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  Jenie Gabriel

Japanese onomatopoeia and their meanings

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Aside from manga fans, most people probably don’t realize that the Japanese language can be animated and lively. Japanese has over 1,000 onomatopoeia with syllabic and repetitive words—that’s thrice more than in English! Some words might not have English equivalents, since languages are often arbitrary. In Japan, this long list of onomatopoeia grew with the fame of manga comics that include written sound effects to better illustrate each scene.

There are two main types of Japanese onomatopoeic expressions: gion-go and gitai-go. However, the categories can be flexible and subjective. Below is a list of commonly used, double-form onomatopoeia and their English meanings to help learners speak Japanese more naturally and further understand this fascinating language and its culture.

Gion-go

zaa-zaa

These words mimic real, natural sounds and noises by inanimate objects as well as living things such as humans and animals. In the world of manga, they are simply called sound effects

Japanese English Description
がぶがぶ       Gabu gabu Gulping down a drink
くしゃくしゃ Kusha kusha Crumpling sound of paper
ぎしぎし Gishi gishi   Squeaking noise of beds or old floors
ごぼごぼ Gobo gobo Gurgling sound
ざあざあ Zaa zaa Sound of the rain
ごろごろ Goro goro Purring or growling
かりかり Kari kari Crispy or crunchy like rice crackers; scratching a hard surface
けろけろ Kero kero Croaking frog
ブーブー Bu bu Oinking pig
リンリン Rin rin Chirping cricket
ニャーニャー Nya nya Meowing cat
ホーホー Ho ho Hooting owl
チューチュー Chu chu Squeaking mouse

Gitai-go

gusya-gusya

These are words that describe physical things, such as textures, as well as manner of action. In manga, these words clue readers in on the internal feelings of characters.

Japanese English Meaning
パクパク Paku paku Opening and closing of the mouth when eating; chomping (This is the origin of the name Pac-Man!)
ペコペコ Peko peko Hungry; grumbling stomach
どきどき Doki doki The loud, pounding of a heart when nervous or excited
うろうろ Uro uro To wander aimlessly
うとうと Uto uto To doze off
ぐずぐず Guzu guzu To procrastinate; act slowly
くらくら Kura kura Dizzy; light-headed
きらきら Kira kira To sparkle like jewelry or glittery clothes
ざらざら Zara zara Rough, coarse surface
ぐしゃぐしゃ Gusha gusha Messy hair or clothes
ぱさぱさ Pasa pasa Dry; lacks moisture
ねばねば Neba neba Sticky like okra or raw egg
ぬるぬる Nuru nuru Slimy like a fish out of the water
ぎゅうぎゅう Gyu gyu Jam-packed like a train during rush hour
ぞくぞく Zoku zoku Excited; to have an adrenaline rush
いらいら Ira ira Impatient; irritated
いそいそ Iso iso Cheerfully
きびきび Kibi kibi Energetically
こそこそ Koso koso Sneakingly; secretly

 

If you want to learn more onomatopoeic expressions, start by reading manga. What do you think are the best or strangest ones? Share them with us!

Image credit:

Give My Regards to Black Jack, SHUHO SATO, Manga on Web

Jenie Gabriel
THE AUTHOR
Jenie Gabriel
Jenie assists in creating online content for Gengo's marketing team. Originally from the Philippines, she was an advertising creative in Singapore before moving to Tokyo. In her spare time, you’ll find her glued to social networks or daydreaming about her next escapade.