Pikapika Dorodoro Barabara Buriburi Punpun Wanwan…

擬音語 are the Japanese version of Western onomatopeia. They are often used in comics, to add intensity to a scene, describe a noise or even a texture (though technically these would be 擬態語, and not onomatopoeia). But they have a much wider use, often replacing bona fide words or full sentences, in everyday conversations. They nearly all follow the same specific pattern: a group of two syllables repeated twice (pika-pika, pera-pera etc)… which makes them very easy to spot and remember… Using them in your daily conversation will simultaneously propel you to the ranks of l33t native speakers, and make you sound like one of these 13 year-old Japanese schoolgirl with 5 pounds of plushies dangling from her keitai.

I have compiled below a short list of all those I could remember, off the top of my head, along with a few friends’ contributions. I have made arbitrary use of katakana and hiragana, more or less dictated by what I’ve seen more often in writing. Rule of thumb is that most of these can be found in either form, depending on the mood of the author and the type of material it is used with. Mouse-over the kanas to get the romaji pronunciation….

The ubiquitous (all the time, provided you ever watch TV or speak to a Japanese teenager):

  • ピカピカ glittering!
  • ソラソラ sparkling!
  • ギリギリ quick (chop chop!)
  • ぺらぺら fluent (in a language)
  • ぺこぺこ starving
  • モシモシ [when answering the phone]


The commmon

  • ドロドロ messy/dirty (a room, a floor) or muddled (a relationship)
  • チャキチャキ efficient
  • ツルツル smooth, slippery
  • プンプン intense smell or furious anger
  • ポツポツ bit by bit
  • ベタベタ clingy (overeager lovers) or sticky (sweaty gaijin pig)
  • じめじめ humid, damp
  • ゆらゆら flickering

The uncommon (friends use them, dunno how universal they are):

  • バラバラ scattered, all over the place
  • エロエロ [will let you guess that one…]

The rare (those you likely won’t find in a dictionary, as they are total slang):

  • ブリブリ high
  • パキパキ fucked-up (much stronger than the slightly ‘cute’ ブリブリ)

The manga-style (those that sound like a comic strip description all by themselves):

  • キョロキョロ looking around restlessly
  • イライラ getting nervous (also as kanji: 苛々)
  • うろうろ walking aimlessly
  • カチカチ scared motionless

The real deal (actual onomatopeia, such as used in comics):

  • ワンワン bow-wow (dog)
  • ザアザア water sound (rain, river etc), white noise
  • ケラケラ cackle (hen)… [not quite certain]

The fake (not really 擬音語, but still close):

  • 色々 miscellaneous
  • 時々 sometimes
  • 中々 quite, considerably

Now your turn: send me your favorite 擬音語!