As Japan’s immigrant population reaches record highs in response to demand for workers as the country’s indigenous population ages, volunteers in the Western prefecture of Mie have created a book of onomatopoeic Japanese terms, aimed at helping learners of Japanese.
The book, entitled E Kara Oto ga Wakaru Hon (Understanding Sounds Using Pictures) was conceptualized by Masao Hara, the deputy principal of a nonprofit organization in the district. Hara’s interactions with non-Japanese residents in the prefecture led him to believe the guide would prove useful.
E Kara Oto ga Wakaru Hon includes a range of words that can be used in everyday situations – for example, a visit to the doctor, who might hear of their patient’s throbbing “zuki zuki” (pounding headache), “gan gan” (stinging insect bite), or a “muzu muzu” scratchy throat.
To create a list of 100 terms, Hara and other members of the nonprofit meticulously trawled through the Japanese dictionary, according to the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper.
The terms are divided into categories, such as actions and emotions, to weather conditions and descriptions of inanimate objects. Each is accompanied by an illustration and descriptions in Chinese, Vietnamese, Nepalese, and Indonesian.
Chinese resident of Mie, Wan Fang explained to the Mainichi Shimbun paper that the guide had already made her job at a supermarket slightly easier.
“When I was told that the floor was tsuru tsuru in Japanese, I didn’t know what it meant, but when I saw the illustration in the book, I instantly understood that tsuru tsuru means the floor is wet or slippery,” she said.
The first print run will see the release of 1,000 copies. As of January 2023, Mie prefecture was home to approximately 31,000 foreign residents. Across Japan, the non-Japanese population reached a record 3.2 million in 2022, according to the immigration services agency.