1) Beginners can often find it challenging to reproduce the language in the same way that they hear it. I still have my moments where I find myself stammering my Japanese more than a child who’s just had a rather frightening encounter with Stephen King’s, Pennywise the Clown.
2) It can be tough for your poor ears to sift through those dense mounds of language dust to find those shiny “nugget” words, phrases and expressions that you actually took the time to study.
Sure, sometimes it’s not easy, especially if you’re learning Japanese on your own. But embracing the process as a fun challenge instead of some insurmountable obstacle is a mindset shift that may help you to power through those listening/speaking plateaus.
One thing I’ve started doing for fun is just started taking twenty minutes or so just to sit in front of my TV and turn to a Japanese program that looks interesting. I take out a pencil and just try to pick out ten-to-fifteen Japanese words that I don’t know or write down ten to fifteen words I was actually able to recognize.
I was recently watching an infomercial for a woman’s skin-care product and heard the expression 『すべすべ』 (sube sube). I instantly recognized that as an expression for smooth because I had been making a list of all of the Japanese “deja-vu” expressions that I could think of.
Why do I call these deja vu expressions? Because they’re the same Japanese word repeated twice or more in succession.
These word doubles can be a lot easier to catch than some other expressions spoken an top, native speed. That brief moment of deja-vu can be like a Keeanu Reeves “Whoa…” experience. It’s a real Japanese confidence booster.
Here is list of 51 different deja vu expressions that I have heard, asked, or read about. I think you’ll come across these Japanese terms more often than you might think (some more than others of course). Many of the words in this list have examples while others don’t. In the cases where there are no examples, I may have picked up the word, but not fully learned how to use it yet, or they may be sound-related words, etc. In either case, this gives me a reason to come back and update this list over time:
1. Giri giri ぎりぎり – Barely
Giri giri de shigoto ni maniatta
I barely made it to work on time.
2. Huniya huniya ふにゃふにゃ= Wrinkly. This expression can also mean flabby.
Ofuro ni deta toki te ha hunya hunya ni natta
When I got out of the tub, my hands were all wrinkly
3. Kasa kasa かさかさ= Comes from the word kansou, which mean dry.
Sono deisupo-saburute wo hamete iru kara, te ha kasa kasa desu.
My hands are dry from wearing those disposable gloves.
4. Sube sube すべすべ(suberi)= Smooth, silky
Soru no ato, kao ga sube sube suru.
My face is smooth after I shave it.
5. Tsuru tsuru つるつる = Smooth or slippery.
It’s hard for me to forget this one, as kindergarten children will rub my freshly shaven, bald head and say it over and over again.
6. Dara dara だらだら(namakeru)= Sluggishly, Slowly
De-to ha daradara to tsuduita.
The date dragged on.
7. Ira ira いらいら(iratsuku iradatsu)= Comes from the word iratsuku, and means the same thing – Frustrating or irritating.
Garufrendo to iraira shita
I’m irritated with my girlfriend.
8. Labu labu らぶらぶ = In love
Great example of when to use it: I don’t often hear this one listed in a sentence. I’m guessing maybe you’d use suru if you did.
More often than not, I hear it when kids see me doing a classroom demonstration with a female teacher or giving a female teacher a high five. When you see a potentially romantic situation you’d just say “Labu Labu.” I hear it more from children, or adult Japanese women pretending to be young children, than anything.
9. Nemu nemu ねむねむ= Sleepy (comes from the word “nemui”)
10. Peko peko ぺこぺこ- Hungry
Onnaka ga peko peko desu!
11. Waku waku わくわく= Excitedly
Sono K-1 shiai ha wakuwaku shita!
That was an exciting K-1 tournament.
Pop! Pop!- An expression of extreme happiness or rage.
This isn’t actually a Japanese expression, which is why it’s not numbered. I was making sure you were paying attention.
(I was also checking to see if there were any other fans of that show “Community.”)
12. Doki doki どきどき= Heart beart
Densha de kireina onna no hito ha tonari ni suwatta toki dokidoki shita.
My heart start beating fast when the beautiful woman sat next to me on the train.
13. Hamu hamu はむはむ = Sucking/eating
14. Hara hara はらはら = Heart beating super fast
15. Goku goku ごくごく= Drinking gulping
Muzukashii undo suru no ato mizu wo goku goku nomitai
After doing hard exercise I want to chug some water.
16. Goshi goshi ごしごし= Scrubbing
Kira ha yuka no ue no chi wo goshi goshi aratta.
The killer scrubbed the blood from the kitchen floor.
17. Kun Kun くんくん- sniff-sniff (like a dog)
Inu ha kodomo no oshiri wo kun kun kaida
The dog sniffed the child’s butt.
18. Mogu mogu もぐもぐ= eating
Kare ha restoran ni hitori de sashimi wo mogu mogu to tabemashita.
