I have read on Wikipedia that the Iroha poem has a modern version with updated hiragana and stuff.

However, it seems that most times people recite the poem (as in, every time I've seen/heard someone recite it), they use the old pronunciation.

If it so happens that I am called upon to recite Iroha, should I use the old or new pronunciation?

As a related side question: if I want to refer to the poem by name, should I call it "i ro wa" by the modern pronunciation, or "i ro ha" by the old pronunciation?

Edit: To clarify: old as in "iro ha nihoheto", new as in "iro wa nioedo".

  • 1
    Depends on what you mean by 'old pronunciation' and 'new pronunciation' - I'd interpret 'old' to mean 'following old kanadzukai rules' (thus 'iro wa nioedo') and 'new' to mean 'reading the kana as written' (thus 'iro ha nihoheto'). I'd go farther and say the real 'old' pronunciation would be more like 'iro wa niwoyendo' :P
    – Sjiveru
    Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 4:43
  • I'm afraid I still can't get what is meant by "Iroha poem has a modern version with updated hiragana and stuff". It sounds like totally different thing than the rest of your question. Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 17:04
  • The Wikipedia lists an archaic and modern transliteration. The old version doesn't have voiced consonants, and has some obsolete hiragana or pronunciations, which are changed in the "modern" transliteration. As an example, the first line of the "archaic/old" version reads "iro ha nihoheto", while the respective "modern/new" version reads "iro wa nioedo". Commented Jan 16, 2015 at 1:26

1 Answer 1


Actually, what you mentioned are not old and new pronunciations. Both are contemporary ones.

The "irohanihoheto..." is reading its letter names, while "irowa nioedo..." one, as a meaningful poem. The difference is much clearer if you try the same thing in English alphabet, say, "Cwm fjord bank glyphs vext quiz." (a perfect pangram from Wikipedia), where "iroha..." corresponds to "see-dublyoo-em-..." reading, and "irowa..." is "koom-fyord-...".

Each letter in Japanese syllabary was supposed to have the same reading as the syllable itself when it was created, but due to a series of phonological changes, the grammatically valid reading no longer matches the alphabetical one. As for lack of voiced consonants, it's said that today's voiced consonants are remnants of prenasalized sounds in Classical era, which they had no means to transcribe at that time.

The real "archaic" pronunciation around the 11th century would be like:

Irofa nifofendo tirinuruwo
Wanga yo tarenjo tunenaramu
Uwino okuyama kefu ko(y)ete
Ashaki yume mishi wefimo shenju

There are also some fun videos reading the Tale of Genji in Classical pronunciation.

What your "a modern version with updated hiragana" reminded me of was this (incorporating ん):

とりなくこゑす ゆめさませ
みよあけわたる ひんかしを
そらいろはえて おきつへに
ほふねむれゐぬ もやのうち

Which won the 1st prize of the "new pangram" contest held by a newspaper in 1903.


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