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76 Must-Know Japanese Onomatopoeia Words

How many Japanese onomatopoeia words do you know? According to the dictionary, “onomatopoeia” is the formation of word from a sound associated with its name. For example, in English, words like “boom” and “beep” are onomatopoeia. You can almost hear the sound of waves splashing just from reading the word.

There are more onomatopoeia words in Japanese than in any other language. Japanese people use onomatopoeia at least once a day. They use it to express even the most minute nuances. Therefore, if you want to have deeper conversations in Japanese, it’s necessary to learn onomatopoeia words.

Also, if you’re a fan of manga and anime, you’ve undoubtedly seen sound effects on the page. Those sound effects are onomatopoeia, too. Since Japanese manga and anime use many sound effects, you must learn onomatopoeia to understand what authors really want to say.

In this article, I’ll list Japanese onomatopoeic expressions. The list includes words such as “crying,” “laughing,” and “snoozing,” which you can use in everyday life. Don’t forget to bookmark this article, so that you can search Japanese onomatopoeia and use it as a dictionary anytime you need.

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Table of Contents

1. What is Japanese Onomatopoeia?

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What is Japanese Onomatopoeia

Before we look at the list, let me explain some more about what onomatopoeia means in the Japanese language. Onomatopoeia is オノマトペ (onomatope) in Japanese, and is from the French. It means basically the same thing as the English word “onomatopoeia.”

1- How to Use Japanese Onomatopoeia

Many Japanese onomatopoeia words are repetitive. That is, the syllable, or pair of syllables, is repeated. Take for example the word キラキラ (kirakira). This word, meaning “glitter” or “twinkle,” repeats the syllables キラ (kira). Since most onomatopoeia words are Japanese in origin, most of them are not written in 漢字 (kanji). However, they’re often written in カタカナ (katakana), but occasionally written in ひらがな (hiragana).

Many words are used as adverbs, adjective-like words, or adjectival phrases. There are also some words which can be used as verbs when combined with する (suru) or やる (yaru). For example, ウキウキ (ukiuki), which means “be excited,” can be used as a verb with suru. Suru and yaru means “to do.”

Many words are used as adverbs, adjective-like words, or adjectival phrases. There are also some words which can be used as verbs when combined with する (suru) or やる (yaru). For example, ウキウキ (ukiuki), which means “be excited,” can be used as a verb with suru. Suru and yaru means “to do.”

2- Two Kinds of Japanese Onomatopoeia: 擬音語 (Giongo) and 擬態語 (Gitaigo)

There are several kinds of Japanese onomatopoeia. Some Japanese onomatopoeia words don’t actually mimic sounds, but they describe feelings or actions. However, those words also follow the same form and are similar to those which do mimic sounds. Therefore, we call them “onomatopoeia” all together.

In this article, we introduce two useful kinds of onomatopoeia. Those are 擬音語 (ぎおんご・giongo) and 擬態語 (擬態語・gitaigo). The kanji character 擬 (gi), at the beginning of each word, means “mimic.”

擬音語 (Giongo)

Giongo is the umbrella term for true onomatopoeia words, just like English onomatopoeia. The kanji character 音 means “sound” and “noise.” When you express sound effects in words, you use giongo.

擬態語 (Gitaigo)

Gitaigo words are also mimetic, but don’t mimic actual sounds. These words attempt to use similar sound patterns as giongo. The kanji character 態 (tai) means “condition,” “appearance,” and “action.”

To confuse the matter even more, there are some words that have both giongo and gitaigo elements. For example, there is ぐうぐう (gūgū). When you use gūgū as giongo, it mimics the sound of snoring. On the other hand, as gitaigo, it means “to sleep well.” It expresses the concept of sound sleep and doesn’t have to actually imitate the snoring sound.

2. Onomatopoeia of Actions

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In this section, we are going to look at a list of onomatopoeia which expresses actions such as sleeping and laughing. By using these onomatopoeia words, you’ll be able to express more precisely how you sleep and laugh, among other things.

