Japanese Onomatopoeia

1 Mar

Do you know what “omomatopoeia” means?

I’m a native English speaker, but I’ve never heard that word in English before…and it looks hard to even pronounce!
(Can you read Japanese? The pronunciation of “omomatopoeia” is 「オノマトペ」).

An “onomatopoeia” is, according to the dictionary:

A word, such as ‘cuckoo’ or ‘boom’, formed by imitation of a sound made by or associated with its referent.

In Japanese, it’s 擬声語.

I didn’t know the word in English…but I do know what 擬声語 (“onomatopoeia“) are. I use them often in Japanese.
Perhaps more than in any other language, 擬声語 (“onomatopoeia“) are used alot in Japanese.

Even when different languages have 擬声語 (“onomatopoeia“) for the same meaning, they are usually quite different in different languages.
For example, the 擬声語 (“onomatopoeia“) for a dog’s bark is
Bow-wow” in English,
but it’s 「ワンワン」 (“Wan-wan“) in Japanese.
In Korean, it’s “Mon-mon“, and it’s “Gaf-gaf” in Russian.

Here are a few more of the countless Japanese 擬声語 (“onomatopoeia“):

  • 「パクパク」 (Paku-paku)…means “Eating; chewing” (the video-game “Pac-man” comes from this term.),
  • 「ケロケロ」 (Kero-kero)…means “Ribbit” (a frog croaking),
  • 「ブーブー」 (Buu-buu)…means “Oink oink” (a pig’s grunt),
  • 「ニコニコ」 (Niko-niko)…means “Cheerful“,
  • 「ワクワク」 (Waku-waku)…means “Excited“,
  • 「ドキドキ」 (Doki-doki)…means “Excited“,
  • 「ジロジロ」 (Jiro-jiro)…means “Stare at someone“,
  • 「ドンドン」 (Don-don)…means “the beating of drum“,
  • 団々」 (Dan-dan)…means “Gradually“,
  • 「ベタベタ」 (Beta-beta)…means “Sticky“,
  • 別々」 (Betsu-betsu)…means “Seperately“,
  • 「ガラガラ」 (Gara-gara)…means “Clattering“,
  • 「ギリギリ」 (Giri-giri)…means “Just barely“,
  • 「グルグル」 (Guru-guru)…means “Spinning; revolving“,
  • 色々」 (Iro-iro)…means “Various“, and
  • 「ペラペラ」 (Pera-pera)…means “Fluent; talkative“.

There are many more Japanese 擬声語 (“onomatopoeia“). They are used alot in casual Japanese.

Do you know any Japanese 擬声語 (“onomatopoeia“)? What are some in you native language?

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78 Responses to “Japanese Onomatopoeia”

  1. Andrew Robbins February 18, 2016 at 4:20 pm #

    Hey there! Great blog post. I’m also interested in Japanese 擬音語 and 擬態語 so I’ve started a website to help people learn about them. Please check it out!

    Onomato Project: onomatoproject.com.

    Liked by 1 person

    • tokyo5 February 19, 2016 at 9:56 am #

      Thank you. That’s a great website!

      Like

      • Andrew Robbins February 19, 2016 at 11:39 am #

        🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • tokyo5 February 19, 2016 at 11:44 am #

        Do you live in Japan?

        Like

      • Andrew Robbins February 19, 2016 at 11:46 am #

        Yes indeed, but I’m down in Kyoto. I’ve been here for around a decade.

        Liked by 1 person

      • tokyo5 February 19, 2016 at 12:04 pm #

        I have lived here (in Japan) longer now than I lived in America!
        How long do you plan to stay in Japan? What country are you from?

        Like

      • Andrew Robbins February 20, 2016 at 12:15 am #

        > I have lived here (in Japan) longer now than I lived in America!

        Hah, you’ve earned your stripes.

        > What country are you from?

        I’m from D.C., myself.

        > How long do you plan to stay in Japan?

        Mind if I email you directly? (^_-)

        Like

      • tokyo5 February 20, 2016 at 6:04 pm #

        >I’m from D.C., myself.

        Oh, I’ve never been to Washington D.C.!

