If you’ve ever watched anime or Japanese drama, you might’ve heard some Japanese words that sounded like sounds. You’re right. There are some words in the Japanese language that are just sounds. In fact, there are a lot of them! If I start to list all of them here, this article would be pages long!
That’s not what’s going to happen. In this article, we’ll look at the various types of Japanese onomatopoeia and a few common ones in each category.
What is Japanese onomatopoeia?
Some of you might not know what onomatopoeia is. Onomatopoeia are words that recreate a sound or feeling. Even in English, we use them to express stuff like animal noises and noises in general. The simplest examples are “woof” for a dog’s barking and “vroom” for the noise a car makes.
In the Japanese language, it takes onomatopoeia to a whole new level. You really can’t go a day without using at least a handful of them in conversation. There are five types of Japanese onomatopoeia:
The first one is giseigo (擬声語). If you notice, this uses the kanji for voice (声). This refers to noises made by living things like humans and animals. This is the one we’re familiar with the most. Most Japanese onomatopoeia aren’t the same as English onomatopoeia.
The second is giongo (擬音語). It uses the kanji for sound (音). This type of onomatopoeia refers to noises made by non living things like inanimate objects and nature.
The third is gitaigo (擬態語). The kanji used for this is condition or appearance (態). This refers to noises that describe states and conditions.
The fourth one is giyougo (擬容語), using the kanji for form (容). For this type, it refers to sounds that describe movements and motion.
The last one is gijougo (擬情語). The kanji used is feelings (情), so the type of sounds are of those that describe emotions.
Grammar Usage of Japanese Onomatopoeia
There are three grammatical forms of Japanese onomatopoeia. There’s the double form (わくわく), which usually describes a continuing state of the sound. The second type is the とform (はっと), and this one expresses a quick and short sound. The last one is a りform (のそり), expressing the action or sound is slow. Exceptions include those ending with ん (ゴンゴン), and this one expresses the sounds being echo-ey or lengthy.
You can pair an onomatopoeia with と and followed by a verb. This makes it an adverb. Sometimes, you can use に instead when it’s a state.
Change an onomatopoeia into a verb with やる or する.
And lastly, you use の after the onomatopoeia to change it into adjectives or noun modifiers.
Now, let’s take a look at the five categories of Japanese onomatopoeia and a few common ones in each!
Giseigo: Sounds Made by Living Things
Giseigo (擬声語) are sounds that are made by living things. This can be humans and animals. They’re pretty similar to what we learn when we’re younger. They’re like sound effects. Here are a few common examples of animal noises:
Wan wan (ワンワン) – Woof
Nya nya (ニャーニャー) – Meow
Gao (がおー) – Roar
Gero gero (ゲロゲロ) – Ribbit/Croak
Bun (ブーン) – Buzz
Hi hin (ヒヒーン) – Neigh
Mo mo (モーモー) – Moo
Bu bu (ブーブー) – Oink
Uki uki (ウキウキ) – Oo oo aa aa
Me me (メーメー) – Baa
Human noises are also classified as this. This can include those similar to chuckles, mutters. These can be interesting ways to express your actions. Here are a few examples:
Guu guu (ぐうぐう) – loud snoring
Wai wai (ワイワイ) – children playing or people talking loudly
Kushu (クシュ) – sneezing
Kohon kohon (コホンコホン) – coughing lightly
Gyaa gyaa (ギャアギャア) – crying loudly
Gami gami (ガミガミ) – being nagged or lectured by someone
Niko niko (ニコニコ) – smiling at something funny
