Welcome to the World of Japanese Onomatopoeia!

“My stomach went ペコペコ (peko peko).”

Does the word “peko peko” ring a bell? If you are studying Japanese, you probably would have come across this word as a cute way of saying “I am hungry.” “Peko peko” resembles the sound of a growling stomach, and this is a simple example of the Japanese onomatopoeia.

What’s an Onomatopoeia?
Commonly used Japanese Onomatopoeia
Putting the Onomatopoeia to Conversational Use
Representation and Usage

What’s an Onomatopoeia?

Onomatopoeia defines the usage of words to form sound. An example that everyone should know would be “meow”, the sound made by a cat or “moo”, the sound made by a cow. In the Japanese onomatopoeia dictionary, there are thousands of existing words that not only describe sounds but also feelings, atmospheres and even situations. Onomatopoeia plays a huge part in Japanese people’s casual speech and Japanese people use it to express themselves freely. For instance, words such as “ゆっくり, yukkuri” (slowly) or “色々, iroiro” (variety) are common onomatopoeia used.

ごほん, Gohon (clears throat). Did you have a sudden realization that you may be learning the Japanese Onomatopoeia through the course of your Japanese lessons unknowingly? うふふふ, Ufufufu (laughing silently). Welcome to the Japanese world of Onomatopoeia!
 

Commonly used Japanese Onomatopoeia

To fill your speeches with some fun, you should input onomatopoeia here and there. By inputting onomatopoeia into your speech is like adding colors to your drawing, making it more lively and maybe, even cuter! Sometimes, instead of brainstorming for an appropriate vocabulary, it would be simpler to just use an onomatopoeia. It is also easier for the listener to visualize your speech so as to have a greater understanding of the conversation. Here, let’s pick up a few of the simple onomatopoeia!

When you are studying Japanese:
“I want to be fluent in Japanese!”
“Nihongo o ペラペラ (pera pera) ni nari tai!”

When you see a cockroach and your friend does not like it:
“Don’t make a fuss!”
“ギャアギャア (Gyaa gyaa) sawagu na!”

When you are hungry:
“I am hungry!”
“Onaka ga ペコペコ (peko peko) desu!”

When you are full of excitement:
“I am excited because I am going to Japan tomorrow!”
“Ashita nihon ni iku node ワクワク (waku waku) shite i masu!”

When you see loving couple:
“That couple is so loving!”
“Ano futari wa ラブラブ (rabu rabu) da!”

When it is raining and your shoes are soaked:
“My shoes are drenched!”
“Kutsu ga ビショビショ (bisho bisho)!”

Are you able to play the scenario of each example in your head?

 

Putting the Onomatopoeia to Conversational Use

Onomatopoeia is absolutely important in the Japanese language. It can almost bring the language to life. Let’s take a look at a short story of Toshio-kun’s morning and make a comparison between the two paragraphs!

“Mukku, Toshio-kun woke up all of the sudden! Realising that he missed the alarm and is going to be late for class, his heartbeat went ドキドキ(dokidoki), faster and faster. He rushed to the kitchen, パタパタ (pata pata), and gulped down a cup of water, がぶがぶ (gabu gabu). Then he got out of his house and the sun greeted him with blazing heat, かんかん (kan kan). He peeked at his watch, チクタク (chiku taku), as the time goes by, Toshio-kun has 5 minutes before his class starts. Da da da da on his full speed, he managed to arrive at class ギリギリ (giri giri), just in time.”

“Toshio-kun woke up all of the sudden! Realising that he missed the alarm and is going to be late for class, his heartbeat went faster and faster. He rushed to the kitchen, and gulped down a cup of water. Then he got out of his house and the sun greeted him with blazing heat. He peeked at his watch, as the time goes by, Toshio-kun has 5 minutes before his class starts. On his full speed, he managed to arrive at class just in time.”

Can you feel the difference between both paragraphs with and without onomatopoeia? Which one sounded more lively to you?

 

Representation and Usage

Japanese onomatopoeias are unique as they use not only words to mimic sound, but feelings and situations as well. They are heavily used in Manga but unfortunately, only those who mastered the Japanese language would be able to understand the use of each onomatopoeia. They may be translated into another language but the humor or feelings behind it may be lost in translation. Thinking on the positive side, doesn’t this gives you more motivation to master the Japanese language? To speak ペラペラ(pera pera) Japanese, apart from learning the grammar structures and memorizing commonly used vocabulary, you should never neglect this very important part of the Japanese language: Onomatopoeia.

If you want to learn how to say I love you in Japanese, just check our previous blog post about the many ways to confess your feelings to your Japanese lover!


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