Did you hear that? Japan’s tsuyu (rainy season) is coming. It’s time to buckle down for what will feel like weeks of constant rain. All we need to do is gaman, or “hang in there,” and summer will finally be here.
But before we get to see the back of Japan’s most hated season, there’s still time to brush up on our rain-related Japanese vocabulary because as much as we don’t like it, it still feels good to complain. Like jime-jime, that unpleasant, sticky feeling during the rainy season when the humidity has its clammy hands all over you. Or mushi-mushi when it practically smothers you.
I hope you’re not confused already because this is not even a potan in the bucket. There are a whopping 1,190 rain-related words and phrases in the Japanese language.
The sounds of tsuyu
To the Japanese ear, potan is the sound of a drop of water plopping into, say, a bucket. Pota-pota is the tune a leaky faucet sings, and jah-jah is water gushing out of a pipe.
The Japanese will hear potsu-potsu as raindrops start falling upon the dry ground, shito-shito when it drizzles and zah-zah when it pours.
Strong winds howl with a byoo-byoo or a gou-gou making the windows of your apartment gata-gata (rattle). And, thunder, when stirred awake by the pika-pika of lightning, will loudly goro-goro (rumble).
In the summer, you can often get caught in a niwaka ame (sudden shower), a doshaburi (downpour) and o-ame (torrential rain).
While nuru-nuru describes that slimy feeling a surface has when it’s been balmy for days on end, beta-beta or beto-beto is how your sweaty skin feels on uncomfortably jime-jime days. You’re dripping with sweat if you’re dara-dara; drenched to the skin if you’re bisho-bisho or gusho-gusho.
Folks refer to konuka ame (a light mist) and kirisame or saiu if it’s a drizzle. On the other hand, in the summer, you can often get caught in a niwaka ame (sudden shower), a doshaburi (downpour) and o-ame (torrential rain). A gouu is a concentrated torrential downpour.
The fox wedding
The most is the phrase used to describe a sudden downpour out of an otherwise cloudless sky: kitsune no yomeiri (literally, “the fox’s wedding”).
The kitsune, or fox, occupies a special place in the folklore and superstitions of the Japanese people. They are said to possess magical abilities, one of which is the ability to assume human form.
Fox statues are found at Inari shrines, where they act as messengers for Inari Okami, the Shinto god of fertility and farming. In ancient times, people believed that whenever rain fell from clear blue skies, a wedding between foxes took place. This folklore is captured in Katsushika Hokusai’s famous ukiyo-e print Kitsune no Yomeiri-zu.
Keep your eyes and ears peeled. I promise you will soon hear that harbinger of summer, the cicada, emanating from the trees: min min min.
For more on learning Japanese
- Learn more about the GaijinPot Study Placement Program. If you’re interested in studying in Japan next year, applications for student visas need to be submitted at least four months in advance of your term start date. You can read more about the student visa process here.
- Learn Japanese with our original study materials on GaijinPot Study
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