Manga Sound Effects

I’ve just begun introducing our oldest son to manga after seeing some recommendations for よつばと!  He hasn’t really taken to it yet, but reading together has exposed him to some new things like manga panel order conventions and sound effects.  The other day, we were reading a section from the first book, where Yotsuba walks up some steps to a torii gate, making only footstep sounds.  He is a great reader in both English and Japanese, but he pronounced the sound effects in this panel as Z Z partially because of how they’re drawn and partially because they’re hiragana てて not katakana テテ which is what he was expecting for sound effects.

てて sound effect

It turns out that some manga, including よつばと! often use hiragana for “softer” sound effect words.  Anyway, we had a good laugh about the ZZ てて mixup and moved on.

Hiragana Stroke Order

I was helping my son with his Japanese homework the other day and I was surprised to notice that he writes な with a different stroke order than I do.  Looking it up later, I determined that he was right and I’ve been wrong all these years!  You see, when I started studying Japanese in my twenties, we were expected to learn hiragana and katakana within the first few weeks of class and there was no one watching over our shoulder to drill us on penmanship or stroke order.  We were adults and unless our penmanship was illegible, it was fine; stroke order didn’t come up until we got to Kanji.

Kids studying Japanese at a young age, on the other hand, are learning to write at all at the same time that they’re learning to write kana in particular.  Especially if they’re learning in a Japanese school, they’re going to be drilled on this by a native Japanese teacher.  Even before that point, our kids used a set of wipeable cards when they were first learning to write.  After realizing that I was doing な wrong, I dug out these cards and quizzed myself.  I found out that I also mess up せ and も!

Here are the correct stroke orders for the three hiragana I have been getting wrong.  Do you write these correctly?


I love the great big 宿題 (しゅくだい) stamp that my son’s tutor puts on the pages he has to do for homework that week.  I’m sure it makes a really satisfying kerchunk when she puts it on there.

Japanese Emoji

If you’ve ever paged through your device’s emoji keyboard, you may have noticed an overrepresentation of emoji which are particularly Japanese.  Of course, the word emoji itself comes from the Japanese 絵文字.  The 絵 (え) means picture and the 文字 (もじ) means character.  Due to the initial rise of emoji usage on cell phones in Japan prior to the introduction of the iPhone and subsequent expansion of smartphone usage globally, there were simply a lot of Japan-specific emoji in use that were grandfathered in when emoji became standardized by the Unicode Consortium.

Naturally, there is a fascinating 99% Invisible Podcast episode about the emoji standardization process, which I highly recommend.

I’ve assembled a table of Japan-related emoji below.  How many do you know?  Are there any missing?

弁当べんとBento box lunch🍱
お握りおにぎりNigiri rice ball🍙
なべHot pot🍲
煎餅せんべいRice cracker🍘
カレーライスCurry rice🍛
鳴門巻なるとまきFish cake🍥
焼き芋やきいもRoasted sweet potato🍠
かき氷かきごりShaved ice🍧
雛人形ひなにんぎょうGirls day dolls🎎
鯉のぼりこいのぼりCarp streamer🎏
月見つきみMoon viewing🎑
富士山ふじさんMount Fuji🗻
日本の地図にほんのちずMap of Japan🗾
北斎ほくさいHokusai wave🌊
東京タワーとうきょうタワーTokyo tower🗼
しろJapanese castle🏯
鳥居とりいShinto torii gate⛩️
もやいMoyai statue in Shibuya🗿
郵便局ゆうびんきょくJapanese post office🏣
さくらCherry blossom🌸
風鈴ふうりんWind chime/bell🎐
新幹線しんかんせんBullet train🚅
門松かどまつGate pine🎍
提灯ちょうちんPaper lantern🏮
花札はなふだHanafuda playing cards🎴
初心者マークしょしんしゃマークNew driver sticker🔰
温泉おんせんHot springs♨️
いかAnger symbol💢
花丸はなまるHanamaru, "Well done" stamp💮
幼稚園の名札ようちえんのなふだKindergarten name badge📛

Nursery Rhymes

It is well known that music is a great memory aid and, in our family, we’ve used Japanese music to great effect as a fun way to improve language skills.  We were lucky enough to have received these Kumon nursery rhyme / folksong CDs from a cousin in Japan when our first child was born and we’ve gotten a ton of use out of them.  We received three CDs with 30 songs and lyric cards each and have played them a lot with the kids over the years.

A non-obvious benefit that we received from immersing the family in this music has been a big dose of Japanese cultural reference in addition to merely reinforcing vocabulary and grammar.  A few years ago, we were visiting Kyoto and dropped by こどもみらい館 for some morning activity time.  When song time started up, we were ecstatic to realize that we knew all the songs and our kids could participate fully as a result!  These traditional Japanese children’s songs are also used all the time in Japanese day care and it’s been beneficial for our kids (and us parents!) to be able to join in effortlessly due to an existing familiarity with this fundamental cultural element.

Of course, there are plenty of other sources of music & videos online, often with accompanying subtitles to aid in understanding for kids and non-native Japanese parents alike.  Some favorites of ours have been useful for fundamentals like hiragana, days of the week and even this wild one filled with puns and Japanese counters:



When our oldest was in yochien, a common homework exercise was to come up with a word that starts with a specified kana and then draw a picture of it.

The clever little bugger always tried to pick words whose pictures are easy to draw.  Once, for は, he came up with はり (needle) and just drew a little line.  For た, he chose たね (seed) and drew a little dot.  We made him draw the plant sprouting from it.