He sat alone in the restaurant eating sashimi
19. Zuri Zuri ずりずり- To scratch an itch
20. Zuru zuruずるずる – The sound of dragging
Kukou no yuka de sutsukesu wo zuruzuru to motta
I dragged my suitcase along the airport floor.
21. Mochi mochi もちもち = Texture
22. Neba neba ねばねば = Sticky
Kono itachoko ha oishi kedo neba neba da.
This chocolate bar is tasty but sticky.
23. Nuru nuru ぬるぬる- Slimy or slippery
Hosutesu no Ti-ne-ji Myu-tanto Ninja no Kame Pai ha nuru nuru shite mazui desu
Hostess Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Pies were slimy and disgusting.
24. Saku saku さくさく= crunchy
Butterfinger ha ichiban oishii sakusaku no itachoco.
Buttterfingers are the best tasting, crunchy chocolate bar.
25. Motto motto もっともっと = More and more
Motto Motto hoshii
To want more and more
26. Iro iro (irona)いろいろ= Many kinds
Starbursts wa iroirona oishi aji ga aru yo.
Starburst have many kinds of delicious flavors.
27. Dan dan だんだん = Gradually
Koko ni dandan atsukunatte fuku ha zenbu nuide.
It’s getting hot in here, so take off all your clothes.
28. Don don どんどん= Rapidly, quickly
Neo ha Matrix wo don don wakateta
Neo began to quickly understand the Matrix
29. Zutto zutto ずっとずっと = Forever
Nihon ni zutto zutto itai?
Do you want to stay in Japan forever?
30. Mada mada まだまだ = To still have more to go. More to come.
Ferrari wo katte iru? Iie okane ga mada mada tarinai.
Are you buying a Ferrari? No, no, I still don’t have enough money yet.
31. Masu Masu – More and more
Gasorin no bukka ha masu masu agaru. Hybrido wo kau kana?
Gas prices are rising more and more. Maybe I should buy a hybrid?
32. Soro soro そろそろ = Soon
Soro soro owari kana? Soro soro owari kana. Owari.
I wonder if it will end soon? (from the Algorithm March)
33. Zun zun ずんずん = Rapidly
34. Gun gun ぐんぐん = Steadily
35. Meccha Meccha めっちゃめっちゃ = A lot
I think this word is used more by younger people as I don’t hear many adults using it.
36. Atsu atsu あつあつ= VERY hot
37. Doro doro どろどろ = Muddy
38. Kin kin きんきん= VERY cold
39. Gucha gucha ぐちゃぐちゃ = Dirty
40. Futsu futsu ふつふつ= To bubble over or bubble out. As in a pot boiling over.
This one can also refer to someone’s temper “boling over”futsu futsu okoru = burning/bubbling rage
41. Gutsu gutsu ぐつぐつ= Simmering
42. Waza waza わざわざ= Sincerely
Waza waza arigatou
I sincerely want to thank you
43. Niko niko にこにこ(warau)= To smile.
Kanojo ha nikoniko shinagara senaka he naifu wo tsukisashita
She smiled as she stabbed me in the back with a knife.
44. Busu busu ぶすぶす= Muttering under your breath
45. Pera pera ぺらぺら = Fluent
Nihongo ga pera pera da yo.
I’m fluent in Japanese.
46. Butsu butsu ぶつぶつ = Mutter, grumble, complain
Seito tachi ha istumo shukudai ga oosugi to butsubutsu itta
The students are always complaining about too much homework
47. Muzu muzu むずむず= Eager, impatient patience
Kare ha natto wo yoku tabeteita kara hamigaki wo muzumuzu shitakatta.
Because he was eating a lot of natto, he quickly wanted to brush his teeth.
48. Noro noro = Moving slowly
Kono furui pasokon ha noronoro hashiteiru.
This old computer is running very slowly.
49. Sou Sou そうそう = yes (right, right)
When to use this one: When you wholeheartedly agree with something someone says.
50. Tama tama たまたま= By chance, it just so happens
Roppongi de tamatma Tommy Lee Jones ni atta
I happened to run into Tommy Lee Jones in Roppongi
(true story by the way 😉 )
51. Yura yura = Slowly swaying from side to side
Kaze de ki wa yura yura shite iru
The trees were swaying in the wind.
Although it takes time to figure out exactly when and how to use these during conversation, just being familiar with them can make a huge difference in what you can glean from conversations. Using these expressions can also provide subtle Japanese grammar pattern clues. Is the deja vu expression followed by “suru?” “To?” Something else? Do I use it at the beginning of a sentence? At the end?
Asking yourself these questions, giving yourself a chance to actually try these out (and screw them up) is all a part of the fun! You’ll feast on some cool expressions and get a little grammar juice to go with it.
The next time you’re listening to a Japanese conversation, really feeling some Japanese music, or even watching tv, see if you can hear any of these expressions. Get out there and enjoy it!
Would you like to add any to this list? Do you know any other Japanese word doubles? If so fire away in the comments section below!