Magic words

Unusual noises attract attention.  New words seem especially important; they are valuable weapons in my 35-year-old war against being misunderstood.

Right now I am hunting down quirky Japanese words.  The search has become an obsession, as if each word provides a clue to the mysteries of life.  Some of my favourites are giongo (onomatopeia) and gitaigo (mimetic words).  (A fuller explanation of giongo and gitaigo is available here.)

Giongo and gitaigo words are mysterious and notoriously hard to translate.  Many are of obscure origin and vague, unsuitable for international business speak.    


The sudden nyokinyoki sprouting of flowers

The sudden nyokinyoki sprouting of flowers

Many of these magic words live in manga, novels and everyday conversation; they rarely appear on news programmes or in newspapers.

Rich in meaning, for language learners they must be worth at least double other words.  I am convinced if I learn enough of them I will be able to solve the great crossword called Japan.  Only 2 million more clues to go.

Here is a selection of giongo and gitaigo in a description of my working day:

Except for the kata-kata clatter of keyboards, first thing in the morning the office is usually shiinto silent.  I exchange a couple of ohayo gozaimasus before persuading my kachi-kachi stiff body to get into the torture chair.

For the first hour, my sleepy eyes dara-dara dawdle over each line of email. (The June clouds seem to have got stuck between my ears) A paper cup of atsu-atsu steaming hot coffee injects a little vigour. But I am still sluggish.

From the desks behind me, I can sense the bochi-bochi steady rhythm of work in progress.  I can`t compete with their shaki-shaki efficiency.  Frustrated, waves of uzu-uzu restlessness wash over me.

A visitor appears from a distant desk. Mocked for having a niya-niya smug smile, he argues it is merely a niko-niko wide grin. At this, kera-kera cackles of laughter spread around the desks. For a few moments we all share niko-niko smiles with each other.

When my eyes are finally stewed shobo-shobo, it is time to go home, out of the office and into the pika-pika sparkle of Akihabara`s night lights.

Wandering in the zawa-zawa buzz of otaku-filled pavements, inhaling the pun-pun of too much teenage perfume, the moya-moya thick fog slowly empties out of my head.

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