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Beyond Words: The Unique Power of Onomatopoeia in Modern Communication

Onomatopoeia, the formation of a word from a sound associated with what it names, is a remarkable and extensive aspect of the Japanese language. More than just mimicking sounds, Japanese onomatopoeia profoundly influences both the language and the culture.

Understanding Onomatopoeia

In its basic form, onomatopoeia refers to words that phonetically imitate, resemble, or suggest the source of the sound they describe. Common English examples include "buzz," "bang," or "murmur." These words are direct representations of the sounds associated with their respective sources. Japanese onomatopoeia is not limited to imitating sounds. It covers a broad spectrum, including words that describe sensations, emotions, and actions, without direct auditory analogues. This extensive use enriches the language, making it more expressive and nuanced.

“The Future of the Daily Commute”

In 2021, Japanese Railway Company collaborated with the students from Kawasaki Municipal for the Deaf and industry experts to create “Ekimatopia”. It is an installation that turns sounds like announcements and train noises into text, sign language, or onomatopoeia. This helps everyone, especially those who are deaf or hard of hearing, to understand and enjoy their time at the railway station. With AI, the system capture sounds, which are then transformed into visual formats like text and animations. It even changes font styles to match the meaning of the announcements.

Experience Onomatopoeia

This year April, Itochu SDGs Studio produced the Onomatopoeia Prescription Exhibition that showcases the practical application of onomatopoeia in addressing societal and everyday concerns. Despite advancements in AI language generation, onomatopoeic words remain uniquely human creations. Onomatopoeia encompasses words mimicking physical sounds and those representing states or emotions without sound. Japan, renowned for its abundance of onomatopoeic vocabulary, is often dubbed the "Onomatopoeia Nation." Despite occasional perceptions of childishness, onomatopoeia effectively communicates emotions and sensations, facilitating communication in healthcare, sports, and social media contexts. Led by award-winning linguists Mutsumi Imai and Kimi Akita, the exhibition, with the concept of a pharmacy, offers interactive opportunities for visitors to prescribe onomatopoeic solutions to various communication challenges.


Onomatopoeia in Japan is more than a linguistic curiosity; it's a vibrant and integral part of Japanese society. Its extensive use in communication, arts, education, and marketing showcases its importance and positive impact. By embracing onomatopoeia, the Japanese language becomes a more dynamic and expressive medium, reflecting the nuanced and rich culture of Japan. Understanding and appreciating this aspect of the Japanese language offers a deeper connection to its people and their way of life.


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