This may be a controversial title but please allow me to explain myself.
There have been a couple of times when I’ve been talking to Americans, who in general are ever so lovely people, and they have complemented me on my “excellent Japanese pronunciation”. Any good feeling I have at this moment is instantly countered by the follow-up comment “British people usually have such terrible Japanese accents”.
My internal reaction is “Say that again?” with a surprised look. Americans, who can barely speak English properly let alone Japanese, telling me this sends me up the wall. If this had only been said by one person I would have shrugged it off but I’ve had it said to me on no less than 3 occasions.
As someone who grew up watching anime, I have seen a fair few English dubs in my time. Most of these were produced in America (a lovely place) and as long as they stuck to normal English words everything sounded fine. However, as soon as Japanese words, names or places were uttered, things turned really unnatural. The way I’ve heard words like sakura, Shikoku and Tomoe mangled still sends a shiver down my spine. Ever heard the American dub of Dragon Ball? They can’t even get kame-hame-ha right.
I remember one time I was walking around Harajuku with another American friend (lovely bloke whose Japanese is miles better than mine) and he pulled me up on my pronunciation of the word “kanji”.
“Kanji?! Kanji?!”, he was saying, “It’s pronounced ‘khaan-ji’”.
At this point a kept my mouth shut, bowing to his superior Japanese ability but what I should have said was “か is pronounced ’ka’, you fool, not ‘kar’. I’m talking about chinese letters not about driving and certainly not about Star Trek characters.”
I have always considered the notion that British English (well Estuary English really) and Japanese pronunciation of vowel sounds are fairly similar. Many times have I listened Japanese podcasts warning me about pronouncing the Japanese word tomato as “tomato” and not “tomayto” with a shrug. The Japanese pronunciation of that small red fruit sounds far more English to me than the American pronunciation.
And maybe this is the problem, American English sounds a bit odd to me but to the same extent I’m sure British English sounds strange to our American cousins. So when we speak Japanese with a British twang it may sound odd to American ears and vice versa. I’m also sure that when any native English learner of Japanese tries to speak to a Japanese person they find our accents pretty odd. This has been confirmed by the amount of times I’ve tried to order a hamburger (sorry, hanbaagaa) at McDonald’s only to be given a blank stare by the guy serving me.