So, you’re starting to gain some fluency in Japanese, and you’re eager to converse with Japanese natives.
How about conversing with their pets?
Do you know how a dog barks in Japanese?
Do you know how a Japanese cat meows, how a horse neighs or how to describe the trumpeting of an elephant?
There are thousands of onomatopoeia in Japanese, which add wonderful texture to the language.
For me, learning vocab is the most tedious and difficult part of learning a new language. There’s just so much to learn, and it’s so hard to figure out where to even begin to tackle the task ahead.
Even when you’re well into a language, there always seems to be so many more words to learn. Not to mention all the words you have to remember from right at the beginning of your study!
Why Bother Learning Onomatopoeia?
So, sometimes you need to take a break from serious study and just learn something for the fun of it. While there are many benefits of learning a new language, the whole experience has to stay fun in order to keep your focus and motivation alive.
So, here’s a fun little exercise for you. Learning some onomatopoeia is a great way to liven up your Japanese and make yourself sound a little more like a local—and a verbose one at that! Common onomatopoeia can be broken up into categories, depending on what the sound is used to describe. The one for human and animal sounds is called 擬声語 (ぎせいご), and you’ll hear its content a lot from natives.
The strangest and most fun thing about onomatopoeia in foreign languages is that, when you first read them aloud, you think “um, this sounds completely wrong. Meanwhile, while you’re in that country, these native sounds really do sound more like the local words for them! Dogs do seem to say “wan wan” rather than “woof,” and heartbeats sound more like “doki doki” than “ba-boom, ba-boom.” Trick of the mind? Or true?
I’ll leave that up to you to decide.
So why not throw a fun, quirky little set of words into the works of your more serious Japanese study by learning this list of onomatopoeic Japanese words for animal sounds?
Some Things to Keep in Mind About Animal Sounds
They’re nice and easy, in the sense that onomatopoeia is almost always written in either hiragana or katakana. The choice of which tends to be determined by the sound of the word itself.
So, if the sound is “softer” it’s often written in hiragana, while katakana is used for stronger or “harder” sounds. That makes this is a pretty good way to practice your katakana if you’re not so confident with that yet.
And, just to add to the lesson, I’ll include the verbs for what sounds the animals make (e.g., to howl, to hoot).
If you’re feeling a bit lazy, there’s actually a universal verb for all animal sounds in Japanese: 鳴く (なく).
Once you learn the onomatopoeia, you can always use 鳴く to finish the sentence, for example: 犬はワンワンと鳴く. (いぬは わんわんと なく.)
Or, as another example: ひよこはぴよぴよと鳴きます. (ひよこは ぴよぴよ となきます.)
That’s just for starters, though. Let’s get into those specific sounds!
16+ Japanese Animal Sounds Made by Our Favorite Pets, Farm Animals and Wildlife
1. Dogs: ワンワン (わんわん)
This is the sound made by your friendly, household 犬 (いぬ – dog). “To bark” in Japanese is 吠える (ほえる).
2. Cats: ニャーニャー (にゃーにゃー)
This is the sound made by a 猫 (ねこ – cat).
To “hiss” in Japanese uses the onomatopoeia しゃーっ, and to use this as a verb, “to hiss,” we say しゃーっという音を出す (しゃーっという おとをだす), literally “to put out the sound of a hiss.”
3. Horses: ヒヒーン (ひひーん)
You’ll want to know the sound made by a 馬 (うま – horse) if you get to visit a farm somewhere in rural Japan.
“To neigh” in Japanese is いななく.
4. Cows: モーモー (もーもー)
いななく can also be used to mean “to bray,” which is often the sound a 牛 (うし – cow) is described to make.
5. Mice: チューチュー (ちゅーちゅー)
I don’t know if it would ever be used to describe the sound a mouse—ネズミ (ねずみ)—makes, but the verb “to squeak” or “to creak” in Japanese is 軋る (きしる).
6. Frogs: ケロケロ (けろけろ)
Bigger frogs—カエル (かえる)—make the sound ゲロゲロ (げろげろ) instead.
Interestingly, in Japanese “croak” is a noun, as in “the frog’s croak.” This word is しわがれ声 (しわがれ ごえ), used as in カエルのしわがれ声 (かえるの しわがれ ごえ).
