Feb 9, 2022Blog, Inspiration, Language Study


A delightful arrow in the linguistic quiver is to sprinkle one’s Japanese with onomatopoeia.

These most flavourful sounds and phrases always add special sauce to the esoteric Japanese language. 

Perhaps it is the ancient Japanese way of animism that has lead to a plethora of these interesting sounds as the Japanese language developed over the millennia, based upon life in all things (ban butsu 万物).  

Spirits and Animism in Japan - Land Of The Rising Son

One can draw upon a wealth of onomatopoeia to express subtle feelings and images, sounds and actions, and allows one to express ideas in an animated and stimulating way.

For certain one must have a solid grasp of the fundamentals when on the quest to master any language, and this is where the traditional systems of language acquisition can not be replaced. 

For many foreigners, the start of the Japanese language journey starts with the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test).

Japanese Language Proficiency Test - Land Of The Rising SonThis language proficiency standard is an important tools for anyone coming to Japan with the intent of intergrating into the community.

Reflecting back to the start of one’s own reading journey, after mastering hiragana and katakana, the next step should have been to immediately start to study the Ministry of Education Primary Education Grade 1 Japanese language curriculum.

Studying at the level of 6 and 7 year-old Japanese elementary school children also has a tendency to instill one with some humility and perspective as well.

小1年国語教材書ワーク - Land Of The Rising Son

Here one not only builds critical reading skills, but gains exposure to the Japanese cultural motif, which is fundamental to understand the ancient culture of the Japanese, and is a second order effect of studying Japanese primary school kokugo.

While on one’s own Way to Japanese language proficiency and life-mastery, it is always beneficial, and personally edifying to explore the plethora of nooks and crannies lurking within the esoteric Japanese language.

Another great place to find linguistic gems along with onomatopoeia phrases is inside four-character-compounds (yon moji juku go 四文字熟語).

All those seeking Japanese language proficiency will also benefit considerably from this particular app, which will probably keep one occupied for a very long time, courtesy of the generous people at NOWPRODUCTION.

NOWPRODUCTIONS - 書き取り漢字練習 - Land Of The Rising Sun.png

So, what exactly is an onomatopoeia?

An onomatopoeia can be described as the formation of a name or word by an imitation of the sound associated with a thing.

Onomatopoeia can also be a word imitating the sound of the thing or action that it signifies.

One could say onomatopoeia words bring a kind of poetry and life to the basic and monotonic speech pattern of the abstruse Japanese language.

Ever lived in Japan? 

Here one has undoubtedly come across the phrase pera pera.

Onomatopoeia- Nihongo pera pera- Land Of The Rising Son

This common onomatopoeia can be heard in praise and encouragement of any attempt foreigners make to communicate in Japanese. 

In fact, pera pera means language-fluency, and the Japanese will use this onomatopoeia liberally as it is in their nature to be especially complimentary to those attempting to speak Japanese. 

Alas, with this particular compliment, one may also be experiencing what is known as shakojirei, or “saying something for politeness sake,” which is also an unwritten social convention and protocol, and these compliment on one’s language ability must always be taken with a grain of salt.

However, skillfully inserting one or two onomatopoeia into one’s spoken Japanese will have Japanese friends and colleagues in awe of your incredible language skills, and how quickly you have become pera pera, and this time, they will really mean it. 

In general, the Japanese language is rich in words expressing feelings.

Thus, there are many onomatopoeia phrases to describe the touch and feel of something, even how food feels in the mouth. 

assari – light delicate flavour: Use when saying something nice about food that has no taste

kote kote or kotteri– smother, rich food, paint makeup on thick

shaki shaki – crisp like fruits or vegetables

hoka hoka – nicely steaming, hot food, feeling warm and pleasant

neba neba – sticky (not necessarily unpleasant), natto is neba neba

Natto- Land Of The Rising Son

There are many words and phrases to describe what is important to the speaker, or what sticks out in their perception of their environment. 

Anyone who spend any amount of time in Japan will not be surprised to know that there are numerous ways to talk about Japanese seasons. 

kan kan – blazing heat or sun, clanging sound, very angry

karatto – weather clears up, crisp

don yori – overcast, gloomy, dull

soyo soyo – light breeze

jittori – moist with sweat

Beads of Sweat - Land Of The Rising Son

The Japanese workers are diligent and loyal company employees, and famous for long hours and deep dedication to their company and work. 

So, of course there is a bouquet of onomatopoeia to related to feelings, attitudes, and approaches to work.

dogimagi – flustered, loose composur

kiri kiri – so busy you seem to be spinning, sharp continuous pain

zuba zuba – straight talking, directly

chakkari – shrewd, planning, having sound business sense

unzari – fed up, sick and tired

うんざり - Land Of The Rising Son

Onomatopoeia expressions are the musical notes of Japanese, and bring charm and creativity to everyday encounters and transactions among the Japanese, and to those who have taken the time to explore the nooks and crannies of the Japanese.

There it is!

No matter what one’s own Japanese language ability, today is always the best day to improve, and the almighty onomatopoeia is certain to be an important ally in the quest for mastery of Japanese.