20 Useful Japanese Onomatopoeia to Learn

Onomatopoeia is a word created from the vocal imitation of the sound associated with it. Think the bees buzz, the cat meows and the cow moos. They’re all taken from the things we hear, right? In the Japanese onomatopoeia dictionary, there are 4,500 of existing onomatopoeia that not only describe sounds but also feelings, atmospheres and even situations.

Although the English language doesn’t incorporate many onomatopoeiae words, you’d be surprised to know you’ve probably been using them this whole time when speaking Japanese.

Yukkuri shite kudasai!
Please slow down!

The truth is, 4,500 is a big number, but we’re not expecting (or demanding) you to know all of them — we’ll even bet not all Japanese people know every last bit. Still, think of onomatopoeia as an earworm. A lot of them are one-word repetitions, like piyo piyo and zara zawa, which makes learning them fun. A lot of Japanese Onomatopoeias are used in manga, so maybe next time you read a comic book you’ll recognize one from this list!

Be sure to check out our social media (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook). We post at least one onomatopoeia every week, so be sure to follow us so you can learn some more!

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What Are the Types of Japanese Onomatopoeia?

Onomatopoeia is stereotypically cartoon-ish, but the Japanese language takes them seriously. Japanese onomatopoeias are unique as they use not only words to mimic the sound, but feelings and situations as well. Onomatopoeia plays a huge part in Japanese people’s casual speech. For instance, words such as “ゆっくり, yukkuri” (slowly) or “色々, iro iro” (variety) are common onomatopoeia used.

They’re broken down into five groups

  • Animal and human sounds: Giseigo (擬声語)
  • Sounds made by inanimate objects and nature: Giongo (擬音語)
  • Sounds to desciribe conditions and states: Gitaigo (擬態語)
  • Sounds to describe movements and motions: Giyougo (擬容語)
  • Sounds to describe feelings: Gijougo (擬情語)

Of the five types of onomatopoeia, giseigo and giongo are the only two that the English language has. They represent sounds you can hear, like a hissing snake or a buzzing bee.

Check out our more complete common animal onomatopoeia used by the Japanese.

20 Japanese Onomatopoeias

To spice up your Japanese conversation, include onomatopoeias here and there — it’ll be like adding colors to your drawing, making it more lively.

Sometimes, instead of rummaging your mind for an appropriate vocabulary, it would be simpler to just use an onomatopoeia. It is also easier for the listener to visualize your speech. For example, peko peko sounds more catchy and therefore more memorable than お腹がすいた (onaka ga suita).

piyo piyo japanese onomatopoeia

Piyo Piyo (ピヨピヨ)

Piyo Piyo, meaning peep or chirp, sounds like a chick chirping.

Example Sentences: 

mite! hiyoko wa piyo piyo natte iru! kawaii!
Look! The chick chirping “piyo piyo” is so cute!

zawa zawa japanese onomatopoeia

Zawa Zawa (ざわざわ)

Zawa zawa, meaning noisy, is meant to sound like a lot of people talking at once.

Example Sentence:

sensei ga a mae ni kurasu wa zawa zawa shiteita.
The class was noisy before the teacher came.

kuru kuru japanese onomatopoeia

Kuru Kuru (くるくる)

Kuru Kuru, meaning round and round, sounds like something rotating or spinning round and round.

Example Sentence:

me ga kuru kuru to mawaru.
My eyes are spinning round and round.

gutsu gutsu japanese onomatopoeia

Gutsu Gutsu (ぐつぐつ)

Gutsu Gutsu, meaning boiling or simmering, sounds like water boiling.

Example Sentence:

suupu ga gutsu gutsu nieteiru
The soup is boiling.

suku suku japanese onomatopoeia

Suku Suku (すくすく)

Suku Suku, meaning quick or fast, is usually used when growing or getting up.