1- Expressing the Action of Sleeping

As noted above, ぐうぐう (gūgū) is an onomatopoeia word which expresses the action of sleeping. There are also more onomatopoeia words to describe the action of sleeping, such as ぐっすり(gussuri), すやすや (suyasuya), and うとうと (utouto).

Meaning

  • ぐうぐう (Gūgū) describes an actual snoring sound. It also describes the state of sleeping well, often associated with snoring.
  • ぐっすり (Gussuri) indicates sleeping soundly.
  • すやすや (Suyasuya) describes the state of someone sleeping comfortably and quietly, accompanied by the sound of light breathing.
  • うとうと (Utouto) refers to the inability to resist drowsiness, such as dozing off or nodding off. It refers to a light sleep that takes place outside of one’s regular sleeping hours.

Usage

  • [gussuri / gūgū / suyasuya] +(to) nemuru / neru
  • [ utouto ] +(to) suru

You use the words gūgū, gussuri, and suyasuya with 寝る (ねる・neru) or 眠る (ねする・nemuru). Neru and nemuru are adjectives which essentially mean “to sleep.” On the other hand, utouto is a verb. So you use with する (suru) with it, which means “to do.”

2- Expressing the Action of Laughing

You can use onomatopoeia words to express how you laugh. There are many onomatopoeia for laughing, but we picked three of the most useful onomatopoeia words to show you:くすくす (kusukusu), ゲラゲラ (geragera), and ケラケラ (kerakera).

Meaning

  • くすくす (Kusukusu) is the giggling sound used to describe suppressed laughter.
  • ゲラゲラ (Geragera) describes the sound of guffawing in a rather loud voice.
  • ケラケラ (Kerakera) is used for a higher-pitched laugh than geragera. “K” sounds are used to describe lighter or higher-pitched sounds than “G” sounds.

Usage

  • [ kusukusu / geragera / kerakera ] +(to) warau

You use the words kusukusu, geragera, and kerakera with 笑う (わらう・warau) which means “to laugh.”

3- Expressing the Action of Eating

There are many onomatopoeia words which describe the action of eating, too. Here, we introduce four of them which are used very often: んどん (dondon), がつがつ (gatsugatsu), ぱくぱく (pakupaku), and ぺろぺろ (peropero).

Meaning

  • どんどん (Dondon) refers to a situation where something happens one after another, continuously or rapidly without hesitation. You can use this with other verbs too.
  • がつがつ (Gatsugatsu) refers to the action of devouring something or the state of being hungry and wanting to eat.
  • ぱくぱく (Pakupaku) describes the action of eating food quickly.
  • ぺろぺろ (Peropero) describes the action of someone (a person or animal) licking something.

Usage

  • (dondon / gatsugatsu /pakupaku) +(to) taberu
  • (peropero) +(to) nameru

You use dondon and gatsugatsu with 食べる (たべる・taberu) which means “to eat.” Peropero is used with 舐める (なめる・nameru) and it means “to lick.”

4- Expressing the Action of Looking

In English, there are many words which express the action of looking. In Japanese, people typically use 見る (みる・miru). However, to explain how you look, you can use onomatopoeia. There are many onomatopoeia words to describe the action of looking: じろっと (jirotto), じろじろ (jirojiro), ちらちら (chirahira), and きょろきょろ (kyorokyoro).

Meaning

  • じろっと (Jirotto) indicates the action of looking sternly for a moment or giving an accusing look. It is usually associated with anger or an uncomfortable feeling.
  • じろじろ (Jirojiro) refers to the action of blatantly and repeatedly looking something up and down, usually in an offensive way.
  • ちらちら (Chirachira) refers to something becoming invisible from time to time.
  • きょろきょろ (Kyorokyoro) describes the action of looking around curiously or nervously.

