Learn Japanese Onomatopoeia with Mado Michio

June 19, 2011 Juju Kurihara Culture, Entertainment, Foods, Japan, Literature, Vocabulary Tags: 2 Comments

In Japanese, we use so many onomatopoeia. It almost works as adverb in our language and in my opinion, onomatopoeia is the key to make your Japanese more lively. 

For example, when you knock the door, we knock the door ton ton (とんとん). But this case, you knock the door gently. Now imagine, a police found the base of a criminal. "Police! Open the door!" then roughly knock the door. In this case, the police knocks the door don don (どんどん).

Like this we know the strength and the sound of the action. Now, onomatopoeia in Japanese tends to be repeated the same sound twice. Ton ton, don don, kon kon, pori pori etc…


Today I introduce some onomatopoeia using one of the greatest Japanese poets, Mado Michio (まどみちお).

The poem is called, "Tenpura Piri Piri (てんぷらぴりぴり)".

Tenpura is tempura as you probably know and piri piri is the sound of frying tempura.

Actually I´d never thought about the sound of frying tempura before this poem and now I think Mado Michio is right. He must´ve invented that sound.



ほら おかあさんが ことしも また

てんぷら ぴりぴり あげだした


みんなが まってた シソの実の

てんぷら ぴりぴり あげだした


ツクツクホウシが けさ ないたら 

もう すぐ ぴりぴり あげだした


子どもの ときに おばあさんから

ならった とおりに あげだした


秋の においの シソの実の

小さな かわいい つぶつぶの

てんぷら ぴりぴり あげだした

  Tenpura Piri Piri


  Hora, Okaasan ga kotoshi mo mata

  tenpura piri piri agedashita


  Minna ga matteta shiso no mi no

  tenpura piri piri agedashita


  Tsukutsuku houshi ga kesa naitara

  mou sugu piri piri agedashita


  Kodomo no toki ni obaasan kara

  naratta toori ni agedashita


  Aki no nioi no shiso no mi no

  chiisana kawaii tsubutsubu no

  tenpura piri piri agedashita

Tempra Piri Piri


 Look, again, this year, mother

 starts frying tempra, piri piri


 They are fruits of perilla, we all waited for and

 she started frying them piri piri


 As soon as the cicadas began to cry this morning,

 she immediately started frying them piri piri


 Just like she learnt from grandma

 when she was small, she started frying


 The fruits of perillas, it´s a smell of autumn

 Small pretty grains

 She started frying tempra



The fruits of perilla are like these. I don´t know if you can call these fruits. More like seeds as I can see. They come out in autumn and people would eat them. I´ve never eaten them in tempura but it should be cruncy and slightly sour/pinchy taste, I can imagine. As far as I remember it tastes like umeboshi (梅干し), Japanese pickled plum. 


Now you can hear the actual sound of frying tempura. After reading this poem, I can really hear the sound of piri piri. Can´t you?



Let´s practice this onomatopoeia, piri piri.

To fry is "ageru (揚げる)" and to fry tempura is "tenpura wo ageru (てんぷらを揚げる)". Then I ask you, "how do you fry tempura?"

You go,

"Tenpura wo piri piri ageru (てんぷらをぴりぴり揚げる)".



More about Japanese language


Onomatopoeia with Taro Gomi

Sound of rain

Kazoe uta

Shiju Kata/Goju Kata




  1. Urusaihei 12 years Reply

    Fascinating. In cantonese, piri piri would be “ちゃーちゃー声”, probably referring to the sound when the food is put into the frying pan.

    • madamejuju 12 years

      Really? Interesting. I know Mado Michio was in Taiwan for some time in his childhood, but they don’t speak Cantonese, do they?

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