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Have you ever wondered why Pikachu says, “Pika-pika”? It’s just a random noise that sounds like his name, right? Wrong! Pika-pika is actually an onomatopoeia for something sparkling, like lightning– how fitting for a Pokemon whose ability is static electricity! But wait a minute, flashing light doesn’t make a sound! How can it be an onomatopoeia?

Japanese can be, more times than not, a tricky language. Onomatopoeia not only have three distinct categories that far surpass the narrow range of those in English, but can also be used mid-sentence and as various parts of speech. Even seasoned veterans of Japanese can’t always figure out the meanings.

Take, for instance, Canadian YouTube star Sharla (from Sharla in Japan). Sharla has lived and worked as a translator in Japan for a while, but she still has trouble with those darn onomatopoeia. For our educational viewing pleasure, she made a video of her and her friend being quizzed on different commonly used onomatopoeia. How does she fair? Well, she got some of them…

▼ How many of these can you get right?

For those of you not familiar with Japanese onomatopoeia, let’s delve a little deeper into the subject. As I mentioned above, there are three categories: giongo, giseigo (technically a subcatergory of ginongo) and gitaigo.

Giongo is the easier category, as it is most similar to what we have in English. Pin-pon is the sound of a doorbell, pari-pari is a crispy or crunchy sound, doki-doki is the heart-beat.


Giseigo are the sounds that animals and humans make, the dog’s wan-wan, a mouse’s chuu-chuu, a human’s scream, kyaa, and children at play, wai-wai.


Gitaigo, on the other hand, can get pretty annoying if you don’t know what’s coming at you. This category consists of sounds used to describe an action, expression, or emotion; things that don’t actually have sounds.


If your boss is angry, you could describe him as ira-ira to your coworker in a hushed voice. But when he notices you whispering, the whole room might go shiin (sound of silence, often times awkward silence). As you sit paku (unable to move your mouth), your boss comes jiwa-jiwa (advances slowly), but suddenly he’s niko-niko (smiles) and gyuu gives you a hug. This may make you feel waku-waku (excited). But when you notice how sara-sara (smooth) his jacket is, you become suddenly aware of how moja-moja (messy) your hair is, so you get odo-odo (feeling uneasy) as jiro-jiro, everyone is staring at you. Get it?

While onomatopoeia may be hard to grasp at first, or even after years of studying Japanese, it is quite a fun and interesting side of the language that will not only make learning Japanese more entertaining, but will likely impress those around you when you use them in casual conversation. Good luck!

Source: Toychan日本語擬態語辞典 (an excellent bilingual gitaigo dictionary).
Images: YouTube (Sharla in Japan), Pixabay (1, 2), Bizclip (Images edited by RocketNews24)