Usage

  • [ jirotto ] + miru / niramu
  • [ jirojiro / chirachira / kyorokyoro ] +(to) miru
  • [ kyorokyoro ] +(to) suru

Jirotto, chirachira, and kyorokyoro are often used with 見る (みる・miru) which means simply “to look.” You can also use jirotto with にらむ (niramu) which means “to glare.” Further, kyorokyoro can be used as a verb when used with する (suru).

5- Expressing the Action of Crying

Onomatopoeias are very helpful when you want to express crying in Japanese. Here are three very useful crying onomatopoeia words: ぎゃあぎゃあ (gyāgyā), めそめそ (mesomeso), and しくしく (shikushiku).

Meaning

  • ぎゃあぎゃあ (Gyāgyā) indicates a considerably high-pitched noisy crying or screeching. This phrase usually implies that the speaker is feeling quite unpleasant.
  • しくしく (Shikushiku) indicates quiet crying, usually by women or children.
  • めそめそ (Mesomeso) is similar to shikushiku in sound volume. However, shikushiku focuses on the sound of someone’s crying, whereas mesomeso focuses on the attitude of a crybaby who keeps moaning and groaning.

Usage

  • [ gyāgyā / mesomeso / shikushiku ] +(to) naku
  • [ gyāgyā ] +(to) iu / wameku
  • [ mesomeso ] +(to) suru

Gyāgyā, mesomeso, and shikusiku usually use the verb 泣く (なく・naku) which means “to cry.” Gyāgyā also can be used with 言う (いう・iu) “to say,” and わめく (wameku) “scream loudly.” Further, you can use mesomeso as a verb with する (suru).

3. Onomatopoeia to Express Your Feelings

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What is Japanese Onomatopoeia

You can also express your feelings by using Japanese onomatopoeia. You might find these onomatopoeia words used in manga as sound effects to express how the characters are feeling. So you will definitely enjoy reading manga more if you understand the onomatopoeia used for feelings.

1- Expressing Excitement

Three Japanese onomatopaeia words used to express excitement are: ドキドキ (dokidoki), わくわく (wakuwaku), and はらはら (harahara).

Meaning

  • ドキドキ (Dokidoki) describes the feeling of excitement or nervousness, as well as the actual sound of a rapid heartbeat.
  • わくわく (Wakuwaku) refers to the excitement usually associated with joy or an expectation that something good is going to happen.
  • はらはら (Harahara) indicates an uneasy feeling or anxiety about how things will turn out, as well as a feeling of being kept in suspense.

Usage

  • [ dokidoki / wakuwaku / harahara ] + suru

Dokidoki, wakuwaku, and harahara are usually used as verbs with する (suru).

2- Expressing Anger

Japanese people often use onomatopoeia words to express themselves when angry. We introduce three useful onomatopoeia words to express anger: かんかん (kankan), イライラ (iraira), and ムカムカ (mukamuka).

Meaning

  • かんかん (Kankan) describes the state of being very sunny—or the state of someone being furious.
  • イライラ (Iraira) refers to the feeling of irritation or frustration caused by things not going smoothly.
  • ムカムカ (Mukamuka) indicates a feeling of discomfort due to nausea or anger.

Usage

  • [ iraira / mukamuka ] + suru
  • [ kankan ] + ni okoru
  • [ kankan ] + da

You can use iraira and mukamuka as verbs with する (suru). When you use kankan as an onomatopoeia of anger, it precedes the particle に (ni) plus the verb 怒る (おこる・okoru) “to get angry.”

3- Expressing Fear

When you want to express fear, the onomatopoeia words はっと (hatto), ぎょっと (gyotto), and ぞっと (zotto) are likely to come in handy.

Meaning

  • はっと (Hatto) describes a situation where someone becomes suddenly aware of something or is surprised by a sudden happening.
  • ぎょっと (Gyotto) indicates a scared or shocked feeling caused by a sudden happening.
  • ぞっと (Zotto) refers to shivers going down one’s spine from cold or fear.