        >Mind if I email you directly?

        Sure. You can e-mail me with this form.

        Like

  2. tirmaa May 10, 2013 at 2:27 pm #

    Thanks for the information !! Liked that guru guru !! ^_^

    Like

    • tokyo5 May 10, 2013 at 2:45 pm #

      You like it? Just the way it sounds, you mean?

      Like

  3. Glazier-Chan! February 7, 2013 at 1:10 am #

    Is ふぇわ-ふぇわ one for fluffy? I could be wrong. English is my first tounge, I’m studying Japanese. Slowly but surely.

    Like

    • tokyo5 February 7, 2013 at 7:37 am #

      Close. “Fluffy” is 「フワフワ」(“Fuwa-fuwa”) in Japanese.

      What country are you from?
      Where do you study Japanese? In school?
      How long have you been learning it?

      Like

      • Glazier-Chan! February 7, 2013 at 9:18 pm #

        I live in America, and started studying Japanese this summer on my own. (I wish they offered it in my school.) I don’t know much vocabulary yet

        Like

      • tokyo5 February 8, 2013 at 12:35 am #

        How do you study? With a book? The internet?

        What kind of school are you a student at? College? High-school?

        Like

      • Glazier-Chan! February 8, 2013 at 1:26 am #

        I study using 2 different apps, they help me a lot. I also have a Japanese dictionary app that helps me with vocabulary. I struggle with learning kanji.
        I am currently a high school student but in the fall I’ll be going to an art college. (:

        Like

      • tokyo5 February 8, 2013 at 7:29 am #

        Maybe the college that you’re going to attend offers Japanese language classes.

        Like

      • Glazier-Chan! February 9, 2013 at 10:37 pm #

        Maybe (:

        Like

      • tokyo5 February 10, 2013 at 9:10 am #

        You should take it, if they offer it.

        Why did you decide to study Japanese?

        Like

      • Glazier-Chan! February 10, 2013 at 12:29 pm #

        Well, ever since I was little I’ve loved traditional Japanese music, and felt a connection to the Asian culture.
        But my desires to study the language didn’t start until I became J rock (more specificly, visual kei) obsessed. It’s my favorite genre of music, so since they speak japanese, it inspired me to learn the language. I want to be able to go to Japan and meet some J rockers (:

        Like

      • tokyo5 February 10, 2013 at 7:38 pm #

        What type of traditional Japanese music did you listen to?

        Like

      • Glazier-chan! February 22, 2013 at 2:43 am #

        I’d just go to YouTube and type in “traditional Japanese music” and listened to whatever popped up. It’s very relaxing and great to meditate to (:

        Like

      • tokyo5 February 22, 2013 at 7:25 am #

        >very relaxing

        I guess you haven’t listened to enka then!

        😉

        Like

  4. Dusk January 5, 2013 at 1:37 am #

    This is really interesting. But, it’s been bugging me for awhile, what’s the logic behind having a sound effect for staring? Eyes don’t make perceptible noise; I know, I’ve tried.

    Like

    • tokyo5 January 5, 2013 at 10:38 am #

      Japanese 擬声語 not only represent sound-effects… so I guess I should say that they can be both onomatopoeia and ideophones.

      For example, キラキラ (kira-kira) means “sparkly” or “shiny”… or some people might use the ideophone in English “bling-bling” (though I wouldn’t 😉 )

      Like

  5. nooneofanyimport December 12, 2012 at 6:04 am #

    ah ha! the “kero kero kero!” in the Sargeant Frog song means ribbit! Thanks for the info, very helpful and interesting.

    Like

    • tokyo5 December 12, 2012 at 7:26 am #

      I glad my blog was useful.

      The name of that Japanese アニメ (anime cartoon) and lead character is actually 「ケロロ軍曹」… which is actually “Sgt. Keroro”– making “Ribbit” sound kinda like a boy’s name.
      Kinda difficult to translate a play-on-words, so I guess they just went with “Sgt. Frog” for overseas audiences.

