Master Japanese onomatopoeia with these 15 examples

Onomatopoeia are words that represent sounds. In the English language, these words include ‘pop,’ ‘bang,’ ‘cuckoo,’ ‘woof,’ ‘meow,’ and ‘crackle.’ These words are used in a descriptive capacity and often add colour or flair to storytelling, making it easier to visualise or understand what the speaker is trying to convey. Many languages across the globe include onomatopoeia, and the Japanese language is no different.

There are five main categories in which onomatopoeia can fall into in Japanese – all languages have onomatopoeia categories. These categories are:

  1. Giseigo – used to describe animal and human sounds e.g. がぶがぶ (gabu gabu) – gulping
  2. Giongo – used to describe actual sounds made by inanimate objects and nature e.g. ざあざあ (zaa zaa) – the sound the rain makes
  3. Gitaigo – used to describe conditions and states e.g. ドキドキ (doki doki) – excitement
  4. Giyougo – used to describe movements and motions e.g. うとうと (uto uto) – to doze off
  5. Gijougo – used to describe feelings e.g. ニコニコ (niko niko) – cheerful

When compared to other languages Japanese onomatopoeia is much easier to learn as the words themselves are fun to say, hear and easy to remember. The Japanese language has often been described as difficult to pick up. If you are looking for ways to make yourself easily understood then onomatopoeia is a useful tool to achieve this. Pairing up said phrases with verbs can also help to increase your confidence making expressing yourself a less daunting experience.

Try incorporating some of our favourite onomatopoeia into your sentences and spice up your Japanese language ability.

1.がぶがぶ (gabu gabu) – to gulp down a drink

ビールをがぶがぶ飲んだ – I guzzled beer.

2. パクパク (paku paku) – eating or chewing, the Pac-man video game comes from this name

彼はランチをパクパク食べた  – He wolfed his lunch down.

3. にゃんにゃん (nyan nyan) – the meow of a cat

猫がにゃんにゃんいている – A cat mews.

4.ドキドキ (doki doki) – to be excited

彼を見るとドキドキするI feel my heart beating when I see him.

5. メーメー (mee mee) – the sound sheep make

ひつじがメーメー鳴いているのが聞こえた – I heard sheep bleating.

6. ざあざあ (zaa zaa) – the sound the rain makes

雨がざあざあ降っている– It’s raining heavily.

7. ニコニコ (niko niko) – cheerful

彼女はいつもにこにこしている – She is always smiling.

8. ジロジロ (jiro jiro) – to stare at someone

変な男の人が私をじろじろみている – A strange man is staring at me.

9. ベタベタ (beta beta) – sticky

ジュースをこぼして、手がべたべたする – I spilt juice and now my hand is sticky.

10. ぶーん (bun) – the buzzing of a bee

蜂がぶーんと飛んできた – A bee flew around me whilst making a buzzing noise.

11. ごろごろ  (goro goro) – purring or growling  

週末はごろごろしています – I’m a couch potato on the weekends.

12. ギリギリ (giri giri) – barely or narrowly

彼女はバスに乗り遅れた She was almost late for the bus.

13. ぴかぴか (pika pika) – to shine, sparkle or glitter

ピカピカな爪が好きです– I like glittery nail colours.

14. うとうと (uto uto) – to doze off

お腹がいっぱいでうとうとする – We are so sleepy after having a big lunch.

15. ぴょんぴょん (pyon pyon) – jumping or bouncing

子供達が嬉しさで飛び跳ねている – The children are jumping with joy.

Which onomatopoeia phrases will you be trying out? Let us know in the comments below. Share some of your personal favourites with us on Twitter (@japancentre).