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I am an early 30s male with upper intermediate – advanced Japanese and I had some questions about the masculine voice. I do not use the common feminine words (かしら、statement〜なの、using my name in third person, etc.) and have been told I have very good standard/flat Japanese, which is good for both business meetings and casual conversation. I recently got told by a close bilingual friend (Japanese native) that my English way of talking sounds very masculine/ dominant (in a good way) but my Japanese voice sounds ‘too normal’. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t sound as masculine as it does in English.
I have searched for advice on this on the site but all of the results are saying things like :

verb stem+てえ (e.g バスケやりてー)

Which is very young or crude in my experience.

Or things like:

〜〜かい /  〜〜だい (e.g. そうかい?)

Which are very old and also weird for me to use (unless using it sarcastically).
There are many examples like this on the site but they aren't that common for 30s men to say, in my opinion. Maybe I am wrong.

I am trying to figure what a middle-aged Japanese man would do to sound masculine in everyday conversation.

My friend didn’t understand what makes someone sound masculine in Japanese, so she couldn’t give advice, but she could notice the difference. Do you have any advice for sounding more masculine/ dominant in Japanese? Are there any tips that you have noticed around word choice or speaking cadence?

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    I guess it boils down to making yourself sound slangy in the right way, which is very difficult for learners (as it is for English learners to use broken English naturally).
    – sundowner
    Jul 14 at 8:32
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    I can kind of imagine how you talk. I had a colleague whose parents were both Japanese and grew up in the US for 20+ yrs. He spoke Japanese completely naturally, but somewhat his Japanese was too correct/clean. Perhaps it could be called a little monotone, too. In other words, it was in a subtle way like NHK announcers or clerks in a bank. I think practically it is impossible to tell how to "break" the Japanese without getting too rude or being unnatural.
    – sundowner
    Jul 14 at 8:36

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For men it's a bit more acceptable to sound rude, and in some context it's expected. (In a circle of close friends consisting of only men of similar age, for example.) When middle-aged men talk "normally", they can be taken as well-mannered.

There are many various small things involved in the "rude" male talk. There are no simple rules. Examples that come to my mind:

  • end questions using -するか? instead of -する? (and of course not -しますか?)
  • say requests with してくれ instead of して, してほしい etc

Perhaps watching a few yakuza movies might give you an idea. (But they can overdo in terms of rudeness.)

That said, languages change and I think this "men can talk more rudely than women" thing in Japanese is less present in younger generations than people in their 50s or older. It's safer to be too polite than too rude. In that sense, I wouldn't worry about it too much.

Also, do you use a higher vocal range when speaking in Japanese? (I know I sometimes do this unconsciously when speaking in my second language.) If so, that can contribute to the impression of sounding less masculine.

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  • Thank you for the advice. I think that this does clear up a lot of doubt I have about sounding 'rude' as a middle-aged man when talking to people around me. I'll admit, I don't have a lot of middle-aged male friends that talk to me normally (outside of work), so maybe its a blindspot. I hear young people talk like anime yanki or yakuza to each other but I can't imagine a middle aged man talking like that. Would you have any recommendations of actors or youtubers that you think talk in a masculine (not too polite) way? Jul 15 at 1:04
  • Youtubers may talk casually, but not that casually in general. People maintain a certain level of politeness on camera (where they have strangers as listeners). I think you have a better chance with movies that depict close male to male interactions. Maybe something like Kurosawa's 用心棒? (It might not be a good example. My memory on this is very vague.) Jul 15 at 3:38
  • Yes, this was another issue that I had. I did actually learn to speak Japanese from youtube before. That might have been the problem. I asked some others and they said I should listen to interviews with 'cocky' actors/ musicians. Maybe that will help. Jul 15 at 22:07
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There are a lot of ways to make yourself sound more masculine but the key is to do so in subtle ways that match your personality. You don't want to suddenly transform into a Yankee or Yakuza overnight. So here are some more subtle approaches that can match a neutral personality:

  1. 1st-person pronoun: Use 僕 for most everyday speech (excluding formal situations) and if comfortable, 俺 around close friends and family
  2. More assertive sentence endings: Add 〜んだ to the ends of assertive sentences, か to the ends of direct questions, and feel free to remove の from the ends of sentences to make it sound less soft

彼は来ない(の)

彼は来ないんだ - sounds more assertive and masculine

これを使う?

これを使うか? - sounds more direct and masculine

昨日はどうしたの?

昨日はどうした? - sounds less soft, more masculine

  1. Try substituting ね with な more often:

それはすごいね

それはすごいな - sounds more gruff and masculine

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  • This is really helpful. Thank you! For the 〜〜したの? ---> 〜〜したか? type question, is it an upward inflection like with 〜〜の? When I say it in my head, it doesn't sound natural to use the upward inflection with 〜〜か Jul 19 at 2:51
  • Questions ending with 〜の are often asked with an upward inflection as you mentioned, which contributes to a softer and more feminine sound. But this isn't always the case after you drop the 〜の. My best advice is to listen to lots of audio of male speakers talking casually.
    – skywalker
    Jul 20 at 6:05

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