      Like

  6. wan alit October 29, 2012 at 2:58 pm #

    i am sorry, i want to ask about paku-paku, pakuri, pakkun, gatsu-gatsu, mogu-mogu and mori-mori in taberu onomatope,,, can u tell me about thats

    Like

    • tokyo5 October 29, 2012 at 4:59 pm #

      Those are all pretty similar.
      How do you know about those?

      I’ll try to translate them:

      >paku-paku

      “Pac-Man” is named after this.
      It’s “chomp chomp”.

      >pakuri

      The sound for one big bite.

      >pakkun

      Swallow whole or in one gulp.

      >gatsu-gatsu

      To eat real fast when one feels ravenous.

      >mogu-mogu

      Chewing

      >mori-mori

      Eat a lot.

      I believe that’s right.

      Like

  7. Grace September 8, 2012 at 12:11 am #

    Thanks ^ u ^

    Like

    • tokyo5 September 8, 2012 at 12:34 am #

      And, thank you for visiting my blog.

      Like

  8. Grace September 4, 2012 at 10:50 pm #

    Yeah as I thought. I told her that there wasn’t a translation so we just went with Zugyan etc.
    Thanks anyway 🙂

    Like

    • tokyo5 September 4, 2012 at 11:32 pm #

      Are you translating for work? As a hobby?

      Like

      • Grace September 5, 2012 at 12:06 am #

        Oh it’s just a hobby for me since I have only taught myself (but it would be nice if I could learn some more and do something with this skill) and of course I haven’t fully grasped Japanese but my friend has a major in Asian Studies and is aiming to be a Japanese translator in the near future.

        Like

      • tokyo5 September 5, 2012 at 7:26 am #

        Well, good luck. I wish you both success with your dream.

        Like

  9. Grace September 4, 2012 at 1:41 am #

    Hi 🙂 Would anyone happen to know what
    ズガーン [Zugan] and ズギャーン [Zugyan] mean/are in English?

    Like

    • tokyo5 September 4, 2012 at 7:13 am #

      Did you see those in a manga?
      They seem like comic book “sound effects”.

      Like

      • Grace September 4, 2012 at 10:07 pm #

        Ah yes I’m refering to the manga Pandora Hearts and since someone I know who translates Japanese I wanted to help and I’m not as skilled as them and we both couldn’t find anything for those two but she could find/did translation for zuban and zudon. I believe it is something to do with ‘mourning’.

        Like

      • tokyo5 September 4, 2012 at 10:35 pm #

        Just like English-language comics, Japanese manga have many “original” sound-effects.

        Like

  10. paorin December 28, 2010 at 12:07 am #

    Hello, I’ve got a question! Do you know what would be the onomatopoeia for “prance”, “jump” or something similiar?

    Like

    • tokyo5 December 28, 2010 at 12:34 am #

      「ピョンピョン」 (Pyon-pyon) would be “hop” (like a rabbit).

      Like

      • paorin December 29, 2010 at 12:33 am #

        Thank you!

        Like

      • tokyo5 December 29, 2010 at 2:41 am #

        No problem. Any other questions, let me know.

        Like

  11. JiJi November 26, 2010 at 7:26 am #

    The sound for a Pengin in Japanee is: “Pen Pen” – there are a lot of 擬声語 in this YouTube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iqzt3T4R38c

    Like

    • tokyo5 November 26, 2010 at 9:54 am #

      >The sound for a Pengin in Japanee is: “Pen Pen”

      That’s not actually right. That 「森の安藤」 (“Mr. Andou of the Woods”) is a bizarre cartoon with an unusual humor.

      That word “pen-pen” that they said for “penguin” in that cartoon was just an odd joke.

      「ペンペン」 (Pen-pen) can be used as a word for spanking an unruly child, though.

      Like

  12. red May 31, 2010 at 6:37 pm #

    Does anyone know what バキバキ means?

    Like

    • tokyo5 June 1, 2010 at 1:49 am #

      Do you mean as in the sound of sticks, etc breaking?
      I’d say that it’s “Snap“, in English.

      Like

      • red June 1, 2010 at 11:08 am #

        I have no idea.. but here is the complete sentence:
        もう1曲はバキバキになるから

        Like

      • tokyo5 June 2, 2010 at 1:54 am #

        Are those lyrics from a song?

