Pronouncing Kireji and Senryu

Previously unpublished. Originally written (in a shorter form) in March of 2022 in an email message to Mimi Ahern.

Over the years I’ve heard many different pronunciations of Japanese haiku terms, some of which have made me wince—and I’ve mispronounced some of these terms myself. As I understand it, here’s how to pronounce kireji and senryu, which are two of the most problematic terms for English speakers, especially senryu.

ki-reh-jee uses the starting sounds of key, ray, and jeep, all said with roughly equal emphasis (though that’s hard to do for English speakers), but all shorter than the English sounds (thus, not as “long” as key and ray).

Japanese vowel sounds (ah, ee, oo, eh, oh for A, I, U, E, O, which is the order they say them in) are always said exactly the same, thus no long versus short vowel sounds like we have in English. Japanese is like Italian in this regard. That’s why one wouldn’t say ky (to rhyme with sky) ree (to rhyme with see) jigh (to rhyme with sigh) or any other variations. Also, Japanese syllables are said quickly, so there’s a difference between jo and joe (jo being more clipped, joe being longer and more relaxed).

sen-dyu includes an almost silent D sound. Don’t say sen-ree-you or sen-righ-you or sen-dee-yoo. Or sen-roo. It could be closer to sen-you but adding a touch of the D sound is better. However, make it sen-dyu, not send-you (subtle difference). The ryu sound is one of the hardest Japanese sounds for English speakers to say (along with tsu).

For more information related to this topic, please see my essay, “Go Shichi Go: How Japanese and English Syllables Differ.” +