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staving Lars Finsen:
> Having just watched a film about the great Hokusai, it strikes me that
> his name is pronounced something like /hoksai/. No trace of the middle
> vowel there to be heard, not even the slightest remnant of a schwa. Is
> this phenomenon prevalent in other Japanese words, and do we have any
> information of the histories of such vowels? I believe I have heard
> something similar happening with final vowels in words like wakarimasu.
> Is it always the u? U's in other positions, like Ueda or Sugimori, seem
> to survive.
>

There is a tendency for high vowels to become de-voiced or muted between 
voiceless consonants, or between a voiceless consonant and the end of 
the word. Therefore, hajimemashite (begin-polite.past) "May I introduce 
myself?" might be pronounced

[hajimemaSi_0te] or [hajimemaSte]

Pete