Usage

  • [ hatto / gyotto / zotto ] + suru
  • [ hatto ] + me o samasu / kizuku
  • [ gyotto ] + odoroku

Hatto, gyotto, and zotto can be used as verbs with する (suru). You can also use hatto with 目を覚ます (めをさます・me o samasu) meaning “to wake up,” or 気づく (きづく・kizuku), “to realize.” Gytto can be used with 驚く (おどろく・odoroku), too.

4. Describing Weather by Using Onomatopoeia

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Describing Weather by Using Onomatopoeia

Japanese people often use onomatopoeia to describe weather. Since weather is a popular small talk topic with friends and neighbors, you can easily use these weather onomatopoeia words in everyday life.

1- Describing Thunder and Lightning

  • 雷がごろごろ鳴る (kaminari ga gorogoro naru)
    • ごろごろ (Goeogoeo) is an onomatopoeia word which expresses the rumbling sound of thunder. Gorogoro is also used as the sound of a stomach, and the sound of a heavy object rolling.
  • ぴかっと光る (pikatto hikaru)
    • ぴかっと (Pikatto) is an onomatopoeia word to describe a flash of light or a short-lived glow. It can be used in many different ways, one of which is to describe lightning.

2- Describing Rain

  • 雨がざあざあ降る (ame ga zāzā furu)
    • ざあざあ (Zāzā) is an onomatopoeia word that describes the sound or state of heavy rainfall.
  • 雨がぽつぽつ降リはじめる (ame ga potsupotsu furi hajimeru)
    • ぽつぽつ (potsupotsu) or ぽつりぽつり (potsuripotsuri) describes the sound of rain that started not too long ago.
  • 雨がぱらぱら降る (ame ga parapara furu)
    • ぱらぱら (Parapara) describes the sound of it raining lightly.

3- Other Weather-Related Onomatopoeia

  • どんより (donyori): “overcast,” “dull,” “sullen”
  • からっと (karatto): “clear up, (weather),” “dry,” “refreshing”
  • じめじめ (jimejime): “humid”
  • つるつる (tsurutsuru): “very slippery”
  • びしょびしょ (bishobisho): “soaking wet”

5. Describing Flavor and Texture of Food

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Describing Flavor and Texture of Food

Japanese people are very sensitive when it comes to the flavor and texture of food. So they often use onomatopoeia words for food, too. Here, we provide you the lists of important onomatopoeia words that are used to express things about food.

1- Describing Something Crunchy or Crispy

  • ぱりぱり (paripari): “crispy,” “crusty”
  • さくさく (sakusaku): “crunchy”
  • しゃきしゃき (shakishaki): “crisp and juicy”

2- Describing Something Soft or Hard

  • とろっと (torotto): “melt smoothly”
  • ふんわり (funwari): “fluffy,” “soft,” “light”
  • かちかち (kachikachi) or こちこち (kochikochi): “hard,” “stiff,” “rigid”

3- Describing Something Dry or Moist

  • ぱさぱさ (pasapasa): “dry,” “dry out,” “hard to the touch”
  • しっとり (shittori): “moist,” “soft to the touch”

4- Other Useful Onomatopoeia for Describing Food

  • ぴりっと (pritto): “spicy and hot”
  • こってり (kotteri): “rich,” “heavy,” “lingering,” “fatty”
  • あっさり (assari): “not heavy nor lingering,” “light”
  • ねばねば (nebaneba): “sticky and slimy”

6. Describing Someone’s Physical Qualities

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You can also use onomatopoeia to explain someone’s physical qualities such as body type and hair style. Is he/she slim or chubby? Use onomatopoeia to describe them exactly, just how you want.

