I'm currently reading a children's book about numbers with sentences of the form:

numberは j1 j2

where j1 and j2 are japanese words and j1 starts sounding similar to number.

I am stuck with

4は [シュワー]{しゅわー}っと しんかんせん

where the "ー" is 4 times the expected size and yes, after it comes hiragana. I figure it means "4 stands for x shinkansens" as the page shows a picture of 4 smiling electric trains that are sorted by size.

However, I can not find a translation for シュワーっと, exept for シュワシュワ ~ bubliness. But I don't see sense in that. Could it be an onomatopoeia = describing a sound? Also, why use 2 alphabets?

  • 2
    Onomatopoeias are not rocket science; They can be highly personal, perceptive, etc. For instance, in this rather well-known song, ビュワーン is used to describe the sound of a bullet train. youtube.com/watch?v=p3JhisDvkoE In your book, however, they had to use something that started with シ to go with number 4.
    – user4032
    Sep 24, 2014 at 15:33
  • @非回答者 Cool! Can you explain why the tail is in hiragana?
    – user2740
    Sep 25, 2014 at 9:42
  • 1
    @user2740 っと makes it clear that it's a quotation. if it were in katakana, it could be taken as part of the actual sound. Although there are plenty of examples to the contrary, it makes it clearer which part is "sound-representing-state-or-event" and which part is "language"
    – sova
    Mar 8, 2015 at 6:33
  • @sova that answers all my questions. Make this an answer and I shall accept it.
    – user2740
    Mar 8, 2015 at 19:49

1 Answer 1


シュワー is the sound of something moving fast, in this case, a bullet train.

Onomatopoeia in Japanese is quite interesting. It plays a bigger role in everyday Japanese than it does in everyday English. There is common onomatopoeia for Japanese words where we have none for the same words in English. And Japanese speakers will use often different onomatopoeia to describe the same sound.

I remember watching a game show in Japan where participants had to identify the nuances in sound conveyed by various onomatopoeia. For example, they were debating about how ザー is the sound of strong rainfall, but ガー is the sound of even stronger rainfall.

In your sentence, シュワー , like most onomatopoeia, is written in katakana. The rest of the sentence is written in hiragana, as is typical for a children's book.

As another user mentioned, っと immediately following the onomatopoeia makes it clear that シュワー is a quotation.

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