7. Chicks: ピヨピヨ (ぴよぴよ)
Wee little chicks, or ひよこ, make these peeping sounds. Cute, right?
8. Roosters: コケコッコー (こけこっこー)
This one might feel a bit wrong to English speakers. They’re missing a syllable! Do you think roosters, or 雄鳥 (おんどり) in Japanese, crow with one less syllable in Japan?
Speaking of which, “crow” is again a noun, used as 雄鶏の鳴き声 (おんどりのなきごえ).
9. Ducks: ガーガー (がーが)
This is so much more accurate than “quack” for the sound made by a duck, or あひる.
Amazingly, there’s a Japanese equivalent of the English noun “quack,” as in a bogus or false doctor: 偽医者 (にせ いしゃ) or やぶ医者 (やぶ いしゃ).
10. Monkeys: ウキウキ (うきうき)
Monkeys, or 猿 (さる), sometimes also make the sound キキ(きき).
There are a few words to mean “screech” in Japanese. There’s a noun, 金切声 (かなきりごえ), and a verb, 怒鳴る (どなる), which can be used to mean “to bellow/shout/roar/cry/scream”… you get what I mean. It’s a versatile verb- I love those ones…
11. Birds: ピチュピチュ (ぴちゅぴちゅ)
Birds, or 鳥 (とり), are also said to make the sound, チュンチュン (ちゅんちゅん).
Better than tweet tweet?
Honestly, I don’t think either is too accurate, though birds all sound different, so I don’t even know why we try…maybe we’re better off using verbs for this one.
Luckily, there’s a Japanese verb for “to tweet,” which can also mean “to chatter” or “to whistle”: さえずる.
Also, if you don’t like birds very much and somehow find yourself surrounded by Japanese birds, the Japanese command to shoo birds away is, “しっしっ!”
12. Elephants: パオーン (ぱおーん)
You might not see many elephants, or 象 (ぞう) outside zoos and children’s shows in Japan, but who knows when these sounds will come in handy!
This one does not transliterate very well, but it’s actually a pretty good attempt at transliterating that animal sound, which honestly I think was never meant to be written down.
13. Flies: ブーン (ぶーん)
This is a pretty accurate transliteration of “bzzz” for flies, or 蝿 (はえ). It expresses how super annoying this noise is pretty well.
There’s a verb, ざわめく, that expresses a sound like a buzz, a burr or a murmur, like the sound of a crowd of people all speaking at once, or a fly or mosquito in your bedroom keeping you up at night.
14. Wolves: ワオーン (わおーん)
I don’t think the English wolf sound has ever been written down. How should it even be written? A-woooo?
When you’re talking about wolves, or 狼 (おおかみ), in Japanese, you should know that “howl” in Japanese is a noun, 遠吠え (とおぼえ), to which you can add -する to make a verb “to howl,” which looks like this: 遠吠えする (とおぼえする).
The verb “to growl” is 唸る (うなる), which can also be used to mean to groan/roar/snarl/moan/howl/hum/drone etc.—so, another wonderfully versatile verb!
I don’t think rabbits—ウサギ (うさぎ)—actually make a sound, but apparently the sound they make when they hop is ピョンピョン (ぴょんぴょん), which no one can deny is completely adorable.
16. What Does the Fox Say?
At last, an answer: The fox—狐 (きつね)—says, “コンコン” (こんこん)!
Bonus: The All-purpose “Roar”
What does a “roar” sound like when made by the likes of a lion, ライオン (らいおん), tiger, 虎 (とら) or monster, 化け物 (ばけもの)?
Here you go: ガオー (がおー)
There are a few verbs that can be used to mean “to roar”: 怒鳴る (どなる), 唸る (うなる) and 吠える (ほえる) all work, and then there’s also 轟く (とどろく), which can also be used as a noun: 轟きが聞こえる (とどろきが きこえる – I can hear a roar).
And, now, would you look at that—not only do you have a smattering of onomatopoeia and sound verbs to add to your increasingly colorful Japanese vocabulary, but you have more knowledge of animal names!
Now, hop like a bunny and get to learning all this!