I just returned from Hokkaido a few weeks ago. Winter is still in full swing over there, so there was heaps of snow everywhere.

When snow piles up, it freezes, causing a smooth, thin shell of ice to form over the surface. Children (and adults, too!) tend to slip, slide and fall, and the roads become slick with ice. We often refer to this phenomenon as “tsuru tsuru”.

When we talk about smooth, slippery or shiny things, we use the onomatopoeia “tsuru tsuru”. Like the frozen roads in sub-zero winter that are covered in ice, or your still-damp skin after a good soak in a mineral-rich onsen… or even the glossy surface of a completely bald head! If you’re into anime, you’ll be familiar with this character called Tsurupika Hagemaru, whose shiny head is definitely “tsuru tsuru”.

“Tsuru tsuru” is also used to describe the sound one makes when eating udon. Imagine the thick, slippery noodles, slick with flavourful broth, sliding their way into your mouth in one single fluid movement. It’s indeed a satisfying feat to slurp up each plump strand of udon without having to bite them in half!

That being said, when it comes to eating soba noodles, the most common Japanese way is to slurp as loudly as possible – not only does it spread the flavours more evenly in your mouth, but you’re also acknowledging that you’re enjoying your noodles! This distinct sound is known as “zuru zuru”.

I could go on about “zuru zuru”, but that’s a story reserved for another episode of Go Go Nihongo. See you next month!

“So, are you a ‘tsuru tsuru’ or ‘zuru zuru’ kind of person? Which one do you prefer – udon or soba?”

Akiko Nishio is the principal of A To Z Language Centre, with more than 19 years of experience in teaching Japanese.


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