This might be a bit weird, but when I listen to Japanese music, sometimes I notice "r"-like sounds in syllable-final positions, or between vowels where there should be no [r]. I know that /r/ is not allowed in a syllable-final or word-final position, so I'm trying to figure out what exactly I'm hearing in these songs. If there really is an [r] sound in these positions, why is it legal?

I've tried searching for information on Japanese dialects and allophonic variation, since I thought that's what it would be related to, but I can't find anything that seems related. I mostly find things about language acquisition, like native Japanese speakers learning English, or vice versa, and generally concerning syllable-initial [l/r]. My only guess is that what I hear is nasalisation that I'm interpreting as rhotacisation due to my own dialect, but the vowels I hear rhotacised aren't always connected to nasal consonants or anything, so I'm left wondering why they would be nasalised...

The first example that comes to mind is in the song "Smile Ichiban Ii Onna" by An Cafe, right around 3:28, where I hear a very distinct [r] at the end of 「たいよう」. Immediately followed by 「さ」:


The other example is from a band called 摩天楼オペラ. The singer's pronunciation is often rhotic to my ears. The first line of this song is 「どれだけの善意が どれだけの悪意が この地上にへばりついてる」, but when he sings 「善意」(ぜんい) it sounds like he's replacing the ん with a schwar or something similar. And when he sings 「悪意」(あくい) I hear an [r] inserted between the く and い. As the song goes on, I continue to hear rhoticisation in various vowels, but not as remarkably...


Sorry if this question isn't as detailed/focused as it should be. It's just something strange I noticed and can't seem to find anything about.

**Possibly relevant information: The other day, I happened upon a pinyin pronunciation chart, and noticed another vowel sound that sounds rhotic, but technically isn't (probably). Obviously, this is a completely different language, but it made me remember my long-time question here. In the first paragraph below the chart itself, it talks about the difference between production of the "sh" and "x" sounds. And while I can't hear the difference between these consonant sounds themselves, they drastically change the following vowel. Specifically, the "x" makes the following vowel sound rhotacised to my ears.... but that's as far as I can get with it. Having my tongue in such a low position (for "x" production) lowers the following vowel production as well, and also seems to prevent my lips from rounding or stretching to the same degree as when producing my normal "sh" sound... But again, I don't notice anything that would cause a similar lowering effect in all of my examples...

I also realised looking back that I didn't include the very first example of this I heard: Miyavi's "Jibun Kakumei." I don't hear it anywhere else in the song except in the word 「言葉」, which sounds like "kerterba" to me. It's softer than the other examples, the [o] sound has become like the German "ö," or [œ] in IPA...

  • Are you a British / Oz/NZ / South African English speaker? It does sound to me like those vowels you picked out are unusually nasal (though not phonemically, it's just randomness / singing style); and ん before vowels or fricatives often comes out as a -very- nasalised central(ish) vowel.
    – Sjiveru
    Mar 15, 2015 at 3:12
  • Ahh, sorry, I'm American (somewhat southern). I thought I included that, but obviously not.
    – kitukwfyer
    Mar 15, 2015 at 3:21
  • 1
    I don't hear a rhotic. In the case of あくい you might be hearing some kind of glide, maybe [ɰ]?
    – Zhen Lin
    Mar 15, 2015 at 10:10
  • It sounds う, not [r] to me.
    – user4092
    Mar 16, 2015 at 6:49
  • 2
    You said you hear this sound when you "listen to Japanese music" but do you only listen to rock? The sound you describe is prevalent in rock music because it is thought to sound cool. Extending the ends of words with a drawl that borders on an r sound at times. I always thought it came from a similar phenomenon heard in American hard rock and metal, e.g., "off to never never landaaah" of Metallica's Enter Sandman. And you said of one of your examples that you "hear a very distinct [r] at the end of 「たいよう」." I can pretty much guarantee you that is nonexistent to the Japanese ear.
    – By137
    Dec 1, 2015 at 18:15

2 Answers 2


To me, the singer's tongue is moving backward, and his throat has tension for "vibrato" in the first one and in the second one. And, I guess this makes you hear the r sound, something like French R.

French R is difficult for Japanese to hear. I think it is not nasalised because Japanese can hear syllable-final nasalised sound.

It is said that Arabic only has three vowels [a,i,u], but I found a lot of other vowels when they used their throat to pronounce. I think they are pretty similar. A phone and a phoneme are different, and phonemes depend on a language.


I used to listen to An Cafe too. He makes the same stylized glottal sound where the glottal stops are. I think he ends in a glottal stop type of stylization. I used to talk with my Korean friend, that it sounds like he's "shredding" through the vowels. Like a guitar. If that makes sense.

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