Similarities Between Māori and Japanese

September is the Māori Language Month in New Zealand.

One of the things that I am really fascinated about the Māori language is its similarities with my first language, Japanese.

Even though I am well aware that the Māori language took a very different journey from Japanese, I sometimes wonder if the two languages somehow interacted with each other a long, long time ago.

The vowels (a, e, i, o, u) are practically identical though some of the Māori diphthongs (combinations of two vowels) can be tricky for Japanese speakers to pronounce.

The Māori consonants are very similar to Japanese, too, except for a few sounds such as the nasal ‘ng’ and ‘wh’ that is pronounced like the English ‘f’.

Some of the vocabulary are very similar as well as you can see in the table below:

Ana (cave)Ana (あな): hole; “hora-ana”is a cave
Kōura (crayfish)Koura (こうら): shell of a crayfish, crab, etc.
Tuki (to ram, bump, crash into)Tsuki (つき; 突き): to ram, poke, etc.
*The standard form is ‘tsuku’ (つく; 突く)
Puku (stomach)Puku: stomach in expressions such as man-puku (まんぷく; 満腹: full stomach)
Kura (tank, container)Kura (くら; 蔵): storehouse
Awa (river)Kawa (かわ; 川): river
Tokotoko (cane, to walk with a stick)Tokotoko (とことこ): onomatopoeia for the sound of walking fast in short steps
Pakipaki (to clap)Pachipachi (パチパチ): onomatopoeia for the clapping sound
Ika (fish)Ika (いか; squid)

Finally, I stumbled upon this article by the Asia Media Centre yesterday. I wanted to share it with you as it was a great read.

According to the Perceptions of Asia and Asian Peoples from a Te Ao Māori Perspective survey, “Japan was seen as the country that shared the most culturally similar views and values to Māori”.

No wonder I feel at home in Aotearoa!

9 thoughts on “Similarities Between Māori and Japanese

  1. What a fun post! I love learning new words and about culture. I love the onomatopoeia ones! Great sounds! Fascinating essay about similarities of Maori and Japan, too. Respect for elders and community, performing arts…. what every society needs! Keep up the good work showing us how!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comment, Sydney!!! Yes, languages are so fascinating!!! I really love the way a lot of Maori sounds repeat twice like tekoteko, pukapuka, hirahira, etc. like Japanese onomatopoeia. I agree! Respect for elders, ancestors, and nature; community; and arts- are probably the keys to a better world!!!


  2. This is absolutely fascinating Eishi, I had no idea about the linguistic similarities. Yes I wonder too if Māori or the ancestors of Māori long ago in Taiwan ever came into contact with the Japanese and so they have these similar words… that would be amazing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your comment!!! I’d never known myself before coming to Aotearoa!!! On Day 1 here, I pronounced “Karangahape Rd” really well without knowing a word of Māori and surprised my Kiwi roommate 😃 I just read it in the romaji way. So that means a Māori speaker would pronounce Japanese really well, too!!! I have a feeling that there might’ve been some kind of interactions a long time ago. My grandma was born and raised in Taiwan, by the way!


      1. Yes….I see what you mean with Māori and Japanese pronunciation, as many words sound similar in both languages. Your friend would have been well impressed by the correct pronunciation. Interesting you have family from Taiwan I taught English there for a little while, they are the most friendly and easy-going people and I really liked that place. I would definitely go back

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Kandeeban Ayyathurai

    Hi from a Tamil speaker in South India 🙂 !
    I was just going through some names of NZ towns in wiki and somehow had a brainwave that some of these look similar to Japanese names. FYI, im conversant neither in any Maori language nor Japanese and am just a casual observer. It just occurred to me and started searching around, and found this blog 🙂

    Just a point of interest. There was a Tamil bell found in New Zealand long ago

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great to hear from you, Kandeeban!!!

      That’s amazing you noticed the similarities between the two languages even though you speak neither Japanese nor Maori!!! The Maori pronunciation was very intuitive to me as a Japanese speaker, and some words are very similar or familiar.

      I didn’t know about the Tamil bell found here! That sounds so fascinating!!! I will have to look into it. A lot of Indian people migrated to Pacific islands from early on (like Fiji), so I wonder if they also reached here a long time ago as well.


  4. Pingback: 10 Interesting things I Found on the Internet This Week #17 – Content Catnip

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