Three Japanese Train Station Names That Even Native Speakers Find Hard

Three Japanese Train Station Names That Even Native Speakers Find Hard

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Hard to pronounce train stations in East Japan
Pictures: Various / PIXTA(ピクスタ)
Having a hard time pronouncing these train station names in Japanese? Don't worry - most native speakers didn't get them right, either!

For those of us coming at it from a Western language, Japanese can be tough. Perhaps no element is harder than proper names. But did you know that there are place names that even native speakers of the language stumble over?

Here are three of the hardest train station names in Eastern Japan that even native Japanese speakers stumble over. Did they vex you as well – or are you a kanji master?

What’s in a name? Who knows?

For me, proper names are one of the most frustrating parts of Japanese. I’ve gotten better at them as my grasp of the language has evolved. (Lots of reading helps.) But still, on occasion, I’ll stumble across one that leaves me guessing.

Thankfully, it seems I’m not the only one.

Kanji have numerous readings that are generally broken down into on-yomi, based on original Chinese pronunciations; and kun-yomi, or Japanese pronunciations. A lot of the time, you can take an educated stab at an unknown place name if you know its kanji readings.

But that’s not always the case. Sometimes, place name kanji will use rare or unexpected pronunciations. Or pronunciations have been shortened or changed for one reason or another.

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The other wrinkle is the crossover between Japanese and native languages. Some place names in Hokkaido and Okinawa, for example, are taken from the Ainu and Ryukuan languages, respectively, their pronunciation laid over a representative set of kanji.

That leads to some interesting place names that aren’t obvious at first glance. An example from Okinawa would be 勢理客, which looks like it’d be pronounced something like seirikyaku (せいりきゃく) but is pronounced jicchaku (じっちゃく). An example from Hokkaido is 留萌市 (rumoi-shi), derived from the Ainu word rurumoppe.

The top three vexing station names

So it is that the evolution of Japanese over centuries leads to some…interesting names that sometimes even leave native speakers scratching their heads.

Last year, the site Seikatsu Guide (Lifestyle Guide) asked its own employees whether they could name some of the trickier station names that exist in East Japan. They reported their results along with a tabulation of how many people could pronounce them correctly.

The site also broke down the pronunciation difficulties by age and gender. In general, women got the readings right more often than men, proving once again that women are indeed the superior gender. In terms of age, people in their 40s and 50s tended to have the most difficulties pronouncing these puzzlers. (Joking aside, both stats may simply reflect the prevalence of middle-aged men in Seikatsu Guide’s office makeup.)

Here are the top three brain-breakers, along with employee’s answer rates plus some details from Seikatsu Guide about each station stop’s local charms.

Number 3: 及位駅

Answer Rate: 20.4%

Nozoki Station (及位駅)

You’ll need to rise the Ouuhonsen out through Mamurogawa in Yamagata Prefecture to find Nozoki Station.

Where does the town name come from? No one really knows. The most compelling answer is that it comes from an ascetic practice at a nearby mountain temple of meditating while staring into (覗き込む; nozokikomu) the cliff precipices.

Number 2: 打保駅

Answer Rate: 19.8%

Utsubo Station (打保駅)

Next up on the list is a stop on the Takayamahonsen out near Hida in Gifu Prefecture: Utsubo Station. This is likely the only station name you’d be most likely to figure out yourself, although I surmise most people would guess “Uchibo” first.

Utsobo is one of Japan’s 2,190 or so fully unmanned stations. The station is known primarily for its rounded dome-top roof and the snow shelter covering its rail switch.

Number 1: 飯給駅

Answer Rate: 18.7%

Itabu Station (飯給駅)

Number 1 on the list takes us to Chiba Prefecture and the city of Ishihara. Itabu Station, served by the Kominato Rail Company, reputedly gets its name from when locals offered (給) food (飯) to the troops of the legendary Prince Yamatokakeru as they passed by on their way to subjugate the non-Yamato people of Japan.

The big attraction at Itabu Station? A toilet. Artist Fujimoto Sosuke’s “glass toilet”, officially called “Toilet in Nature”, sits at the end of a little walkway on the station’s grounds. Good news? It apparently has curtains for privacy. Bad news? It’s a women-only outhouse. (Sorry, guys.)

Glass toilet near Itabu Station

Itabu is the 14th station on the line operated by Kominato, which has provided train service to the region since 1917.

The 10 Hardest “Kira Kira” Japanese Names to Pronounce

Sources

難読駅ランキング 東日本編. Seikatsu Guide

【駅名】難読駅ランキング東日本編TOP10! 1位は「飯給駅」【2021年調査結果】. Netlab

保栄茂・勢理客… 読み方難しい地名、沖縄になぜ?Nikkei

【漢字】地元民しか読めない!?「難しい地名」47選【都道府県】. Classy.

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Jay Allen

Jay is a resident of Tokyo where he works as a reporter for Unseen Japan and as a technial writer. A lifelong geek, wordsmith, and language fanatic, he has level N1 certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) and is fervently working on his Kanji Kentei Level 2 certification.

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