Example Sentence:

kodomo wa atto iu ma ni suku suku to seichou suru.
Children grow up so quickly (and healthily) in a blink of an eye.

moji moji japanese onomatopoeia

Moji Moji (もじもじ)

Moji moji, meaning hesitating or fidgeting, sounds like someone fidgeting.

Example Sentence:

ozei no mae de hanasu node, kinchou shite moji moji shiteiru.
I fidget because I am nervous about speaking in front of a large crowd.

butsu butsu japanese onomatopoeia

Butsu Butsu (ぶつぶつ)

Butsu Butsu, meaning to grunt or mumble, sounds like someone speaking in a low voice, or mumbling.

Example Sentence:

butsu butsu to hitorigoto o iu koto ga ooi.
I often mumble to myself.

kyoro kyoro japanese onomatopoeia

Kyoro Kyoro (きょろきょろ)

Kyoro Kyoro, meaning to look around nervously, is meant to sound like someone looking around.

Example Sentence:

o mise no naka de kyoro kyoro shitetara, fushinsha ni mieta.
If I had looked around nervously in a shop, I would look like a suspicious person

hara hara japanese onomatopoeia

Hara Hara (はらはら)

Hara Hara, meaning to feel uneasy or nervous, sounds like a heart beating. Not to be confused with Hira Hira (ひらひら), meaning flutter.

Example Sentence:

erai hito ga atsumaru pāti de jibun ga shitsureina koto shinai ka dō ka harahara suru.
It was a party with a lot of distinguished guests so I was nervous that I might screw something up.

neba neba japanese onomatopoeia

Neba Neba (ねばねば)

Neba Neba means sticky or viscous. It’s commonly used to describe natto.

Example Sentence:

nattou, okura, yamaimo nado no neba neba shiteru tabemono ha tanpaku shitu ga takai noda.
Sticky foods such as nattou, okura (lady fingers) and yam are high in protein.

dan dan japanese onomatopoeia

Dan Dan (だんだん)

Dan Dan, meaning gradually or little by little. As an onomatopoeia, だん is also used to describe a sudden impact like the English ‘bam‘ or ‘bang

Example Sentence:

fuyu ni naruto dan dan kuraku naru no ga hayakunaru.
It gradually becomes darker quicker during winter.

gura gura japanese onomatopoeia

Gura Gura (ぐらぐら)

Gura Gura, meaning wobble or shake, is intended to sound like something wobbling or shaky.

Example Sentence:

お母さん見て! 歯がぐらぐらしてる!
okaasan mjite! ha ga gura gura shiteru!
Mom, look! My tooth is wobbling!

kan kan japanese onomatopoeia

Kan Kan  (かんかん)

Kan Kan, has multiple meanings, one of which is intense heat. Another meaning is two objects clanging, as it sounds like bells clanging. But it is also mainly used to describe someone angry.

Example Sentence:

kesa kara okaasan wa sugoku kankanda.
My mother has been mad since this morning.

gocha gocha japanese onomatopoeia

Gocha Gocha (ごちゃごちゃ)

Gocha Gocha, meaning messy or confused, is meant to sound like someone confused.

Example Sentence:

heya wa gocha gocha desho, hayaku katadukenasai!
Your room is so messy, hurry up and clean it!

kusu kusu japanese onomatopoeia

Kusu Kusu (くすくす)

Kusu Kusu, meaning to chuckle or to giggle, sounds like someone laughing. It’s commonly used with the kanji ‘笑’ (emi/wara).

Example Sentence:

nani kusu kusu to waratteruno?
What are you giggling about?

dara dara japanese onomatopoeia

Dara Dara (だらだら)

Dara dara, meaning lazily or inefficient, is used as a sound for a liquid dripping slowly.

Example Sentence:

dara dara shinai de, hayaku shukudai yatte.
Don’t be lazy and hurry up and do your homework!

yochi yochi japanese onomatopoeia

Yochi Yochi (よちよち)

Yochi yochi, meaning totteringly, or to walk in small steps. It’s usually used to represent a child walking.

