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Potsu Potsu: Japanese Words for Rain

What are rain-related sounds and phrases in Japanese?

By 3 min read

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

Rain in Kyoto.

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

Meet the bride.

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

  • Chiara Taverna says:

    When I was a kid, my grandparents used to say “the fox and the wolf are getting married” when it rained on an apparentely sunny day. That happened in Sicily. It’s amazing to know that there’s a similar saying in Japan!

    • AonghasCrowe says:

      While the phrase kitsune no yome-iri generally refers a downpour in the sunshine throughout Japan, it can, according to Mr. Wiki, signify different meteorological phenomenon in some areas of the country. In Kumamoto, for example, it refers to the appearance of a rainbow, and in Aichi, the phrase relates to fog.

      More from Mr. Wiki:

      ▪ In South African English, a sunshower is referred to as a “monkey’s wedding”, a loan translation of the Zulu umshado wezinkawu, a wedding for monkeys. In Afrikaans, it is referred to as jakkalstrou, jackals wedding, or also Jakkals trou met wolf se vrou as dit reën en die son skyn flou, meaning: “Jackal marries Wolf’s wife when it rains and the sun shines faintly.”
      ▪ In Hindi, it is also called “the jackal’s wedding”.
      ▪ In Konkani, it is called “a monkey’s wedding”.
      ▪ In Sinhala, it is called “the jackal’s wedding”.
      ▪ In Bengali, it is called “a devil’s wedding”.
      ▪ In Arabic, the term is “the rats are getting married”.
      ▪ In Korea, a male tiger gets married to a fox.
      ▪ In Eritrea, the traditional belief is that the hyena is giving birth.
      ▪ In various African languages, leopards are getting married.
      ▪ In Kenya, hyenas are getting married.
      ▪ One animal, the fox, crops up all over the world, from Kerala to Japan (Japan also refers to it as ‘Kitsune (the fox) takes a bride’) to Armenia; there’s even an English dialect term, “the foxes’ wedding”, known from the south west of England. In Calabria, Italy, it is said: “When it rains with sun, the foxes are getting married.” In Finland, it is said “the foxes take their bath”.
      ▪ In Bulgaria, there is a saying about the bear marrying.
      ▪ In Tamil Nadu, South India, the Tamil speaking people say that the fox and the crow/raven are getting married.
      ▪ In Mazandarani language, in north of Iran, it is also called “the jackal’s wedding”.
      ▪ In parts of the United Kingdom, it is referred to as “a monkey’s birthday”.
      ▪ In Pashto, it is also called “Da gidarh wade” or “the jackal’s wedding”.
      ▪ In Hawaii, it is known as “Ghost Rain”.

      In America, there are words for the phenomenon, too. See “the devil is beating his wife”.

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