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How did “little tsu” become a lengthener?

On Wikipedia and elsewhere, Japan is written like so: Nippon ( にっぽん ).

What is that tsu doing in there? Why isn't it represented in the romaji rendering of the name?

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    This time, the question is well written, and makes sense as a question, but is too basic. It is something that you should learn in the first few pages of a textbook about Japanese. There is nothing tricky or exceptional in your question. Your approach of tyring to use this website for learning Japanese entirely from the beginning is essentially wrong.
    – user458
    Jul 24, 2012 at 7:06
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    I meant your approach of trying to use this website as a substitute for a textbook is wrong.
    – user458
    Jul 24, 2012 at 7:14
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    Pro tip: Next time share the research that you've already done to try and answer your question. This is one of the points SE sites try to encourage.
    – Chris
    Jul 24, 2012 at 7:15
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    @Chris I did not know what to call the little tsu, so I did not know how to search for it. Jul 24, 2012 at 18:22
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    @Aerovistae Despite what the other comments say, I must say that I think that there's nothing wrong with using websites to learn Japanese (as long as you're not trying to be a translator or a foreign businessman...), these websites are made for people to grasp the basics of the language in an easy to understand way. But those websites really did just make a huuuuge oversight on one of the very basics of Japanese kana. Don't distrust them entirely, they may be good otherwise, but they really messed up there. Don't be afraid to ask any questions, they're not basic to you, after all :) Aug 11, 2012 at 16:04

2 Answers 2


The つ character you're talking about is commonly referred to as "little つ" and looks like っ. This characters is not actually pronounced, but rather it means to take a small pause.

In the case of にっぽん, instead of pronouncing it as "nitsupon", you would be pronouncing it like "ni [small pause] pon" which is romanised as "nippon" which has a natural pause between the two 'p's.

But like sawa said in a comment, this is a very basic thing in Japanese and you would have learnt this from a textbook's first chapter.

For a more complete explanation though, you can visit the wikipedia page on it.

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    Small quibbling (and really, we shouldn't have to be explaining the pronunciation of basic kana here), but "ni [small pause] pon" would rather be "にーぽん"... a slightly closer description would be "nip [small pause] pon".
    – Dave
    Jul 24, 2012 at 8:18
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    @Dave: Long quibbling: :) I think that you are right in that the end of the syllable に in word にっぽん is slightly different from the end of the syllable に in e.g. the sentence-end case. But because the most prominent audible part of consonant [p] is the burst of airflow, 小太郎’s notation “ni [small pause] pon” is quite an accurate description of the actual sound. On the other hand, your notation “nip [small pause] pon” reflects better how a speaker makes this sound. The process of producing the [p] sound starts before the pause: you block the airflow by your lips before the pause. Jul 24, 2012 at 11:51
  • @Dave: that's a good way of putting it. When teaching beginning Japanese students how to pronounce a small っ, I tell them to just pronounce the romaji letter twice.
    – istrasci
    Jul 26, 2012 at 15:01

On Wikipedia and elsewhere, Japan is written like so: Nippon ( にっぽん ). What is that tsu doing in there?

The chiisai-tsu (small tsu) should be covered by any basic hiragana book, a good alternative is wikipedia's hiragana article. From the writing section:

A small tsu っ, called a sokuon, indicates that the following consonant is geminated (doubled). For example, compare さか saka "hill" with さっか sakka "author". It also sometimes appears at the end of utterances, where it denotes a glottal stop, as in いてっ! ([iteʔ] Ouch!). However, it cannot be used to double the na, ni, nu, ne, no syllables' consonants – to double them, the singular n (ん) is added in front of the syllable.

"Doubled consonant" is probably not the most straightforward way to describe it, but in general you can think of a sokuon introducing a slight pause before continuing with the next kana sound.

Why isn't it represented in the romaji rendering of the name?

It actually is, that's what the doubled 'pp' represents in that particular romaji system. The various romaji systems are often contradictory with each other, but most of them use this doubling-consonant system to represent a っ.

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