Japanese onomatopoeia and their meanings
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.
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.
|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|
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.
|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|
|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!
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