The more you watch Japanese TV and movies, the more you get introduced to a wide range of Japanese voices. High and low, loud and soft, fast and slow, pleasant and unpleasant. It is normal to struggle a bit with picking up different speaking patterns from different people. However, there are some Japanese actors out out there that will make you think they are speaking a different language sometimes.
Even as your Japanese gets better, they will still stubbornly remain difficult to hear. And it may not be you or your lack of Japanese skill. It’s them. This is frustrating, because they may often appear in your favorite media, yet they are constant walls to enjoyment and comprehension.
Who are the worst offenders? Let’s look at them and see if we can make sense of their cloudy ways of talking.
Shinichi, you usually play the calm voice of reason. A muffled, calm voice of reason.
Kenichi, you really like your semi-scary Yakuza sounding roles. You were less intimidating because I often didn’t catch your threats.
Abe Hiroshi, you know that I love you and your ridiculous humor. Your great acting. Your perfect and in depth character creation. So I feel kind of bad for putting you on this list. But so few foreigners get to fully appreciate your great works of art.
5. 明石家さんま (Sanma-san)
Sanma-san, you are considered one of the kings of variety shows and I’ve heard that you make $30,000 an episode (in a Japanese TV world where salaries have dropped to such significantly low levels). People adore you and your sense of humor, along with your unique speech. But I’m worried that you acting surprised at everything that you hear has caused your voice to disappear.
4. 泉谷しげる (Izumiya Shigeru)
Shigeru, no matter how many TV shows or movies I see you in, I still can’t get you out of my head as the drunk guy on Densha Otoko that started the whole story. You’ve had a long career in acting and music, and always seem to appear as a drunk, a bad father, or someone’s unlikable boss. You bring life to a lot of your work.
3. ビートたけし (Beat Takeshi)
Was I talking about how much money Sanma-san makes? I’m sure Beat Takeshi spends that yearly salary at a hostess club in one night.
2. 西田敏行 (Nishida Tosiyuki)
You are funny. Really, brilliantly funny. And you have even appeared in multiple Hollywood movies. For a long time I missed so much of the subtleties and nuances of your humor. If you said something, I wanted to know, because it was probably hysterical. Don’t take that away from me.
1. 笑福亭鶴瓶 (Shoufukutei Tsurube)
Tsurube, I’m convinced you do it on purpose. And you are good friends with Beat Takeshi and Sanma-san, so I wonder if you guys decided together when you first started your career that you were not going to make it easy for people to understand you.
Will you be able to understand them?
Yes of course, eventually. Sometimes they are hard for even Japanese people to pick up, but they do. It is just another challenge for you. It will take you a lot more time to finally get the hang of their ways of speaking, but it will be worth it when you do.
From this list, who have you had trouble understanding? What other Japanese actors have you come across that you just can’t seem to understand and feel belong on this list?
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.