Curious Katakana Words 2

Last time we looked at foreign expressions that make up a portion of Curious Katakana Words. Today we explore some useful onomatopoeic words you can use to really express yourself!

Firstly though, a quick note about the difference between onomatopoeic words and mimetic words.

Onomatopoeia, as we are taught in secondary school English classes, consists of words that sound like the thing they express. That is, they imitate the real sound of a subject or object. As you might guess, different languages have different ways of interpreting how something sounds. An example might be a frog’s croak. In English, ribbit-ribbit, but in Japanese, gero-gero.

Linguistic Mimesis (also known as Ideophones) is used to refer to words that evoke a very strong sensation of a particular thing. The biggest difference to onomatopoeia is that they do not actually have to resemble real sounds. Mimetic words can represent ideas, feelings or impressions of a sensory perception. For example, the shininess of golden objects might be expressed with bling-bling in English, or kira-kira in Japanese. No actual sound comes from gold, but hearing someone say ‘bling-bling’ evokes a strong sense of shininess. Cool, no?

See if you can identify which words are onomatopoeic and which are mimetic while you study :).

Onomatopoeia and Mimesis


Chattering noise. Used especially to refer to people who are too talkative or noisy.


Shiny, sparkly or reflective. I should imagine the Pokemon Pikachu got his name from this!


A bloated full stomach. This evokes the image of something sticking out or bulging, ready to explode.


Gulp-gulp. Glug-glug. The noise of a liquid being drunk very hastily.


Smiling or grinning. To be happy. If you write it like this: ニコッ you evoke the impression of a quick grin (the small Kana っ – called a 促音 in Japanese – is a glottal stop. You add a little pause before the next word. When it is used at the end of a word like this, imagine cutting off the end, making it shorter and snappier.


Speaking in a fluent manner. Beginning learners will learn this phrase early as they are complimented on their Japanese skills.


Light or airy. It can also used to describe sickness when you feel faint or drunk, such as light-headedness. It really does ‘sound’ like a floaty cloud, no?


Ever seen those cute Japanese girls that puff their cheeks out while frowning? Yup, that’s pun-pun. Harmless anger or irritation. Note that while it can be used in jest, it is also used seriously too.


Mumble-mumble. The whispering, can’t-quite-hear sound of somebody speaking in a low voice. Also good for grumbling and being sulky.


Rapidly. This word imitates the feeling of advancing at a fast pace.


Ribbit-ribbit. Gotta love frogs! Maybe croak-croak would work. No? Actually, gero in Japanese means ‘sick’ or ‘puke’ – the stuff you throw up. I always thought it a shame that a frog’s croak was the same word used to describe throwing up…


Chomp-chomp. Munch-much. Any guesses where Pacman got his name? Yup, chomp-chomping his way through pellets.

Scientific/Technical Expressions

Next then, let’s take a look at some scientific and technical words – another thing Katakana is used for. There are of course many more, but being specialist and obscure, their use is limited. I kept the list trim.


Cancer. This can be written using Katakana, even though it has a kanji. Be careful not to confuse it with ガーン, which is a mimetic word evoking the feeling of shock or disappointment. The kind you might see in manga where the character is surrounded by vertical, black lines and has surprised expression.


A laboratory. Again, another word to be careful not to confuse it with is ラブホ, which means ‘love hotel’!


The essense or extract of something. (Examples might be plant extracts used in moisturisers).


A skin doctor / Department of Dermatology. The first two characters are sometimes written in katakana for simplicity. It literally means the ‘skin department’ (of a medical practice).


A mannerism. Not strictly scientific, but related to the arts world. It also means ‘to be stuck in a rut’, like when things are boring in a relationship.


To round up lesson 2 then, here are a few words used most often for expression. You’ll see them used over and over again on Japanese television game shows.


Cute. Elongate the final sound to add even more emphasis (and sound like a girl). カワイイ~~!Written in Kanji as 可愛い.


Cool. The same nuance as the English word – something good, popular or attractive. Written in Kanji as 格好いい.


Ultra. As used in the Japanese super hero’s name: Ultraman! ウルトラマン!


Hooray! Yes! I did it! Used to express happiness at the current situation, usually where something good has been achieved.


Great! Several variations exist for this word. The common form is 凄い (すごい) just meaning ‘great’ or ‘amazing’ (in both a positive and negative sense). Extending the sounds and adding pauses gives the word extra punch. Like above: スッゴイ!or スゴイ~!Be careful of your pronunciation and attitude though, as they tend to mainly be used by girls!


9 Responses to Gakuu. Studying with Real Japanese

  1. Sabrina September 29, 2010 at 5:48 pm #

    This is pretty cool! Right now I’m studying on Textfugu which is great! I belive Gakuu can be really helpul too. What I like most is that its for pre-intermediate to advanced level students. So you can’t say its the same thing over and over again… students can actually improve their knowledge here. Thank you very much for creating this site. Have a nice day :)

    • Gakuranman September 30, 2010 at 1:09 am #

      Hi Sabrina! Thank you for your comment :).

      That’s definitely our aim. I love Textfugu for beginners and really getting students a solid grounding in the language, but afterwards (and even while) studying the basics, it can really help to encounter raw Japanese material. You don’t have to understand everything at first, but feeling challenged and picking up little bits here and there that are extra to your learning the basics helps expand your mind. Let me know if you have any more questions! More demonstration material will be up soon! We are currently having a special launch sale price for early adopters, so check out the pricing page if interested :).

      • Sabrina September 30, 2010 at 5:14 pm #

        Thanks for your reply. :) Unfortunately I’m even still miles away from the intermediate level. But I’ll definetly return to Gakuu when I get to this point. Anyway, I’m looking forward to the extra demonstration material. :) Keep up the good work.

        • Gakuranman October 1, 2010 at 12:21 am #

          Sure thing :). Let me know if you have any other questions or suggestions for things you’d like to see on Gakuu!

  2. missingno15 October 1, 2010 at 7:31 pm #

    When I looked at this, I first thought to myself, “aw hell no, gakuranman is doing the same thing as koichi…even the website layout is similar”. But then I realized “it’s aimed at pre-intermediate to advanced level students” which is perfect for my situation right now because I now really want to excel way past beginner. So basically, Gakuu really complements Textfugu. Can’t wait for more lessons to see how this is gonna be like so I can decide if its worth getting.

    • Gakuranman October 1, 2010 at 7:37 pm #

      Hey there! Thanks for dropping by :). No way – Koichi and I are buds. I’ve always loved teaching the more advanced stuff so it worked out perfectly. I’ll be adding more stuff in the coming days, so please stay tuned!

      • Lee Aloy October 23, 2016 at 5:20 am #


        I am sorry to ask this silly question. Are you Japanese?
        am hoping to find a Japanese friends here please shot me an email:

  3. DumbOtaku (percent20) October 3, 2010 at 12:58 am #

    This is really cool. I am glad to see more online content going beyond just teaching hirigana and katakana. That is what I try to do on my blog, but with to little consistency. Glad to see an expert do it, btw already a signed-up paid member now. :)

    • Gakuranman October 3, 2010 at 2:24 pm #

      Glad to have you man! Look forward to hearing any suggestions you have for the site and future lessons :)

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