        「バキ」 is what I was thinking of when I said it means “snap” or “break”.

        But in that sentence you wrote I think 「バキバキ」 is some kind of original word (of the singer?).

        Maybe it means “The one song has already become exciting” or something like that.

        Like

      • red June 2, 2010 at 6:21 pm #

        umm.. no, it’s not a lyric.
        I am trying to translate an interview of the techno-pop unit Perfume.
        They’re talking about the song in their new single.

        Like

      • tokyo5 June 3, 2010 at 12:00 am #

        Oh I see.
        Well, I’d still say that my translation is accurate.

        Like

      • red June 3, 2010 at 1:10 pm #

        I’m taking it then, thank you for your help!

        Like

      • tokyo5 June 3, 2010 at 10:36 pm #

        Sure. If you have any other questions, I’ll do my best.

        Like

  13. gonzo February 25, 2010 at 7:27 am #

    Hey, I’ve got a question… what sound make penguins in japanese?

    Like

    • tokyo5 February 26, 2010 at 1:46 am #

      I don’t even know how to describe a penguin’s call in English.

      Like

  14. cory December 27, 2009 at 1:49 pm #

    i like the onomatopoeia found in manga.

    Like

    • tokyo5 December 27, 2009 at 4:53 pm #

      Your link doesn’t seem to work…but which manga do you read?

      In English or Japanese?

      Like

  15. Mari April 2, 2009 at 12:11 pm #

    In my own language (Portuguese), I was introduced to the word “onomatopeia” when I was a kid, but now you got me thinking if other people know it too, since it´s not normally talked about.

    Yes, japanese people seem to have an onopatopeia for just about everything, dont they?

    If you´re curious, some onopatopeias used here are: “Au-au”(barking)
    “chúa-chúa”(For water…moving?)
    And I cant remember more =P

    Ps. I found this while looking for what “girigiri” meant, so thanks.

    Like

    • tokyo5 April 2, 2009 at 12:35 pm #

      >some onopatopeias used here

      Interesting. Thanks. 🙂

      >I found this while looking for what “girigiri” meant, so thanks

      Glad my site was helpful. BTW, where did you hear 「ギリギリ」 (Giri-giri)?

      >my own language (Portuguese)

      Are you Brazilian?
      Did you see my post about Brazil?
      Here:
      https://tokyo5.wordpress.com/2008/06/17/brazilian-japanese/

      Like

      • Mari April 3, 2009 at 12:10 pm #

        I was (trying to) translate a text, and 「ギリギリ」 (Giri-giri) was there, chalenging me…I also had hear it in a song, previously.

        Yes, I am brazilian…
        There was alot,looot, of media covering for the 100 years immigration event, so I already knew about it…But it was interesting to see the photo!

        Like

      • tokyo5 April 3, 2009 at 6:06 pm #

        Are you a translator? So, you must be fluent in Japanese, English, and Portuguese! Great!

        Did you see the Japanese Prince when he went there last June for the emigration celebrations?

        Like

  16. Mb March 30, 2009 at 2:35 am #

    Let’s see: snore, purr, crinkle, hush,swoosh, slush, smoosh,crash, crush, clank,flush, beep,glug, crackle, meow, whoosh, chug, bump, shuffle, scrape, scoop, honk, whomp, jingly-clink, vroom. I just went through the whole book. 🙂

    Like

    • tokyo5 March 30, 2009 at 2:42 am #

      Totally different than Japanese onomatopoeia! 😉

      BTW, is “crash”, “crush”, “bump” or “shuffle” onomatopoeia?

      Like

  17. Mb March 29, 2009 at 2:23 pm #

    I have a children’s book (English of course for my little Texan Kindergarteners) that is called “Snow Sounds: An Omomatopoeiac Story. It’s a story with illustrations and the sounds written out only.

    Like

    • tokyo5 March 29, 2009 at 2:26 pm #

      What types of sounds, for example?

      Like

  18. tokyo5 March 6, 2009 at 10:24 pm #

    >おしり ’ペンペン’ するよ!

    I forgot about that one! 🙂
    When my kids were little, I used to say that to them too!

