Thursday, February 16, 2012


This is my thick and long muffler which a friend of mine made for me from the material my mother left behind.
Thank you, Gail.  

Achoo!  I love the way it spells the sound we make.  More than that, I love the sound itself on a page.  Last few days, Rebb and I have been discussing about howl, poems, and onomatopoeia.  I think it is ripe time for me to blog about it and memorize how to spell onomatopoeia for good.  At last!

This is what I think.  I think my beloved onomatopoeia has been increasingly useful and becoming more valuable in English poems and dialogues in general.  In recent years, I realized English writers avoid using or look down in some cases on onomatopoeia.  That’s very unfortunate.  I think writing always needs to be democratic, not aristocratic to stay fresh.  So, I think this is a good check and balance. 

This mask is well known to be the most desirable woman in the ancient  Japan.
It is made of wood.

I don’t read manga although I have nothing against manga.  I used to read them when I was young until I came to the U.S.  Then I fell in love with Charlie Brown and Snoopy, of course.  But I’m amazed that the strong trend of manga and anime seems unstoppable, and along with them, Japanese culture and language come with it.  Have you noticed?   When I go to Barnes & Noble, I'm surprised to see people buying those manga translated into English, and I see all those creative English onomatopoeia all over.  If you are a writer and not exposed to that culture, I’d recommend visiting a manga corner and page through some of them. 

Last year, it was funny watching a meeting in San Francisco somewhere on television that they were discussing how to translate Japanese onomatopoeia.  They were very serious.  The issue they were discussing was how to translate ザーザー Zaaa, Zaaa.  After a debate, they translated to “whew,” I believe.  It sounds totally different, but it’s interesting, isn’t it?  Do you think all the onomatopoeia will stay this much different in the global age?

I don’t know, but I think we’ll definitely have more choices in expressing ourselves using onomatopoeia.  This is good thing.  But creating a good one is not easy.  When I’m reading English books, I love to see words like honk honk, oink oink, tick tok, hiccup, zoom, bang, splash, and beep-beep.  Some writers use very few of those, so I complain.  I also love lively regular words like zigzag, zap, zip, and bomb!   But what about silence?

I think I probably wrote this somewhere in my past blog, maybe as a comment, but long ago, I had a conversation with an American poet about onomatopoeia.  At first we were talking about the sound of water. ザー Zaaa is the sound of rain in Japanese.  But it is the sound that rain hit the roof, trees, or shrubs.  If it doesn’t hit anything, how do we describe the sound of rain?  We both had no word.  I asked him, “What do you say in English onomatopoeia about snowing.”  He said, “Snow has no sound.”

But in Japanese, we have onomatopoeia for snowing.  Even small children know it.  When snow is falling, and outside is totally quiet, we often use this onomatopoeia, しんしんcincin to describe the sound.  The rhythm of it maybe has something to do with the sound of our heart pulsating.  And when everything is quiet, we often say しーんciin.   But you can probably come up with better spelling for it like Achoo!

I might come up more about onomatopoeia, but even my chopstick blog hasn’t finished yet.  Yes, I wrote a conclusion blog about chopsticks, but haven’t edited it yet.  


kristieinbc said...

Very interesting post! You have me sitting here thinking about the fact we don't have an onomatopoeia for falling snow, especially since we have had about 6 inches since yesterday. It would be nice to have such a word to describe the event.

keiko amano said...


It was an eye opener for me to discuss about the sound of snow with the American. He passed away, but without having met him, and if I didn't know he loved poems, the conversation wouldn't have taken place. All my interests depend on all the meetings I had with people in my life, so I appreciate each moment, meeting, and everything. Talking of moments, I appreciate your comment. I'm glad you wrote, "It would be nice to have such a word to describe the event."

I think if you want to, you can come up with a word or two to describe snow falling in your blog or poems, and you don't need all the people to agree with you. But if your writing becomes famous, your snow falling onomatopoeia will spread and possibly eventually enter into the dictionary!

