Language | WELL SAID

Add a touch of sparkle to your Japanese holiday vocabulary

by Akemi Tanahashi and Hitomi Tashiro

Contributing Writers

Kurisumasu no iruminēshon ga kira-kira shite, kirei ne. (The Christmas lights are sparkling, it’s so pretty.)

Situation 1: Mr. and Mrs. Okubo stop to admire a display of Christmas lights.

妻: クリスマスのイルミネーションがきらきらして、きれいね。

夫: あっという間にクリスマス、そしてお正月か。1年は早いなあ。

Tsuma: Kurisumasu no iruminēshon ga kira-kira shite, kirei ne.

Otto: Atto iu ma ni Kurisumasu, soshite o-shōgatsu ka. Ichinen wa hayai nā.

Wife: The Christmas lights are sparkling, it’s so pretty.

Husband: In the blink of an eye it’ll be Christmas, and then New Year’s. Wow, one year (goes by) fast.

Two onomatopoeic terms that sound very similar are きらきら and ぎらぎら. The former is used to describe small items that sparkle or glitter continuously, and it conveys a positive feeling. きらきら is used to describe the brilliance of twinkling stars and lights, sparkling jewels and the glittery light that reflects off waves and snow. Also note that きらきら is sometimes written with the particle “と” after it:

彼女(かのじょ)の指(ゆび)にダイヤモンドの指輪(ゆびわ)がきらきらと光(ひか)っていた。 (The diamond ring on her finger sparkled with light.)

海(うみ)が朝(あさ)の光(ひかり)できらきらしている。 (The sea glittered in the morning sunshine.)

子(こ)どもたちは目(め)をきらきらさせてその人(ひと)の話(はなし)を聞(き)いた。 (The children’s eyes twinkled as they listened to that person’s speech.)

きらきら can also be used metaphorically to describe the brilliance of a skill or concept:

この若(わか)いピアニストの才能(さいのう)はきらきらと耀(かがや)いている。(This young pianist’s genius shines brilliantly.)

Situation 2: Ms. Harada has invited Ms. Gray over to her house for some coffee.

グレイ: この部屋、夕日が見えてきれいね。それに暖かいし。

原田: 冬はいいけど、夏は最悪なの。西日がぎらぎら照りつけて、すごく暑いのよ。

Gurei: Kono heya, yūhi ga miete kirei ne. Sore ni atatakai shi.

Harada: Fuyu wa ii kedo, natsu wa saiaku na no. Nishibi ga gira-gira teritsukete, sugoku atsui no yo.

Gray: You can see the sunset from this room, it’s beautiful. And it’s warm.

Harada: It’s good in winter, but in summer it’s the worst. The setting sun just beats down, it’s incredibly hot.

The onomatopoeic term ぎらぎら is used to express something that sparkles in a negative way, like the oppressive glare of the sun’s rays or even someone’s lustful desire. 目がキラキラ can be a compliment, while 目がギラギラ is more of an insult.

海面(かいめん)は船(ふね)から流(なが)れ出(で)た油(あぶら)でぎらぎら光っている。 (The surface of the ocean sparkles from the oil that leaked out of the ship.)

彼(かれ)らは目をギラギラさせてギャンブルをしていた。 (They gambled with a glint in their eyes.)

Bonus Dialogue: Mr. Sere and Mr. Mita reflect on their time at their company before talking about what they’d like to do for lunch.

三田(みた): 入社(にゅうしゃ)したばかりのころ、セレくんは目をきらきらさせて仕事(しごと)を覚(おぼ)えようとしていたね。とても印象的(いんしょうてき)だった。

セレ: ははは、それは三田くんも同(おな)じだよ。

三田: あーあ、今(いま)、その輝きはどこに行(い)ってしまったのか。きらきら輝くネオンの光に引(ひ)きつけられるだけだな。

セレ: そうだね、東京(とうきょう)の夜(よる)は楽(たの)しいもんね。

三田: ところで、きょうの昼(ひる)はラーメン食(た)べに行かない?

セレ: うーん、きょうはやめとくよ。油(あぶら)がギラギラ浮(う)いているスープはあまり食べる気(き)にならない。

三田: ええっ、セレくんはそういうラーメンが大好きだと思ってた。

セレ: いや、昨日(きのう)焼き肉(やきにく)を食べすぎただけだよ。きょうはサラダだけにしようかな。ラーメンは別(べつ)の日に行こう!

Mita: When we first joined our company Sere, you were trying to memorize (how to do) your job with a twinkle in your eye. It was very impressive.

Sere: Ha ha ha, the same with you, Mita.

Mita: Ah yes, now where has that light gone? Recently, I’m only attracted to the sparkling neon lights (of the city).

Sere: Yes, the nights in Tokyo are quite enjoyable.

Mita: By the way, why don’t we go and eat ramen for lunch today?

Sere: Hmmm, I’d rather not today. I don’t feel like eating the oil that floats to the top of the soup.

Mita: What? I thought you loved that kind of ramen.

Sere: No, I ate too much grilled meat yesterday. I’m thinking I’ll just have a salad today. Let’s go have ramen another day!