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I have been researching many various sites regarding advice for how to properly write lyrics in Japanese.

Some say that you just write what you want; not even syllabic structure is needed.

On the other hand, I've seen documentation speaking meticulously on the specific ways Japanese lyrics should be written. It even goes in to a more mathematical, calculating way to view how to write words for Japanese songs.

I wonder if the latter is old-fashioned/customary method compared to a more modern, contemporary method.

Any help, opinion or further advice on this matter would be very appreciated.

  • Just for clarification these are Japanese lyrics written by people who can speak / write Japanese to what extent? (not at all, barely, intermediate learner, advanced learner, fluent, near-native, native) – virmaior Feb 7 '14 at 23:56
  • I'd probably have to say Intermediate and up. – Aurura Feb 8 '14 at 6:33
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    If you're taking advice from the site you link in your post, it includes a factually incorrect claim that Japanese words do not have intonations (though they are not emphasized in teaching in the US). Is your goal to translate songs or to write your own? If writing your own, I don't have the slightest clue how one would do that until one is fluent enough to ask that of people in Japanese. For translating to Japanese, the problems are similarly difficult. – virmaior Feb 8 '14 at 13:59
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    Also, it is very wrong to say that you can ignore Japanese pitch accent when writing lyrics. You don't want to, say, end a huge crescendo with ですーーーー unless you want some comical effect. – ithisa Feb 8 '14 at 15:20
  • Thanks so much for your replies ^_^ I intend to write my own lyrics. I am sort of Intermediate in my Japanese language learning. I have learned that emphasis on certain parts of Japanese vocabulary is taken when it is spoken - I must admit, though, I don't hear the same type of emphasis when the same words are sung. I've heard words sung several different ways in several different songs as well. There are many various ones, so I can't give a specific example at this time. I suppose that as long as I put melodic emphasis on the same syllables of words as how their spoken, I'll be safe? – Aurura Feb 9 '14 at 1:05
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One thing that struck me quite vividly when I first started to listen to Japanese lyrics is the near-ubiquity of mora-rhythm correspondence. You have probably already noticed, but compared to English, syllables and vowel/consonant combinations are broken or skipped much less often. I won't say you can't (especially in hip-hop), but it seems to be avoided.

Most unintuitive (for English native speakers, probably) is the case of ん. "なんだ" takes up three syllables' worth in the majority of songs I have heard over the years). Similarly for っ: typically the previous mora is lengthened (it's not really possible to sing a stop) to preserve intelligibility.

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    「っ」 is usually not a glottal stop. A "glottal stop" is when you stop sound entirely using the glottis (as in the English "uh-oh"). In Japanese, 「っ」 before /k g t d b p/ is a stop, but not glottal; 「っ」 before /s z h/ is not a stop at all (the sound isn't entirely stopped by any part of the vocal tract). You'd usually only pronounce 「っ」 as a glottal stop utterance initially or finally (as in 「あっ!」). – snailcar Feb 16 '14 at 2:44
  • Whoops. Phonology is not my thing for sure; I'll cut that out. – bright-star Feb 16 '14 at 5:15
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From the Japanese songs I've listened to, I belive that you do not need to be that careful about the number of kanas in a line. You can always do two things:

  1. Sing the lyrics kana-by-kana or "the ordinary way". For example, 階段{かいだん} could be sung as either just kai-dan or ka-i-da-n. The former would be 2 syllables and the latter would be 4 syllables.
  2. Give "unorthodox" furigana to words. I'll illustrate this by an example, which is from Morning Musume's 「時空{とき}を超え 宇宙{そら}を超え」:

時空{とき}を超え 宇宙{そら}を超え 結ばれる頃には

この地球{ほし}は きれいになるかな

Note that 時空, 宇宙 and 地球 are usually pronounced じくう, うちゅう and ちきゅう, respectively, while とき, そら and ほし are respectively 時, 空 and 星. However, the songwriter may assign to words whatever reading they desire, even if it is not a valid reading of the word.

Sometimes this is used for special effect, but sometimes it's probably just to fit the number of syllables, such as this line in AKB48's 「桜の花びらたち」:

その背中に 夢の翼{はね}が 生えてる

I don't really see a reason why 翼 is not pronounced つばさ as it usually is, besides that the syllables would not fit...

Of course, if you are writing enka, you might need to be more careful about the number of syllables. But I suppose you are not into that, so you don't have to get mathematical about the number of syllables.

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