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In Japan, dogs ‘wan,’ cats ‘nya’ and cows ‘mo’

by Mio Yamada

HIRA HIRA KIRARI: Michey’s Word Play, Onomatopoeia 1, 2, 3, by Mitsuko Hasse, illustrated by Haruko Nakaune, translated by Darrel Frentz. Fuzambo International, 2006, 155 pp., 2,000 yen (paper)

Those familiar with The Japan Times’ bilingual page will know Michey, the star of Word Play, a cartoon column focusing on the Japanese language’s rich onomatopoeic vocabulary. Michey would not just snap, crackle and pop (or even “buchi, bachi” and “boko”) his way through life, he would also teach readers how Japanese onomatopoeia is ingrained in culture and can describe movements, senses and even feelings. In Michey’s world, a couple in love “pecha kucha” excitably, new school satchels “pika pika” brilliantly and fish on the grill goes “pun.”

Written by Mistuko Hasse and illustrated by Haruko Nakaune, Word Play in the newspaper has now moved on to Idioms at Play. As Michey matures to teach the learner more complex Japanese idioms and proverbs, his past adventures have been compiled in this curiously titled book “Hira hira kirari (Falling petals, a bright flash).”

“Hira hira kirari” is drawn from the newspaper columns of April 2001 to March 2004 and contains around 450 onomatopoeic words, roughly split into seasons and festive events. On each page, a four-panel cartoon strip illustrates four onomatopoeic words, all expressed in hiragana and romaji. Sample sentences written in both Japanese and English (a new addition for this book version of Word Play) also create simple narratives using the chosen words. This compilation has been described by Hasse as a fun teaching tool, particularly for kids, but its attractive illustrations and narrative form make it a very entertaining read for anyone interested in language.