1- Describing Body Type

  • がりがり (garigari): “scrawny,” “skinny,” “skin and bones,” “thin”
  • ほっそり (hossori): “slim,” “slender,” “thin”
  • すらっと (suratto): “slim,” “slender”
  • ぽっちゃり (pocchari): “chubby,” “plump”
  • むきむき (mukimuki): “muscular,” “brawny”
  • がっちり (gacchiri): “well-built,” “big-boned,” “muscular”

2- Describing Hairstyle

  • さらさら (sarasara): “smooth,” “dry,” “clean”
  • ぼさぼさ (bosabosa): “uncombed,” “tangled”

7. Describing Someone’s Personality or Attitude

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Describing Someone’s Personality or Attitude

A person’s personality and attitude are very abstract. Therefore, Japanese people also use onomatopoeias when they talk about those topics, as it aids them in describing exactly what they mean to.

1- Positive Connotations

  • ちゃきちゃき (chakichaki): “straightforward,” “frank”
  • さばさば (sabasaba):”refreshing,” “unfussy”
  • てきぱき (tekipaki): “alert,” “well-organized,” “crisp”
  • ほのぼの (honobono):”relaxed,” “heartwarming”
  • おっとり (ottori):”easygoing”
  • のほほん (nohohon): “carefree,” “easygoing”

2- Negative Connotations

  • ちゃらちゃら (charachara): “shallow,” “vain,” “playing around”
  • せかせか (sekaseka): “busy,” “restlessly,” “fidgety”
  • ぐずぐず (guzuguzu): “wasting time” or “dillydallying”

8. Describing Health Conditions

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Describing Health Conditions

When you sneeze, you use “achoo” in English as a sneezing sound. In Japanese, there are several other onomatopoeia words that you can use to describe health conditions.

1- The Condition of the Eyes

  • 目がしょぼしょぼする (me ga shoboshobo suru): “to have bleary eyes,” “to have puffy eyes”
  • 目がごろごろする (me ga gorogoro suru): “feel like having something in one’s eye”

2- The Condition of the Nose

  • 鼻がずるずる出る (hana ga zuruzuru deru): “to have a runny nose”
  • 鼻がむずむずする (hana ga muzumuzu suru): “one’s nose is tickling”

3- The Condition of the Ear

  • 耳がキーンとする (mimi ga kīn to suru): “to have a ringing noise in one’s ear,” “to have tinnitus”

4- Other Useful Onomatopoeia for Describing Health Conditions

  • クシュン (kushun): sneeze sound
  • こんこん (konkon): cough sound
  • ごほごほ (gohogoho): strong cough
  • ぞくぞく (zokuzoku): shiver from fever

9. How JapanesePod101 Can Help You Learn Even More Onomatopoeia Words

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How JapanesePod101 Can Help You Learn Even More Onomatopoeia Words

As we’ve explained, Japanese onomatopoeia words are not just “sound” words; there are many other types of onomatopoeia words in Japanese. You can describe many things, such as actions, feelings, and even things about the body such as appearance or health.

Some of you might think that there are too many words to memorize. Don’t worry! You don’t have to memorize everything. When you hear some onomatopoeia in a conversation, or find some while reading manga, look back at the lists in this article to find the meaning.

Or check out our Ultimate Japanese Onomatopoeia Guide series on JapanesePod101! It provides an in-depth introduction to the world of Japanese onomatopoeia words that represent sounds and feelings. Japanese is filled with these types of words—master these and you will start sounding like a native. You’ll learn about different types of Japanese onomatopoeia and how they are used. Better yet, you’ll find plenty of examples and information about working onomatopoeia into your Japanese vocabulary.

Since Japanese people use some onomatopoeia words very often, you will easily memorize those words. Now, go have fun communicating with your friends by using some Japanese onomatopoeia!

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😄 😞 😳 😁 😒 😎 😠 😆 😅 😜 😉 😭 😇 😴 😮 😈 ❤️️ 👍

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June 22nd, 2018 at 5:49 pm
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