Pura pura (プラプラ) – to be able to speak a foreign language fluently
Kusu kusu (クスクス) – laughing quietly
Ohon (おほん) – clearning your throat when you want to get attention
Pecha pecha (ペチャペチャ) – chatting about random things
Zuru zuru (ズルズル) – slurping loudly
Kya (キャー) – Screaming
Gabu gabu (ガブガブ) – guzzling down a drink
Giongo: Sounds Made by Non-Living Things
The next category is giongo (擬音語). This type of onomatopoeia are sounds that’s made by non-living things. This includes noises by vehicles like cars, as well as natural sounds like thunder and wind. These are a few common ones in this category:
Para para (パラパラ) – light rain, or flipping pages of a book
Za za (ザーザー) – heavy rain
Gobo gobo (ゴボゴボ) – gushing water
Sawa sawa (サワサワ) – rustling
Pyu pyu (ピューピュー) – strong winds
Gashan (ガシャン) – crashing
Gatan gaton (ガタンガトン) – train clacking
Goro goro (ゴロゴロ) – thunder, or large objects rolling
Kon kon (こんこん) – knocking
Rin rin (リンリン) – ringing, like a bell
Kopo kopo (コポコポ) – water bubbling
Saku saku (サクサク) – stepping on sand or dirt
Tata tata (タタタタ) – running fast
Gitaigo: Sounds Describing Conditions
Gitaigo (擬態語) is a category of Japanese onomatopoeia that are sounds which describes a state. It can be a condition of something, like if your body is warm or if you feel sticky. Here are some examples that are common from this category:
Kara kara (カラカラ) – sweating
Fuwa fuwa (フワフワ) – fluffy
Kira Kira (キラキラ) – sparkling
Pika pika (ピカピカ) – shining
Guru guru (グルグル) – dizzy
Peto peto (ペトペト) – feeling sticky because of swear
Hoka hoka (ホカホカ) – steamy or warm food
Bisshori (びっしょり) / bisho bisho (びしょびしょ) – soaking
Mushi mushi (むしむし) – humid
Piri piri (ピリピリ) – spicy
Shinwari (シンワリ) – slowly soaking with tears or sweat
Gira gira (ギラギラ) – glint in eyes
Giyougo: Sounds Describing Movements and Motions
The next category is giyougo (擬容語). This type of onomatopoeia are sounds that describe any movement or motion. It’s basically like verbs. It can be walking from place to place or falling asleep. Here are some common examples from this category:
Uro uro (ウロウロ) – wandering aimlessly
Koro koro (コロコロ) – something rolling
Guru guru (グルグル) – spinning around
Noro noro (ノロノロ) – slow and sluggish movement or pace
Suta suta (スタスタ) – brisk walking
Gussuri (ぐっすり) – asleep completely
Gu Tara (グータラ) – no willpower
Yukkuri (ゆっくり) – slowly
Gachi gachi (ガチガチ) – chattering teeth
Shiba shiba (シバシバ) – rapidly blinking
Gaba- (ガバッ) – waking up with a start
Kaba kaba (カバカバ) – chowing down food fast
Kyoro Kyoro (キョロキョロ) – restlessly looking around
Buru buru (ブルブル) – trembling
Gijougo: Sounds Describing Feelings
The last category is gijougo (擬情語), which are sounds that describe feelings and emotions. They’re used quite often in manga and anime. This includes emotions like feeling a shiver down your spine or being excited. Here are some common examples:
Doki doki (ドキドキ) – nervous, heart racing
Uki Uki (ウキウキ) – cheerful
Ira Ira (イライラ) – to be irritated
Bikkuri (びっくり) – surprised
Waku waku (ワクワク) – excited or happy
Boro boro (ぼろぼろ) – to be mentally drained
Noro noro (ノロノロ) – to feel lazy
Zotto (ゾッと) – a chill down the spine
Muku muku (むくむく) – thinking of an idea or when inspiration hits
Yakimoki (ヤキモキ) – extremely worried
Run run (ルンルン) – happily humming
Musu- (むすっ) – pouting
Zuki zuki (ズキズキ) – throbbing pain
Moya moya (モヤモヤ) – wondering what to do
These Japanese words that are just sounds are used on a daily basis. It’s a win-win: it’s easy to remember and you can up your nihongo game! Express your inner colours with some of these Japanese onomatopoeia!