Onomatopoeia for Expressing How It Rains in Japanese

How many rain onomatopoeia do you know in Japanese? Today we learn about onomatopoeia to express how (much) it rains! Onomatopoeia can be difficult to get a sense of words in the beginning, but once you get it, Japanese conversations will go much more smoothly. Are you ready? Let’s get started!

The Rainy Season is Coming!

The rainy season in Japan is called “Tsuyu”,  「梅雨(つゆ/ばいう)」, and lasts from the beginning of June to the middle of July. (It’s a little early this year, though, starting in May.)
The word “tsuyu” means “plum rain” in Chinese characters. The word is said to have come from China during the Edo period (1603-1868), and its origin seems to be the long rains in the season of plums.

The amount of rain varies from region to region and year to year, but the sunny days during the rainy season are so precious that weather forecasters often say, “This is your chance to wash and dry your clothes!”

Onomatopoeia to Indicate the Intensity of Rain

Here are four typical words in onomatopoeia that describe rainfall. In weather forecasts, it rains harder in the following order: “potsupotsu”, “parapara”, “shitoshito”, and “zāzā”.

image of potsupotsu
  • ぽつぽつ (potsupotsu)
    • ぽつぽつ (ポツポツ) [adv]: sprinkling
      “Potsupotsu” means that raindrops are falling little by little, like when it starts to rain. The word “potsupotsu” is used to describe the sound of raindrops hitting the ground or roof.
    • Usage:
      (Ame ga potsupotsu to furidashita.)
      “It’s starting to sprinkle.”
    • Tips:
      “Potsupotsu” can be a noun, too. In the case of a noun, the accent will be as written in bold. It means small dots and is often used to describe a rash or acne.
      (Senaka ni potsupotsu ga dekita.)
      “I got spots on my back.” (I got rash/acne on my back.)

image of parapara
  • ぱらぱら (parapara)
    • ぱらぱら (パラパラ) [adv.] : sprinkling, pattering
      The word “parapara” is used to describe a sparse state.
      When it comes to rain, it means a small amount of rain is falling. As a Japanese person, I feel that “potsupotsu” is more focused on raindrops themselves and the sound they make, while “parapara” is more focused on the interval of the rain. When the forecasters say “parapara”, they mean more precipitation than “potsupotsu”.
    • Usage:
      (Ame ga parapara to futteiru.)
      “It’s sprinkling.”
    • Tips:
      “parapara” also describes the sound of flipping pages.

image of "shitoshito"
  • しとしと (Shitoshito)
    • しとしと (シトシト) [adv.]: drizzling
      The word “shitoshito” refers to the way it rains quietly. When we hear the word “shitoshito,” we think of line-like rain or drizzle and imagine small raindrops falling without making a sound. 
    • Usage:
      (Soto wo miruto, ame ga shitoshito futteita.)
      “I looked outside and it was drizzling.”

image of zaazaa
  • ざあざあ(zā)
    • ざあざあ (ザーザー) [adv.]: pouring, raining heavily
      The word “zāzā” refers to the way and the sound of heavy rain. When Japanese people hear this word, they think of heavy rain that makes their clothes a little wet, even if they have an umbrella. The word is often heard in weather forecasts when we have typhoons or storms.
    • Usage:
      (Ame ga zāzā futteiru node, kaimono ni iku no wa ashita ni shiyou.)

As I mentioned at the beginning, it is not easy to understand the sense of onomatopoeia. (I’m also one of those who is struggling with onomatopoeia in Spanish…) So please feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions. We are happy to help!

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