    Like

  19. naoko March 6, 2009 at 11:56 am #

    ’ぺちゃくちゃ’ おしゃべりしないで ’さっさ’ と宿題やりなさい。 おしり ’ペンペン’ するよ!
    I use a lot of 擬声語 when I talk with my kids!    

    Like

  20. umepontarou March 4, 2009 at 2:42 pm #

    Hi tokyo5 🙂
    I didn’t know the word “Onomatopoeia” , but I know lots of Japanese 擬声語 😉 (of course, I’m Japanese :p)
    I think Japanese people use lots of 擬声語 everyday. There are thousands of those…
    「キラキラ」「ガタガタ」「うじうじ」「モチモチ」(←I use it a lot)

    I’m not sure if it’s a 擬声語, but we say 「チンする」= heating up the food in a microwave. Do you think it’s a 擬声語?

    Like

    • tokyo5 March 5, 2009 at 1:26 am #

      Thanks. Those are good examples!

      >「キラキラ」

      And 「ピカピカ」

      >「ガタガタ」

      I don’t like that one!
      Reminds me of getting old…or earthquakes!;)

      >「モチモチ」(←I use it a lot)

      Do you like 「モチモチパン」 (chewy bread)?

      >「チンする」= heating up the food in a microwave.

      Oh, that’s a good example too!
      I used to used that one when my kids were little.

      >Do you think it’s a 擬声語?

      Yes, I’d say it is.

      Like

  21. Dad March 3, 2009 at 2:25 am #

    Did they invent those games in Japan?

    Like

    • tokyo5 March 3, 2009 at 2:36 am #

      Yes, those are Japanese video games.

      But the video game company “Atari” is American…but the word atari is Japanese.
      「当たり」 (Atari) means “win” or “score”.
      It’s also used in the Japanese game “Go” like the term “check” is in the game “Chess”….and that’s how the company got their name.

      Like

  22. Dad March 3, 2009 at 1:37 am #

    That’s so interesting about Pac Man I never thought there was a meaning to the name

    Like

    • tokyo5 March 3, 2009 at 1:59 am #

      Yes, to Japanese, the meaning of Pac-man‘s name is obvious (since all he does is eat dots (and blue ghosts))…but to people in other countries, though Pac-man is famous, his name has no meaning, I’m sure.

      Also, the main characters in the video-game “Mario Bros“, Mario and Luigi have evil alter-egos named Wario and Waruigi…those are plays on the Japanese word warui (“bad”).

      Like

  23. Squampton March 2, 2009 at 12:51 am #

    One that I remember from my university textbook is “zaa-zaa”, which translates to “raining cats and dogs”.

    For some reason I just can’t bring myself to punctuating before a closing quotation mark…

    Like

    • tokyo5 March 2, 2009 at 1:03 am #

      Yes that’s right, thanks.
      「ザーザー」 (zaa-zaa) means “raining hard“.

      That just reminded me of:
      「ザラザラ」 (zara-zara) which means “rough texture“.

      >For some reason I just can’t bring myself to punctuating before a closing quotation mark…

      Sorry…what do you mean?

      Like

      • Squampton March 2, 2009 at 5:49 pm #

        The commas and periods should go inside the quotation marks, regardless of context. It just looks wrong to me, and by the looks of it, wrong to you too!

        Like

      • tokyo5 March 2, 2009 at 11:00 pm #

        Really? Is that the rule?
        I always assumed a sentence should end in a period and a question in a question-mark.

        Like

      • Squampton March 2, 2009 at 11:17 pm #

        Apparently that’s the rule…

        These ones aren’t really onomatopoeic but they fit the pattern:

        boro-boro, old tattered clothing.
        neba-neba, slimy or slippery food.

        Like

      • tokyo5 March 2, 2009 at 11:35 pm #

        Thanks…there are a million of these in the Japanese language. I appreciate the help in remembering some!
        And I’d say that those are close enough to being onomatopoeic. 😉

        As for 「ネバネバ」 (Neba-neba), I’d translate it to “sticky” in English.
        Most famous ネバネバ food is probably 「納豆」 (Natto) and 「オクラ」 (Okra).

        Like

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