What is the difference between a mora and a syllable?

Moras, known as haku () in Japanese, are rhythmic units.[1] The Japanese writing system of kana is based on moras, placing one kana on each mora. These are subtly different from syllables. Japanese forms of poetry based on "syllable counts" such as haiku (俳句), poems with seventeen "syllables", are not really based on counts of syllables, but on counts of moras.

Moras are very similar to syllables, but there are some differences.

Similarly Tōkyō (東京) "Tokyo" and hanbun (半分), "half", can both be considered two-syllable but four-mora words.

Moras are counted as 1-paku, 2-haku, ... using haku () or 1-on, 2-on, ... using on (). See What is the counter for ...? for more on Japanese counting words.


This answer is based on a newsgroup post by muchan.


  1. David Crystal, A Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics, page 312.; 2008

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