Animal Sounds in Japanese

Animals Make Distinct Sounds in the Japanese Language

Cats on Sanagi Island, Kagawa
Sanagi Island, Kagawa. Marser / Getty Images

In different languages, there is little consensus about what sounds animals make. This holds true in Japanese as well as other tongues. In English, for example, a cow says "moo," but in French, it's closer to "meu" or "meuh." In Japanese, the bovine says "moo moo." American dogs say "woof," but in Italy, man's best friend makes a sound more like "bau." In Japanese, they say "wan wan." Below are the sounds various animals "say" in Japanese.

Japanese Animal Sounds

The table displays the name of the animal in the left column, with the transliteration of the animal's name in bold and its depiction in Japanese letters below. The English name for the animal is listed in the second column. The third column lists the sound the animal makes in bold with the Japanese letters for the sound below that. The sound an animal makes in English is included below the Japanese spelling in the third column, allowing for an easy comparison to the animal sound in Japanese.

karasu
からす
crow

kaa kaa
カーカー

niwatori
roosterkokekokko
コケコッコー
(Cock-a-doodle-doo)
nezumi
ねずみ
mousechuu chuu
チューチュー
neko
catnyaa nyaa
ニャーニャー
(meow)
uma
horsehihiin
ヒヒーン
buta
pigbuu buu 
ブーブー
(oink)
hitsuji
sheepmee mee
メーメー
(baa baa)
ushi
cowmoo moo
モーモー
(moo)
inu
dogwan wan 
ワンワン
(woof, bark)
kaeru
カエル
frogkero kero
ケロケロ
(ribbit)

These animal sounds are usually written in the katakana script, rather than kanji or hiragana.

The Bowwow Theory

The bowwow theory posits that language began when human ancestors started imitating the natural sounds around them. The first speech was onomatopoeic and included words such as moo, meow, splash, cuckoo, and bang. Of course, in English especially, very few words are onomatopoeic. And around the world, a dog might say "au au" in Portuguese, "wang wang" in Chinese, and as noted, "wan wan" in Japanese.

Some researchers have suggested that the animals a culture is most closely aligned with will have more versions of the sounds they make in their respective languages. In American English, for example, a dog might say "bowwow," "woof," or "ruff." Since dogs are beloved pets in the U.S., it makes sense that American-English speakers would want to have a menu of sound words for this pet.

The Dog in Japan

Dogs are also quite popular as pets in Japan, where they were domesticated during the Jomon period in 10,000 B.C. Though katakana script is most common, you can write the Japanese word for dog, inu, in either hiragana or kanji, but since the kanji character for dog is quite simple, try learning how to write it in kanji.

Phrases referring to dogs are as common in Japan as they are in the West. Inujini means "to die like dog," and to call someone a dog in Japenese is to accuse him of being a spy or dupe. The sentence Inu mo arukeba bou ni ataru ("When the dog walks, it runs across a stick.") is a common Japanese saying, meaning that when you walk outside, you could possibly meet with an unexpected fortune.