51 Japanese Deja Vu Expressions

By Donald Ash | Japanese Expressions

Two of the biggest challenges with learning Japanese from a scratch is that:

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.

Double word expressions in Japanese

The expression すべすべ (sube sube) is an example of a Japanese ‘double word’ expression for “smooth” (usually referring to skin).

Japanese Guy Japanese Expressions Post

すべすべじゃない. An example of skin that’s not ‘sube sube’ (because of the beard).

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:

Japanese Deja Vu Expressions For Physical Characteristics

1. Giri giri ぎりぎり – Barely
Example: ぎりぎりで仕事に間に合った。
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.
Example: お風呂に出た時手はふにゃふにゃになった。
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.
Example: そのディスポーサブル手ぶくろをはめているから手はかさかさです。
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
Example: そるのあとかおがすべすべする。
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.

Japanese Deja Vu Emotional Expressions

6. Dara dara だらだら(namakeru)= Sluggishly, Slowly
Example: デートはだらだらつづいた
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.
Example: ガルフレンドとイライラした
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
Example: おんなかがぺこぺこです!
Onnaka ga peko peko desu!
I’m starving!

11. Waku waku わくわく= Excitedly
Example: そのしあいはわくわくした!
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.”)

Japanese Deja Vu Onomatopoeia Expressions

12. Doki doki どきどき= Heart beart
Example: 電車できれいな女の人はとなりに座ったと時どきどきした。
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
Example: 難しいうんどうするのあと水をごくごく飲みたい。
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
Example: キラーは床の上のちをごしごし洗った。
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)
Example: いぬは子どものおしりをくんくんかいだ。
Inu ha kodomo no oshiri wo kun kun kaida
The dog sniffed the child’s butt.

18. Mogu mogu もぐもぐ= eating
Example: かれはレストランに一人でさしみをもぐもぐと食べました。
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
Example: くうこうのゆかでスツケースをずるずると持った。
Kukou no yuka de sutsukesu wo zuruzuru to motta
I dragged my suitcase along the airport floor.

Japanese Deja Vu Expressions for Texture

21. Mochi mochi もちもち = Texture

22. Neba neba ねばねば = Sticky
Example: この居たチョッコはおいしいけどねばねばだ。
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
Example: ホステスのティネージミュータント忍びかめのパイはぬるぬるしてまずいです。
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
Example: バッターフィンガーは一番おいしいさくさくの居たチョッコ。
Butterfinger ha ichiban oishii sakusaku no itachoco.
Buttterfingers are the best tasting, crunchy chocolate bar.

Deja Vu Expressions for Magnitude, Variety, and Time

25. Motto motto もっともっと = More and more
Example: もっともっと欲しい。
Motto Motto hoshii
To want more and more

26. Iro iro (irona)いろいろ= Many kinds
Example: スターバーストはいろいろなおいしい味があるよ。
Starbursts wa iroirona oishi aji ga aru yo.
Starburst have many kinds of delicious flavors.

27. Dan dan だんだん = Gradually
Example: ここにだんだん暑くなってふくは全部ぬいで。
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
Example: ネオはマトリクスをどんどん分てた
Neo ha Matrix wo don don wakateta
Neo began to quickly understand the Matrix

29. Zutto zutto ずっとずっと = Forever
Example: 日本にずっとずっといたい?
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.
Example: フェラーリを買っている?いいえお金がまだまだたりない。
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
Example: ガソリンはますますあがる。ハイブリッドを買うかな?
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
Example: そろそろ終わりかな?そろそろ終わりかな?終わり。
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.

Japanese Deja Vu Adjective Expressions

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

Japanese Deja Vu Cooking-Related Expressions

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
Example: わざわざありがとう。
Waza waza arigatou
I sincerely want to thank you

43. Niko niko にこにこ(warau)= To smile.
Example: 彼女はにこにこしながら背中へナイフをつきさした。
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
Example: 日本語がぺらぺらだよ。
Nihongo ga pera pera da yo.
I’m fluent in Japanese.

Other Deja Vu Expressions

46. Butsu butsu ぶつぶつ = Mutter, grumble, complain
Example: 生徒たちはいつも宿題が多すぎとぶつぶつ言った。
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
Example: 彼は納豆を良く食べていたから歯磨きをむずむずしたかった。
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
Example: 六本木でたまたまトーミリージョヌズに会った
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
Example: 風で木はゆらゆらしている
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!

Did I Miss Any?

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!

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Donald Ash is an ATLien expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last six years. While in aforesaid time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator, writer, designer, editor, programmer, and occasional bad artist of thejapanguy.com blog (that's just way too many hats, dude). Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.
  • Kobuta

    I think Nr. 36 Atsu atsu should be VERY Hot and not VERY Hold 😀
    But thanks for this list. It will help a lot during my 1 year in japan 😀

    • thejapanguy

      Thanks Kobuta! I hope it serves you well
      Nice catch, by the way. I’ll fix that right now 😀

      • Kobuta

        I hope we could met up in Japan^^ I really enjoy reading your blog

        • thejapanguy

          Thanks, Kobuta! I truly appreciate that. Maybe we’ll run into each other during your journey. I think you’ll like it in Japan…cool place

  • Fran Ferran

    I always thought pera pera meant ‘so-so’. It just sounds that way to me so thanks thanks for enlightening me..:-)

    • thejapanguy

      You know it’s my pleasure, Francine. Anytime 😉

  • Cesca

    This is one of the things I’ve noticed and really like about the
    Japanese language! (namely the way they use repetition in phrases) I think my favorite is じろじろ like in じろじろ見ないで (don’t stare at me)

    • thejapanguy

      『じろじろ見ないで』is a HUGE! One of my personal favorites 😉
      I’m really glad you commented otherwise I may have forgotten all about it.
      Thanks, Cesca.

      • Cesca

        haha glad I was able to bring it back in your memory! There are certainly a lot of these phrases to keep track of.

  • Jacob

    If you like “deja vu” words, or 擬態語(gitaigo) in Japanese, then you will love 五味太郎/Gomi Tarou’s book “日本語擬態語辞典 (Nihongo Gitaigo Jiten)” If you search for it in English it is “An Illustrated Dictionary of Japanese Onomatopoeic Expressions.” The book has over 100 words with a picture, definition, and example for each one.

    • thejapanguy

      Thanks for the recommendation, Jacob! I’ll have to check that out. Sounds interesting

  • Jan Gerritsen

    I guess that in the romaji of # 3 the word (te)bukuro is missing? Sono deisupo-saburu tebukuro wo hamete iru kara, te ha kasa kasa desu.

  • 滋英鼓舞

    きらきら which is like sparkle, sparkle. It basically means that something is shiny like glass, crystal, a person’s smile, ect…

  • Nicole

    I loved the example for 27…. This one is probably obvious but ‘betsu betsu’ ベツベツ,
    べつべつ = separate. Use it at a restaurant to ask to pay separately. I love how in Japan, restaurant staff will happily split the bill no matter how many ways, it’s so nice compared to Australia and probably many other countries 🙂

  • J.T. Dawgzone

    What’s the difference between saying “nemu nemu” and “nemui”? Is the former more informal or childish?

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