I was a big fan of Street Fighter II back in the 90s, and one of my fond memories of it was being confused by how to pronounce different names and words in the game. I wasn’t alone though, and one in particular that has consistently stumped players outside of Japan is “Ryu”.
Many players feel it should be pronounced one way, while others say, “No, no, it should be pronounced THIS way.” And other people have yet other pronunciations of their own. So, at the risk of adding to the confusion, let’s take a quick look at Ryu’s name and try to get to the bottom of it once and for all!
First, Ryu’s name is spelled リュウ in Japanese. It can sometimes be spelled りゅう too, which is basically the same thing.
One of the really nice things about the Japanese language is that anything written in kana like this only has one possible pronunciation! There’s no ambiguity or anything at all when spelling things in kana – it makes me wonder if Japanese schools even have our style of spelling tests at all. (I know they have kanji tests, but that’s a different story for another time…)
Anyway, when spelled in English, リュウ becomes something like “Ryu” or “Ryuu”, depending on your preference. The problem with this is that “y” in English can be either a consonant or a vowel, while in Japanese it’s almost ALWAYS a consonant. So here’s what this means:
- Ryu doesn’t rhyme with “die, you”
- Ryu isn’t pronounced “roo” – the “y” isn’t silent
- Ryu isn’t pronounced “ree-uh”, the “u” is pronounced “ooh”
If you ever enroll in a Japanese class, you’ll probably learn how to pronounce this name within the very first day – pronunciation rules are that simple and set in stone. Here are some native speakers saying it out loud for reference:
I guess the easy, cheat-sheet way to say his name is “ree-ooh”. It’s just an approximation, but if you were to say that to a Japanese speaker who knew Street Fighter stuff, they’d almost certainly know who you’re talking about.
But if you want to get closer to the proper pronunciation, say “ree-yooh” but with the “ee” part shortened. Listen to the voice clips above for some guidance too.
Actually, you know the “shoryuken” technique in the game? Just say the “ryu” part and there you go! I actually always wondered if it was a coincidence that “ryu” and “ken” were both in that attack name, since both Ryu and Ken can use it. I stopped playing after Turbo II, although I played some of IV a while back, so I’m not really caught up on my Street Fighter lore. I can’t remember how the movie pronounced it either, but I don’t really want to go watch it again to find out 😯
Anyway, hopefully that explains things a little bit! I’m sure some players have their preferred pronunciation they’ll always stick by, and maybe some localized versions of some Street Fighter games might use different pronunciations, but at the very least this is how Ryu’s name was originally meant to be pronounced and how it’s pronounced in Japan.
In the end, getting the wrong pronunciation isn’t a huge deal anyway, though – people often mispronounce or misspell my name, for example, but as long as the intention is clear that’s what really matters!