often 'faithfully' reproduced and have orthographies similar to standard Latin transcriptions.

In fact, loanwords with /k/ often have modern spelling variants with "k":

  • kendo, haraquiri (harakiri), quimono (kimono), samuray (samurái)

But some phones in Japonese don't exist (or only exist as dialectal/alophonic variants) in Spanish, and so (for example) "s" is used to represent both [s] and [ʃ]:

And "y" for [d͡ʒ], [i], and [j]:

  • yudo ("judo"), samuray, yen

Further, some are loanwords via other languages, with the associated further changes in sounds:

Spanish Intermediate Japanese
(Satsuma dialect Japanese)


Some words with uncommon consonant clusters in Spanish have simpilified variants:

Some words were loaned hundreds of years ago, during which both Japanese and Spanish have evolved. As such, some loanwords accurately reflected the Japanese pronunciation then, but no longer do:

  • yen (pronounced "en" in modern Japanese)

1. I don't know of any Japanese loanwords with /ge/, /gi/ with nativised spellings in Spanish.
2. To make the difference even more striking, the standard Japanese word is pronounced しょうゆ /ʃo:yu/.


Japanese loanwords follow the same general rules as loanwords from other languages.

  • If the loanword is not adapted and keeps its original spelling (in this case, the English romanization) it is written in italics, as you can see in the word geisha, registered in the dictionary. Note that as the word is in italics that means that the word needs to be pronounced as in its original language (in this case as it were "gueisa" or even "gueesa" with a long e).

  • If the loanword has been adapted its spelling may not be the same as the the original but now it's not necessary to write it in italics, as now it's a Spanish word as every other one, like quimono.

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