Japanomatopoeia – Why Animals Sound Different In Japan

I know this is a subject covered elsewhere, however, I have my own path and story to tell when it comes to this particular source of intrigue…

It’s a given that the Japanese language is very different to my own native English and one might correctly assume that this results in difficulties learning the language. However, there must be certain sounds which are universal, right? Like, the sound a frog makes, for example. I mean, yeah, there are various species in different parts of the world but a frog is basically a frog when it comes to their audible output. Likewise, I know the dogs in Japan tend to be smaller (on average) than the man’s-best-mates we have in Australia but again, it’s basically the same thing.

I think the first time I became aware of the fact that onomatopoeic matters may not be as universal as they seem, was sitting down for a meal and hearing a pile of crunchy cabbage being referred to as “ バリバリキャベツ” (Baribarikyabetsu/bari-bari cabbage). I’ve never heard that sound in cabbage, no matter how crunchy; “bari-bari” or “bali-bali”.

Could I be the odd one here? Are my ears damaged from a lifetime’s addiction to death metal? Or is it that people who grow up speaking a different language interpret universal sounds uniquely?

For the answer, I turned to animal sounds and the help of a native Japanese speaker. This is what we came up with;

Cat – にゃーにゃーお – nyeow, nyeow

I can see where they’re going with this one. It’s quite similar to the “meow, meow” that I grew up with.

Dog – わんわん – wan, wan

Now I’m lost. Everybody knows that a dog goes “woof, woof”….except the Japanese, it would seem.

Horse – ひひーん – hihiin

I wish I had the time to include audio in this post because I ‘d love for readers to hear what I just heard. I guess it’s quite similar to however I might Romanize the sound of a horse, though…

Cow – もー – moo (but not like “moo” in English. More like a drawn out “more”)

Actually, I have to admit, I think they got this one right.

Frog – げろげろ – gero, gero


Chicken – こけこっこ – kokekokkou

Crow – かーかー – kaa, kaa

Bee – ぶーーーん – buuuuun….

Bees don’t make that sound. They just don’t.

Sheep – めぇーー – meee…

Duck – がーがー – gaa, gaa

Pig – ぶーぶー – buu, buu

“Buu, buu”? Really?


Perhaps these are pointless existential questions for another time, but does a dog in Japan know that it’s Japanese? Or does it just know that it likes chasing sticks? Can we learn something from that?

14 thoughts on “Japanomatopoeia – Why Animals Sound Different In Japan

  1. I love this. We had a Japanese student stay with us last year, and we spent a lot time laughing at each other making these noises.
    My dog speaks Japanese (my kids will not tolerate me practicing on them) so my dog only understands sit, come, do you want a treat, are you hungry etc in Japanese. He emphatically does NOT say wan wan…..☺


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