Japanese Onomatopoeias: An Easy Guide to The 10 Most Used Ones!

Author: Mizuki Ichihira & Valeria  japanese M-Words

When reading on a smartphone, we recommend turning the screen to landscape mode.

An onomatopoeia is a word created to phonetically imitate the sound it describes. If you are learning the Japanese language you must know that it’s full of onomatopoeias. You can hear these words everywhere, from anime to everyday life in Japan. Then, to learn more about Japanese and be able to speak it fluently, check our list with the 10 most used Japanese onomatopoeias!

What Are Japanese Onomatopoeias?

In Japanese, onomatopoeias describe a lot of nuances to express sounds of animals, nature, objects, feelings, and movement. You can write them both in hiragana and katakana. Keep in mind that the second one is normally used to emphasize sounds, not only for onomatopoeias but for words in general. 

In addition, to learn Japanese onomatopoeias, you need to experience the sound or sensation it describes. As a result, being able to use Japanese onomatopoeias means that you can feel the details or more sophisticated expressions.

Different Types of Onomatopoeias: Giongo and Gitaigo

Firstly, there are two categories of Japanese onomatopoeias: Giongo and Gitaigo. They both mean “onomatopoeia”, but with different nuances. Let’s see them:

  • Giongo ・ 擬音語 are words that imitate noise and natural sounds, any concrete sounds that you can hear. They include animals call sounds, like ワンワン (wan wan, dog’s barking), げろげろ (gero gero, frog’s croaking), or nature sounds like “raining heavily” = ザーザー (zaa zaa).
  • Gitaigo ・ 擬態語 are mimetic words, which express state of things and emotions. It’s not something you can actually “hear”. For example, ワクワク (waku waku, to be excited), or ドキドキ (doki doki, being in a state of anxiety or emotion, with bated breath).

Why Are Onomatopoeias so Important?

Onomatopoeias are very important in the Japanese language because they’re used really often in everyday life. In fact, it is said that the Japanese language has more than 4,000 onomatopoeias! Everyone uses them, from children to adults. However, some of them can’t be translated into other languages, because they describe concepts that can’t be expressed by verbs only. For example, the verb “to laugh”, warau (笑う) in Japanese, uses different onomatopoeias to express its nuances: 

kusukusu warau くすくす笑う means “to giggle”, while geragera warau ゲラゲラ笑う it’s “to laugh loudly” (with a wide-open mouth!). Furthermore, nikoniko warau にこにこ笑う (or only にこにこ) means “to smile”. And there are other nuances to express this verb.

10 of The Most Used Japanese Onomatopoeias

1. Fuwa fuwa・ふわふわ

Number 1 in our list is fuwa fuwa ふわふわ: this describes a soft feeling, like when you press something and it comes slowly back. This is the sensation that a cushion, a marshmallow, a pancake, a sponge, or even a cloud gives you. However, keep in mind that fuwa fuwa is not the same concept as the adjective yawarakai, やわらかい meaning “soft, tender”. That’s because yawarakai misses the “slowly comes back after pressing” sensation.

Kono ke-ki wa fuwa fuwa da.
This cake is fluffy.

2. Ira ira・イライラ

Second, ira ira イライラ means getting annoyed, frustrated, or impatient. Like when you are kept waiting for a long time and can’t do anything about it.

Basu ga konakute ira ira suru.
I get frustrated when the bus doesn’t come.

3. Pika pika・ピカピカ

Next Japanese onomatopoeias pika pika! ピカピカ means “to shine, to sparkle”. It describes lights, but also something so new or clean that it’s shining.

Heya o pika pika ni so-ji shita.
I cleaned the room until it was sparkling clean.

4. Gocha gocha ・ ごちゃごちゃ

ごちゃごちゃ gocha gocha can refer to a desk, a room or a street, to express the disordered state of it. In addition, it means “to complain, to grumble”.

Tsukue ga gocha gocha shiteiruto, shu-chu- dekinai.
When the desk is cluttered, it’s hard to concentrate.

5. Kacha kacha ・ カチャカチャ

Likewise, similar to ごちゃごちゃ is カチャカチャ kacha kacha, but with a specific nuance. In fact, it refers only to the typical sound of typing on a computer keyboard or using a key to open something.

Kacha kacha urusai!
Stop making noises! (with the keyboard)

6. Mochi mochi ・ モチモチ

モチモチ mochi mochi is another way to express “soft”, but with a different nuance compared to fuwa fuwa. Sure enough, like the mochi itself (a Japanese rice cake), it’s not only “soft”, but also “chewy”, with the rubber consistency.

Kono tapioka wa mochi mochi de oishii.
This tapioca is chewy and delicious.

7. Pera pera ・ ぺらぺら

That’s the word you need to use to express the level of Japanese you want to achieve. Indeed, ペラペラ pera pera means “fluently”.

Kanojo wa eigo ga pera pera da.
She speaks English fluently.

8. Atsu atsu ・ あつあつ

あつあつ atsu atsu refers to something that is hot or steaming. It is often used to describe freshly cooked or heated food that is still hot and steamy. In addition, atsu atsu can also be used to depict the passionate and intense love between a couple.

Kono takoyaki wa mada atsu atsu da.
This takoyaki is still piping hot.

9. Goro goro ・ ゴロゴロ

ゴロゴロ goro goro it’s both the sound of the thunder, and the one of cats purring. Furthermore, goro goro can also mean the rumbling of the stomach, or the lazy “rolling around” performed by an idle person at home on the weekend.

Kyu-jitsu wa ie de goro goro sugosu noga suki da.
I enjoy spending my days off lounging around at home.

10. Peko peko ・ ペコペコ

Finally, last of our top 10 list is ペコペコ. Peko peko means “starving”, widely used in anime.

Onaka ga peko peko da.
I’m starving.

Please register as a We member for free to join the conversation on this topic. Once registered, you’ll receive a free interactive lesson as a gift to you!

Do you know any other Japanese onomatopoeias?

5 1 vote
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Related posts