Can you imagine Achoo! is Hakushon! in Japanese? To describe the same thing, we created two totally different words. It's the result of two different traditions of poetry called English and Japanese. I love it!

Rebb said...


First, I’m very glad your camera battery is working again because look at these lovely photos. I was going to ask about the background, but you tell us. It is beautiful and the mask. You can see the wood grain and it makes me smile.

I’ve read a little bit about onomatopoeia and in my mind I may have thought about it a little, but your post motivates me to pay more attention to the onomatopoeia all around me. I’ve always liked sounds and when I read or write, I hear.

You know, Keiko…that I don’t think I’ve ever pronounced onomatopoeia correctly. I had my dictionary say it and it was different than how I say it. Since I don’t use the word often, I think I’ve always said it the way it makes sense to me, ignoring the spelling. How odd. Now I know.

I am not well learned in the use of onomatopoeia in English poems, etc. I know that rhyme was once used a lot and that it is sometimes looked down upon. I remember that my poetry instructor did not particularly like rhymed poems. But now you have me curious—as usual—to learn more about the role that onomatopoeia plays now and has in the past and how it has changed.

I have never read manga. I do recall seeing many bookshelves of manga books in Borders, before they went out of business. I flipped through, but I did not feel drawn to them. There was also a time that I did not read comics, now there are certain ones that I like. Yes, anime does seem unstoppable. The culture and language part intrigues me, so maybe I should give manga another try. One anime that I loved was Spirited Away. I don’t watch anime much, but I did watch and enjoy that one. I also don’t like watching cartoons like I used to. However, I do enjoy great children’s story’s both for book or film. It all depends.

The Zaaa, Zaaa example you give is very interesting. When I see the characters, I see clown eyes. The only sound for rain in English that comes to mind is pitter-pat, pitter pat. Rain sounds different depending on how strong, what it hits. I think it can sound like, pitter-pat, pitter-pat. What do you think? I love the look of Zaaa and it sounds soft. I like it.

Wonderful blog, Keiko. Thanks for sharing your ideas!

keiko amano said...


pitter-pat, pitter-pat sounds great. I would never come up with such sounds. It sounds to me a tiny cute creature stamping on a few drops of water.

Because I did three blogs today, I haven't had lunch! I'm crazy. But I wanted to show people the photos of the mask party, and my son fixed my faucet for me. Also, I blog in Red Room on "More on Onomatopoeia." I might post it here, too, but right now I need a break. I'll read your long comment again tonight. Thank you. I have more to write about onomatopoeia.

keiko amano said...


About the battery, it was only $15.00. I was afraid it would cost as much as a new cheap camera. So, I think I'll continue using this camera with my occasional complaints. But when I randomly shoot photos, sometimes, they turn out quite artistic.

Because of this blog, I learned the spelling of onomatopoeia! Now I'm like an expert. onomatopoeia, onomatopoeia...

The other day I was in a bookstore searching for philosophy books and a young man was standing in front of the book shelves. We chatted for a while. I asked him if he major in philosophy because he had seven or eight books of philosophy in his hands. He said his minor is philosophy, and major is animation! So, we chatted about manga and onomatopoeia. Maybe, he is reading this comment. I googled and found out, not just Japan, but the U.S. already have animation in undergraduate and graduate programs. It's amazing. Because I'm interested in philosophy, he suggested I take classes in university. It's so nice that a young man says that to me. When we are talking something so interesting, we become ageless.

Rebb said...

Keiko, I still need to practice spelling onomatopoeia. :)

Philosophy and animation. What a coincidence. I'm glad he encouraged you to take a philosophy class at university. That's a good line about talking about interesting things and becoming ageless. I agree. Maybe we even become without boundaries.

I have a few philosophy books on my shelves. Maybe as time goes on and I get reinspired, I'll go to the shelves. There are so many directions to go in philosophy. What fun!

keiko amano said...


Just recently, I began seeing a bit more clearly what western people have hard time grasping the simplest concept Japanese take for granted. I hope to write about it someday.