Pitch accent serves multiple duties (encoding lexical accent, syntactic structure, and focus) in spoken Japanese. This study investigates how listeners interpret a role-ambiguous pitch prominence surfacing as F0 rise, which could be a cue to the resolution of a syntactic ambiguity between two possible branching structures, or a signal of contrastive focus on the constituent accompanied by the rise. Two visual world paradigm experiments tested the same Japanese linguistic stimuli with and without pitch emphasis on the second word of structures of the following form: modifier + N1 + N2. In Experiment 1, the visual context suppressed the availability of the contrastive interpretation; in Experiment 2, the visual context made the contrastive interpretation available. We found that the same pitch event can be interpreted as both syntax-encoding and contrast-encoding information within the course of processing the same sentence, as long as contextual information is made visually available. When contrastive focus is pragmatically felicitous, it is computed immediately, as soon as the incoming input is accompanied by a notable pitch prominence (Experiment 2). The same prosodic cue can then be re-interpreted as a signal to syntax after the branching ambiguity is recognized due to subsequent input (Experiments 1 and 2). This is most consistent with the view that an initially assigned prosodic boundary is exploited for re-interpretation.