Text saying "boom" next to cartoon bomb on orange background

70 Common Japanese Onomatopoeia and How to Use Them (With Audio)

Woof, roar, tick-tock, ding-dong, whoosh, BOOM!

All of these are examples of onomatopoeia, or words that imitate the sound it describes.

In Japanese, onomatopoeia is known as 擬音語  (ぎおんご).

This post will give you a complete rundown on Japanese onomatopoeia— the five types, 70 useful onomatopoeia words, how the words are used in everyday Japanese and more.


What Are The 5 Types of Japanese Onomatopoeia?

Onomatopoeia can be broken into five different groups:

擬声語 (ぎせいご) — Giseigo
These are sounds made by living things like birds tweeting or children laughing.

擬音語 (ぎおんご) — Giongo
These are sounds made by inanimate objects such as airplanes or creaky doors.

擬態語 (ぎたいご) — Gitaigo
These are words that depict emotions or bodily feelings, like the sound of someone growing angry or the sound of your stomach growling.

擬容語 (ぎようご) — Giyougo
These are sounds that describe movement.

擬情語 (ぎじょうご) — Gijougo
These are words that describe feelings and emotions.

Usually, onomatopoeia that mimics a sound is written in katakana.

For example, ワンワン (woof woof), ケロケロ (ribbit ribbit) and ドカン (boom!) are all written in katakana.

Onomatopoeia that mimics actions, emotions, psychological or physical states of being is usually written in hiragana.

わくわく (to get nervous or excited with anticipation), ねばねば (to be sticky) and きらきら (to shine, sparkle and glisten), for instance, are seen in hiragana.

But this isn’t a strict rule, and depending on the writer, any onomatopoeia can appear in hiragana or katakana.

Every onomatopoeia is broken into three basic forms:

Double Form: にこにこ (niko niko)

-と Form: にこっと (nikotto)

-り Form: にこ (nikori)

Using onomatopoeia in sentences will appear in one of these forms.

But not all onomatopoeia can take every one of these forms (it may only use two), and their meaning can change slightly depending on the one it’s in.

Additionally, some words look like onomatopoeia but are not. When in doubt, always double-check!

NihongoResources and Tangorin (my personal favorite) are awesome dictionaries that you can use to look up different onomatopoeia.

Animal and Human Onomatopoeia — Giseigo ( 擬声語 )


Japanese OnomatopoeiaEnglish
ワンワン woof (dog)
ウォーッ howl (dog)
ニャーニャー meow (cat)
ゴロゴロ purr (car)
モーモー moo (cow)
ヒヒーン neigh (horse)
ケロケロ ribbit (frog)
ホーホー hoot (owl)
チチチ tweet (birds)
チュンチュン chirp (bird)
リンリン chirping (cricket)
チュウチュウ squeak (mouse)
ぶーん buzz (bee)
ブーブー oink (pig)


Japanese OnomatopoeiaEnglish
ちびちび to sip a drink; to nibble on food
ガブガブ gulp vigorously; swig
ごくごく gulp down a drink; drink in long gulps
ズルズル slurp
がつがつ eating ravenously; devour
ぱくぱく heartily eating; quivering lips
むしゃむしゃ to munch or to chomp on something
ちびちび to nibble on food; to sip a drink
すやすや sleeping peacefully
ぐっすり soundly sleeping
うとうと drowsy; nodding off
くたくた weak with exhaustion; worn out; beat tired
がみがみ nagging (loudly); scolding
ぶつぶつ grumble; muttered complaint
もぐもぐ mumble
はきはき unhesitating; talk clearly and briskly
くらくら feel dizzy; light-headed

Inanimate Objects Onomatopoeia — Giongo ( 擬音語 )

Japanese OnomatopoeiaEnglish
ぐちゃぐちゃ pulpy; soppy; soggy
パリパリ crunchy; crisp
ねばねば sticky; gooey
ぼそぼそ tasteless, bland and dry; muttering under your breath
ちくちく prickly pain; need-like pain
ずきずき throbbing pain
しくしく dull pain; gripping pain
バタン shutting; bang
ドサッ falling hard; falling of a heavy object
コンコン knocking
ガシャン crashing

