15 Japanese Food Onomatopoeias


Comic book interjections like “Bam! Kapow! Thwack!” are classic examples of English onomatopoeia. But if Superman were to come up against a Japanese superhero, he’d probably be KO’d by his rival’s sheer arsenal of sound effects. Japanese is a language extremely rich in onomatopoeia. These giongo and gitaigo, mimetic words which describe not only sounds but also more abstract concepts like blushing (“dere-dere”) or the sensation of a gentle breeze (“soyo-soyo”), are usually made up of two sounds or syllables which are repeated for emphasis. And while an online list of English onomatopoeia has only 757 examples, the Japanese giongo/gitaigo dictionary boasts a whopping 4500 entries. 

One area where the onomatopoeia get strangely specific is when you’re talking about food texture. Take what English speakers would simply call “crunchy”—in Japanese there’s shaki-shaki (crunchy and juicy like a green apple or iceberg lettuce), pori-pori (a quieter munch, like cookies or Pocky), pari-pari (a crackly crunch like nori), saku-saku (a light, crispy crunch like tempura coating), kori-kori (soft and crunchy like broccoli), kari-kari (a dry crunch like toast or biscotti), and gari-gari (hard and crunchy like carrots or ice). If all this is making you feel a little peko-peko (the sound of a rumbling stomach), allow us to serve up 15 more linguistic morsels to sink your teeth into. 

1. puri-puri

Puri-puri describes that feeling of snapping into a fresh shrimp or a plump hot dog. Bursting with juiciness and bounce, puri-puri evokes the springiness and slight resistance of collagen—which is why it’s also sometimes used to describe a young girl’s cheeks. 

2. hoku-hoku

You know when a soft morsel of hot baked potato crumbles on your tongue and your mouth fills with a starchy steaminess? That’s hoku-hoku.

3. fuwa-fuwa

Fuwa-fuwa is one of the cutest of the food onomatopoeia, often squealed by girls to describe delightfully light and fluffy foods like white bread, marshmallows, or pancakes. 

4. shuwa-shuwa

Fizzy and bubbly, shuwa-shuwa refers to the refreshing mouthfeel of a carbonated beverage like sparkling water or champagne.

5. neba-neba

We would probably never want to describe a food as neba-neba (slimy) in English, but it’s high praise in Japan. That’s because the Japanese lap up such gooey, viscous—or more technically, mucilaginous—delicacies as nattou (fermented soybeans), wild yam, and okra.

6. mochi-mochi

Mochi-mochi is the most meta of the onomatopoeia, as it comes from one food in particular: mochi. If you’re not familiar, that’s sticky rice pounded into a stretchy, chewy, glutinous ball. Mochi-mochi isn’t just limited to the ice cream-filled sweet, though—it can also describe a particularly dense, doughy bread.

7. puru-puru

Puru-puru seems like the perfect word to describe a blob of wobbly, wiggly gelatin.

8. tsubu-tsubu

People with trypophobia dare not do a Google image search for tsubu-tsubu—this handy term is used for clusters of tiny balls, seeds, or grains. Food-wise, that means sprinkles, caviar, Dippin’ Dots, or, the staple of Japanese desserts, sweet adzuki beans.

9.  pasa-pasa

Giongo aren’t always appetizing; you can use pasa-pasa to talk about a food that’s lost all its moisture and flavor, like leftover rice that no longer sticks together, a dried up old orange, or stale bread. 

10. toro-toro

Toro-toro describes rich, creamy fare that has melted from a solid to liquid—think grilled cheese, chocolate fondue, or a slow-cooked stew brimming with fat. 

11., 12., 13., 14., and 15. tsuru-tsuru, shiko-shiko, zuru-zuru, churu-churu, and gido-gido

How about some ramen? You’ll want the noodles to be both tsuru-tsuru (slippery) and shiko-shiko (al dente). If they are, you’re sure to gobble them up with a loud zuru-zuru (slurp)—unless you’re a woman, in which case you might go churu-churu (a more feminine slurp). Just be careful not to get broth all over your face or you’ll be gido-gido (oily). 

That’s a mouthful! Surely by now you’re pan-pan (stuffed).

Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California
The Concept of the American 'Backyard' is Newer Than You Think
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California

Backyards are as American as apple pie and baseball. If you live in a suburban or rural area, chances are good that you have a lawn, and maybe a pool, some patio furniture, and a grill to boot.

This wasn’t always the case, though. As Smithsonian Insider reports, it wasn’t until the 1950s that Americans began to consider the backyard an extension of the home, as well as a space for recreation and relaxation. After World War II, Americans started leaving the big cities and moving to suburban homes that came equipped with private backyards. Then, after the 40-hour work week was implemented and wages started to increase, families started spending more money on patios, pools, and well-kept lawns, which became a “symbol of prosperity” in the 1950s, according to a new Smithsonian Institution exhibit.

A man mows his lawn in the 1950s
In this photo from the Smithsonian Institution's exhibit, a man mows his lawn in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington
Library in San Marino, California

Entitled "Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Back Yard," the exhibition includes photographs, advertisements, and articles about backyards from the 1950s and 1960s. The traveling display is currently on view at the Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum in Temple, Texas, and from there it will head to Hartford, Connecticut, in December.

Prior to the 1950s, outdoor yards were primarily workspaces, reports. Some families may have had a vegetable garden, but most yards were used to store tools, livestock, and other basic necessities.

The rise of the backyard was largely fueled by materials that were already on hand, but hadn’t been accessible to the average American during World War II. As Smithsonian Insider notes, companies that had manufactured aluminum and concrete for wartime efforts later switched to swimming pools, patio furniture, and even grilling utensils.

A family eats at a picnic table in the 1960s
A family in Mendham, New Jersey, in the 1960s
Molly Adams/Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Maida Babson Adams American Garden Collection

At the same time, DIY projects started to come into fashion. According to an exhibit caption of a Popular Mechanics article from the 1950s, “‘Doing-it-yourself’ was advertised as an enjoyable and affordable way for families to individualize their suburban homes.” The magazine wrote at the time that “patios, eating areas, places for play and relaxation are transforming back yards throughout the nation.”

The American backyard continues to grow to this day. As Bloomberg notes, data shows that the average backyard grew three years in a row, from 2015 to 2017. The average home last year had 7048 square feet of outdoor space—plenty of room for a sizable Memorial Day cookout.

[h/t Smithsonian Insider]

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