Example Sentence:

yochi yochi to arum onna no ko ga totemo kawairashii.
The sight of the girl tottering was very cute.

yura yura japanese onomatopoeia

Yura Yura (ゆらゆら)

Yura yura, meaning slowly swaying, sounds like something swaying from side to side.

Example Sentence:

fune ga yurayura to yureru.
The ship slowly sways.

soro soro japanese onomatopoeia

Soro soro (そろそろ)

Soro soro, meaning to do something slowly or quietly, or that it’s “about time” for something, most commonly the latter.

Example Sentence:

soro soro ie ni kaeranai to ikenai.
I have to go home soon.

kyun kyun japanese onomatopoeia

Kyun Kyun (キュンキュン)

Kyun Kyun, meaning heartthrob or your heart tightening. It is meant to sound like your heart is getting squeezed, and is used most commonly in a romantic context.

Example Sentence: 

Shoujo manga o yonde, kyunkyun shimashi ta.
I read girl’s manga, which made my heart ache.

Putting Japanese 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!

Without OnomatopoeiaWith Onomatopoeia
Toshio-kun woke up and realized that he missed the alarm and is going to be late for class, his heartbeat went faster and faster. He rushed to the kitchenand 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. At full speed, he managed to arrive at class just in time.Toshio-kun woke up and realized that he missed the alarm, his heartbeat went ドキドキ, faster and faster. He rushed to the kitchen, パタパタ, and gulped down a cup of water, がぶがぶ. Then he got out of his house and the sun greeted him with blazing heat, かんかん. He peeked at his watch, チクタク, as the time goes by, Toshio-kun has 5 minutes before his class starts. At full speed, he managed to arrive at class ギリギリ, just in time.

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

There are a few ways you can incorporate onomatopeia. The longer you study Japanese, the more you realize that it’s actually easier (and more fun) to use Japanese onomatopoeia than their other normal word equivalent. Take a look at some of the situations where they are commonly used.

When you are studying Japanese日本語をペラペラになりたい。
Nihongo o pera pera ni naritai.
I want to be fluent in Japanese.
When you see a cockroach and your friend does not like it
Gyaagyaa sawagu na!
Don’t make a fuss!
When you are hungryお腹がペコペコだ
Onaka ga peko peko da.
I am hungry.
When you are full of excitementあした日本に行くのでワクワクしています!
Ashita nihon ni iku node waku waku shiteimasu.
I am going to Japan tomorrow so I am excited.
When you see a coupleあの二人はラブラブだ!
Ano futari wa rabu rabu da.
That couple is so lovey-dovey.
When it is raining and your shoes are soaked靴がビショビショ
Kutsu ga bisho bisho.
My shoes are drenched.

Representation and Usage of Japanese Onomatopoeia

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 all 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?

We hope you enjoyed the list. If you liked this article, check out other articles:

What is a Japanese onomatopoeia?

Onomatopoeia is a word created from the vocal imitation of the sound associated with it. Japanese onomatopoeia is taken from sounds of animals and things, but thy also desribe feelings, atmosphere and situation.

How many Japanese onomatopoeia are there?

There are 4,500 existing onomatopoeia.

Do Japanese people use onomatopoeia?

Japanese people use onomatopoeia in casual settings. They are heavily used in manga but unfortunately, the word may be lost in translation.

What are the types of Japanese onomatopoeia>

  • Animal and human sounds: Giseigo (擬声語)
  • Sounds made by inanimate objects and nature: Giongo (擬音語)
  • Sounds to desciribe conditions and states: Gitaigo (擬態語)
  • Sounds to describe movements and motions: Giyougo (擬容語)
  • Sounds to describe feelings: Gijougo (擬情語)

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. Get in touch with us and let us know how we can help you achieve your Japanese language target. Coto Japanese Academy provides a Japanese level check. 

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