Hawaiian and Japanese Language


(Japanese-Hawaiian connection series #3)

While I was on the cruise to Hawaii about a month ago, I learned to Hula (in my previous blog post “Japanese Love of Hula“) and enjoyed it very much. I also learned some basic things about Hawaiian language. Hawaiian language has 5 vowels and 8 consonants. It’s very easy for native Japanese speaker to read and pronounce the written Hawaiian language because they are quite similar to Japanese!

The source of information is from “Hawaiian Dictionary“. I’m simplifying some rules here.

Here are the Hawaiian vowels and pronunciations:

  • a like a in above
  • e like e in set
  • i like y in city
  • o like o in mole
  • u like oo in soon

If you know basic Japanese, it’s exactly the same as its vowels (あいうえお).

Here are the Hawaiian consonants:

  • p, k, l, h, m, n, p – pronounced about the same as in English
  • w sounds like English w, but it’s sometimes English v sound
  • ‘ or ‘okina’ is a glottal stop (similar to the sound between oh’s in oh-oh)

Here are some rules:

  • Hawaiian words will never end with a consonant, so as Japanese,
  • Syllables in Hawaiian words are only one or two letters, never longer, so as Japanese.
  • Syllables must end with a vowel, or can be a single vowel, but can never be a single consonant, so as Japanese.

These rules are exactly the same in Japanese, when it’s written in romanized characters (English alphabets).  Japanese speaker can read Hawaiian words naturally as if he/she is reading romanized Japanese, and it sounds very close to native Hawaiian.

On the cruise, I was able to remember some longer syllable Hawaiian names very easily, such as “Nawiliwili” or “Ka’anapali”. I had my cruise passenger friends constantly asking me “the name of the port in Kauai” (Nawiliwili) or “the name of the beach in Maui” (Ka’anapali).  It was hard for my English speaking friends to remember these Hawaiian names, but it came natural for me, just like remembering Japanese names.

Can you pronounce this word which is considered a longest Hawaiian word?

Reef Triggerfish


It’s Hawaiian name of reef triggerfish. The pronunciation sounds like hoo-moo-hoo-moo-noo-koo-noo-kuu-ahh-poo-ah-ah.  I know that a Japanese speaker can pronounce it if I tell him/her to read just as reading the romanized Japanese.

In addition, there are many Japanese words imported to Hawaii by the Japanese immigrants in late 19th to early 20th century. Hawaiians call souvenirs “Omiyage” which is based on the Japanese word “Omiage”. Japanese are very diligent about bringing Omiage to family and friends. I heard it’s very important to Hawaiians also.

Spam Musubi

Do you know what Musubi is? It’s a very popular snack in Hawaii, and I have seen it on the mainland in recent years, too. It’s made of cooked Spam and rice, wrapped in Nori (seaweed). It’s a very close concept to Onigiri (rice balls) in Japan. Another name for Onigiri is Omusubi. You see the similarities?

Hawaiian language was an oral tradition historically. In early 19th century, Western missionaries standardized the written version of Hawaiian language, and assigned the letters.

I had a lot of fun researching and learning the Hawaiian language rules. I hope you had fun reading the post!


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