Japanese Onomatopoeia Guide

By Taylor Ahlstrom,

If you aren’t familiar with Japanese onomatopoeia (or any onomatopoeia for that matter) here is a quick introduction. Onomatopoeia is the word for when we take a sound and make a word out of it. In English, this is words like BOOM! SLAP! or HAHAHA! The spelling of these words is based on the sound that the action makes. Every language has onomatopoeia, but in every language they are slightly different. For instance, in many languages, the onomatopoeia for laughing isn’t “hahaha” but is often “kkkk” in Asian languages or in Spanish, “jjjj.” This may seem strange to English speakers, but of course it makes perfect sense to the native speaker!

The Japanese seem to like onomatopoeia even more than other languages (they have over 1,000!) so we are devoting a whole post to teaching you the most common Japanese onomatopoeia you might find. Japanese onomatopoeia aren’t just written, but they are also crucial to speaking and sounding fluent. There are 3 types of onomatopoeia you will learn in Japanese. 擬声語
(giseigo, animal and human sounds) like MOO! or YAAAWWWWN and 擬音語 (giongo, inanimate objects and nature sounds) both exist in English. The harder part about Japanese is that they have onomatopoeia that describe mental states, movements, and even feelings. Since we don’t have words for these in English they can be a bit harder to learn.

擬声語 (giseigo) Animal and human sounds
These are mostly what you will think of in English like MOOO! or ACHOO! or Sluurrrrrp.
擬音語 (giongo) Sounds made by inanimate objects and nature
What sound does the wind make? WOOOOSH! A beating heart? Thump, thump, thump.
擬態語 (gitaigo) Describe conditions and states (things that do not make sounds)
Gitaigo are onomatopoeia that we do not have in English. They describe feelings or states of being that make no sound at all!
 
To break down the names of the various onomatopoeia we can see the kanji 擬 means mimic + (insert type of sound) + 語 (kanji for word or speech).

You will see all the onomatopoeia written below in both hiragana and katakana. While there isn’t a hard and fast rule, usually actual sounds (like animal noises or doors slamming) are written in katakana and soft sounds (like ones that describe emotional states) are written in hiragana. Of course this isn’t a real rule, and you can see any of these sounds written either way depending on the context!

Japanese Onomatopoeia Forms:

Double Form: にこにこ (niko niko) -> For the double form, it is usually used as an adjective. For instance, “彼はいつもにこにこしている” meaning “He is always smiling” BUT it can also be used as an adverb to verbs that follow them.

TO Form: にこっと (nikotto) -> For TO form, it is mostly used an an adverb to verbs that come after. For example, “彼はにこっと笑った” (For this one there isn’t a literal translation because にこにこ is a representation of sounds/state of being) but this can be translated as “He pleasantly smiled” as “にこにこ” always has positive meanings.

RI Form: にこり (nikori) or にっこり -> Nikori can also be used as an adverb just like nikotto. So what is the difference between nikotto and nikori? Not much really, they are interchangeable and mean pretty much the same thing! “彼はにっこり笑った” meaning “He pleasantly smiled”
 


OK! Now we’re ready to learn some onomatopoeia and watch some fun anime gifs while we’re at it!


擬音語 – Sounds made by inanimate objects and nature


どきどき/ドキドキ – dokidoki sound of throbbing
dokidoki

ごぼごぼ/ゴボゴボ Gobogobo
Gurgling sound

japanese onomatopoeia

ぺらぺら/ペラペラ – perapera – sound of flapping in the wind
pekopeko onomatopoeia

ざあざあ/ザアザア – zaazaa – sound of rain falling
ザアザア rain falling

パリパリ — Paripari – crunchy; crisp

パリパリ paripari onomatopoeia

ずどん/ズドン – zudon – THUD! BANG!
ズドン zudon

へろへろ/ヘロヘロ – herohero – flimsy plastic flapping around – im tired, im beat

くしゃくしゃ – Kushakusha – Crumpling sound of paper

ギシギシ/ぎしぎし – Gishi gishi – Squeaking noise of beds or old floors

ぱちぱち/パチパチ – pachipachi – snapping closed, sharp pop or ping like pachinko!

 


擬態語 – Describe conditions and states


ラブラブ— Raburabu – Lovey dovey; head-over-heels in love

Often used to poke fun at classmates!
ラブラブ

にこにこ/ニコニコ – nikoniko – the sound a smile makes!

nikoniko smile onomatopoeia

きらきら/キラキラ – kirakira – twinkle twinkle (water, gemstones, or stars)

キラキラ twinkle twinkle japanese

オタオタ/おたおた — Otaota – shocked speechless

オタオタ shocked speechless

じー/ジー jii – staring and motionless

ジ staring manga jii

そわそわ — Sowasowa – fidgety; restless; have butterflies from excitement or nerves

うとうと – Utouto – To doze off

うとうと – Uto uto – To doze off

ちくちく – Chikuchiku — prickly pain; needle-like pain

ちくちく chikuchiku

ぎゅうぎゅう – Gyu gyu – Jam-packed like a train during rush hour

Image Credit Yeow Kwang Yeo

おろおろ – Orōro — too flustered to think or move

Orōro flustered

ワクワク/わくわく – wakuwaku — Excited; thrilled; to get nervous/anxious from excitement

ワクワク wakuwaku thrilled

うずうず — Uzūzu – to itch with desire; squirm, struggling to resist an urge

japanese onomatopoeia

イライラ/いらいら — irairai – edgy; testy; ticked off (especially when being made to wait)