Emotions or Bodily Feelings Onomatopoeia — Gitaigo ( 擬態語 )

Japanese OnomatopoeiaEnglish
のろのろ sluggishly, lazily, dragging
ごろごろ stay idle; laying around; loaf around
べとべと sticky
べとべと sticky (from blood or sweat)
グルグル dizzy
ピリピリ spicy; hot
ほかほか warm food or body
じろじろ staring intensely
さっぱり feeling refreshed
ひんやり feeling cool

Movement Onomatopoeia — Giyougo ( 擬容語 )

Japanese OnomatopoeiaEnglish
ガチガチ teeth chattering
カバカバ eating quickly, chewing rapidly
すたこら walking briskly
ゆっくり to do something slowly
うろうろ wandering around aimlessly
がくがく joints shaking, knees wobbling
ぶるぶる trembling or shivering (from anger, fear, coldness, etc.)
うとうと nodding off into sleep; half asleep
のろのろ rolling; moving slow and sluggishly

Feelings and Emotions Onomatopoeia — Gijougo (擬情語)

Japanese OnomatopoeiaEnglish
うずうず to itch with desire; struggling to resist an urge
おろおろ too flustered, nervous, shocked to think or move
そわそわ fidgety; restless; have butterflies from excitement or nerves
びっくり thrilled; surprised; frightened; shocked
いらいら edgy; testy; ticked off (especially when being made to wait)
つんつん to be cross; cranky; aloof
でれでれ moonstruck; behave as if moonstruck
おたおた shocked speechless
どきどき heart pounding; nervous; excited

How to Use Japanese Onomatopoeia

Japanese onomatopoeia is used in everyday conversation and is a great way to mix up your vocabulary and impress your friends.

Onomatopoeia helps convey a clearer message of what you’re trying to say by attaching itself to a verb.

Take the verb, 笑う (to laugh) for example. A loud, boisterous laugh is “ げらげら .” So to express loud laughter, or laughing out loud, we can say “ げらげら笑う!

You can also slightly change the meaning of an onomatopoeia depending on what form it’s in or the word it’s attached to. For example:

うとうと眠る — to have a nap

うとうとする — to fall into a sleep

うとうと眠る — to doze off to sleep

Lastly, some onomatopoeia must be used with the participle と (a particle that quotes a thought, sound or speech), such as these:

彼女は「好きです」言った — She said, “I like it.”

彼は「ダメだ」言った — He said, “No.”

今はすやすや静かな寝息を立てている — Now they are sleeping soundly.

Take a look at these examples where Japanese onomatopoeia is used in common conversation:

日本語がぺらぺらになりたい — I want to become fluent in Japanese
彼女はフランス語がぺらぺらです — She is fluent in French

お腹がぺこぺこです — I’m starved
朝ご飯から何も食べてなくて、お腹がぺこぺこだよ — I haven’t eaten since breakfast, so I’m really hungry

As you can see from the last two examples, ぺこぺこ  doesn’t have a direct translation like “starving” or “hungry.” Rather, it can mean both based on the context.

The same applies here:

彼女は彼をみてわくわくした — She was excited to see him
新しい仕事にわくわくしている — I’m thrilled with my new job

彼らはラブラブのカップルだ — They’re a lovey-dovey couple
今、二人はラブラブ — Now they’re deeply in love

Since Japanese onomatopoeia is very context-based, the best way to learn new onomatopoeia and become good at using them is to immerse yourself in Japanese content.

You can do this easily by reading manga, talking to a language partner and/or using an immersion-based language learning program like FluentU.

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

You can try FluentU for free for 2 weeks. Check out the website or download the iOS app or Android app.

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Now that you’ve seen onomatopoeia, it’s just begging to be used in conversation.

Japanese onomatopoeia is used daily, so keep your eyes and ears peeled for it in your favorite manga, Japanese dramas and classic films. Or better yet, try to slip some into a conversation!

And One More Thing...

If you love learning Japanese with authentic materials, then I should also tell you more about FluentU.

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FluentU has a broad range of contemporary videos as you'll see below:


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And FluentU has a learn mode which turns every video into a language learning lesson. You can always swipe left or right to see more examples.


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