ごろごろ — gorogoro – stay idle; laying around; loaf around

gorogoro lazy

つんつん — Tsuntsun – to be cross; cranky; aloof

つんつん — Tsuntsun to be cross; cranky; aloof

クラクラ/くらくら — kurakura – feel dizzy; light-headed

クラクラ kurakura

ねばねば — Nebaneba – sticky; gooey

ねばねば nebaneba sticky

ぞくぞく – Zokuzoku Excited; to have an adrenaline rush

ぞくぞく zokuzoku onomatopoeia

うとうと — Utōto – drowsy; nodding off

うとうとUtōto nodding off

のろのろ — noronoro – Sluggishly, lazily, draggingly

lazily dragging sluggish

きびきび – Kibikibi – Energetically

きびきび – Kibikibi – Energetically

ぬるぬる – Nurunuru – Slimy like a fish out of the water

ぬるぬる Nuru nuru

びっくり — Bikkuri thrilled; surprised; frightened; shocked

びっくり bikkuri thrilled surprised

ズキズキ/ずきずき – zukizuki — throbbing pain

ズキズキ/ずきずき zukizuki throbbing pain

ぐっすり — Gussuri – soundly sleeping

ぐっすり— soundly sleeping

すやすや — suyasuya – sleeping peacefully

Suyasuya すやすや

くたくた — kutakuta – weak with exhaustion; worn out; beat tired

くたくた exhausted

ぐしゃぐしゃ – Gushagusha – Messy hair or clothes

ぐしゃぐしゃ gusha gusha onomatopoeia japan manga


擬声語 Human & Animal Sounds


ガブガブ — Gabugabu – gulp vigorously; swig

ガブガブ swig

ごくごく — Gokugoku – gulp down a drink; drink in long gulps

ズルズル — Zuruzuru – slurp
ズルズル — Zuruzuru slurp

がつがつ/ガツガツ — gatsugatsu – eating ravenously; devour

がつがつ/ガツガツ — gatsugatsu eating ravenously; devour

ぺこぺこ — Pekopeko – Be hungry; starving; famished

ぱくぱく/パクパク— Pakupaku – heartily eating; quivering lips. This is also the origin of where Pac-Man came from!

ぱくぱく quivering lip

むしゃむしゃ — mushamusha – to munch or to chomp on something

ちびちび — Chibichibi – to nibble on food; to sip a drinkちびちび to nibble

がみがみ/ガミガミ — gamigami – nagging (loudly); scolding

ぺらぺら/ペラペラ — perapera – Speaking fluently

ぶつぶつ — Butsubutsu – grumble; muttered complaint

もぐもぐ meaning mumbling

はきはき/ハキハキ — Hakihaki – unhesitating; talk clearly and briskly

もぐもぐ/モグモグ – mogumogu – chewing food, also mumbling
もぐもぐ/モグモグ mogumogu

Animal Sounds

ワンワン — wan-wan

Woof (dog)
japanese onomatopoeia

ウォーッ – U~ō~tsu

Howl (dog)
japanese onomatopoeia

ニャーニャー – Nyānyā

meow (cat)
japanese onomatopoeia

ゴロゴロ – Gorogoro

Purr (cat), but in hiragana ごろごろ “to be lazy”
japanese onomatopoeia

モーモー – momo

Moo (cow)
japanese onomatopoeia

ヒヒーン – Hihīn

Neigh (horse)
japanese onomatopoeia

ケロケロ — Kerokero

Ribbit (frog)

ホーホー – Hōhō

hoot (owl)

チチチ – Chichichi

tweet (birds)
japanese animal sounds

チュンチュン – Chunchun

Chirp (bird)
japanese animal sounds

リンリン – Rinrin

Chirping (cricket)
animal sounds in japanese

チュウチュウ – Chūchū

squeak (mouse)
animal sounds in japanese

ブーン/ぶーん – Būn

Buzz (bee), also used for cars
animal sounds in japanese

ブーブー – Būbū

Oink (pig)
japanese animal sounds

Here are a few more as well…can you find some anime or manga that shows these 擬態語? Share it in the comments!


しーん/シーン – shiin – the sound of silence
In manga this is most often used when someone tries to say something funny and it isn’t funny, to describe the sound of no one laughing!

こそこそ – Kosokoso – Sneakingly; secretly

ねばねば – Nebaneba – Sticky like okra or raw egg

ぱさぱさ – Pasapasa Dry; lacks moisture

ぐずぐず – Guzuguzu – To procrastinate; act slowly

しくしく — Shikushiku – dull pain; gripping pain
This is also used when someone is crying

ぐちゃぐちゃ — Guchagucha – pulpy; soppy; soggy

ぼそぼそ — Bosoboso tasteless, bland, and dry; muttering under your breath

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