In Japanese, there are a variety of expressions related to rain: 雨 (あめ, ame). This is probably because Japan has four distinct seasons and we see many types of rainfalls in each season. This article explains various Japanese expressions related to rain in a comprehensive way!
Words that describe types of Rain
1. にわか雨 (にわかあめ, niwaka ame)
にわか雨 literally means ‘sudden rain’, and describes rain that starts to fall suddenly (and stops soon)
When I was about to go home, ‘にわか雨’ (sudden rain) just fell.
2. 夕立（ゆうだち, yūdachi）
夕立 means ‘heavy にわか雨 (sudden rain) in the evening, especially in summer. The first kanji character ‘夕’ comes from ‘夕方 (ゆうがた)’ meaning ‘evening’. Many Japanese dictionaries define 夕立 as ‘sudden heavy rain in summer’, as it is typically seen in between June and August. However, many people use this word whenever they see heavy rain in the evening.
Because 夕立 started to fall, I went home early
3. 通り雨（とおりあめ, tōri ame）
It means ‘rain that comes suddenly and goes away quickly’. The word 通り (とおり) comes from the word ‘通る (とおる)’ meaning ‘pass by/go through’.
Because it was 通り雨, the game was resumed
4. 天気雨 (てんきあめ, tenki ame); also お天気雨 (otenki ame)
It literally means ‘sunny rain’ and describes a rainfall when it’s sunny. The word 天気 (てんき) usually means ‘weather’, but it can also mean ‘sunny’ as in this expression.
Because it’s 天気雨, it will probably stop raining soon.
the weather today
It was good that it became sunny in the afternoon.
5. 小雨, 大雨, and 豪雨: (light, heavy and very strong rain)
- 小雨（こさめ, kosame）: light shower; ‘小 (こ)’ means ‘small’
- 大雨（おおあめ, ōame）: heavy rain; ‘大 (おお)’ means ‘large’
- 豪雨（ごうう, gōu）: very heavy rain with strong wind/thunder; ‘豪(ごう)’ means ‘intense, strong’. Incidentally, 豪 also stands for 豪州 (ごうしゅう) meaning ‘Australia’.
Note that ‘雨’ has different readings in each word: ‘さめ’, ‘あめ’ and ‘う’. There are no concise rules that help you remember them, unfortunately.
6. ゲリラ豪雨 (げりらごうう, gerira gōu)
Literally, ゲリラ豪雨 means ‘“guerrilla” heavy rain’. Figuratively, it describes heavy rain that falls suddenly and severely like ‘guerrilla warfare’. It often describes a downpour in a very narrow area.
7. 台風 (たいふう, taifuu)
As you may know, 台風 (たいふう) is ‘a typhoon’ in Japanese. Both words sound very similar as they share the same origin. There is another word called ‘暴風雨 (ぼうふうう, boufūu)’ that describes strong rain like a typhoon. This word consists of three kanji characters 暴 (ぼう, violent/rage), 風 (ふう, wind) and 雨 (う, rain).
Words for Seasonal Rain in Japan
There are several words that describe rain in a specific season, and most of them have unusual readings.
1. 梅雨（つゆ, tsuyu): Japan’s rainy season in summer (Early June ~ Mid July)
2. 五月雨 (さみだれ, samidare): rain in May
- It’s May in the old Japanese calendar; therefore, it technically describes rain in June or July.
3. 秋雨 (あきさめ, akisame): rain in autumn
4. 春雨 (しゅんう, shun u): rain in spring
- Interestingly, 春雨 is also the name of the Chinese rice noodle ‘粉条’ (rice vermicelli). In this case, its reading is ‘はるさめ’.
Words/Idioms Related to Rain
1. 雨宿り（あまやどり, amayadori）
It means ‘to stay under the roof until it stops raining’. The kanji character 宿(やど) means ‘a hotel’ or ‘a place to stay in’.
Because にわか雨 has started to rain, let’s do 雨宿り at that café.
2. 明日は大雪/大雨だ(あしたは おおゆき/おおあめ だ, ashita wa ōyuki/ōame da)
This idiom literally means ‘It will snow/rain a lot tomorrow.’ It is used when someone does something nice uncharacteristically of them. Here, heavy rain/snow is a playful metaphor for a rare event. You may also say 台風 (たいふう; typhoon) instead of heavy snow/rain.
Is Taro studying early in the morning? Well, it’ll snow a lot tomorrow.
3. 相合傘 (あいあいがさ, aiai gasa)
相合傘 means ‘to share one umbrella among two persons (esp. a couple)’. Many kids (early teens) yearn for doing 相合傘 with their crush. It’s also common among kids to illustrate 相合傘 as to
(1) make fun of a pair of people (e.g. two persons who look lovely together but not in a relationship)
(2) secretively write a wish on their notebook/desk to be together with their crush.
(An Example of 相合傘 drawing below)
4. 雨後の筍のように(うご の たけのこ のように)
It literally means ‘like bamboo shoots after rain’. Figuratively it means ‘a plethora of similar things happen one after another’, usually with a negative connotation that there are too many. The reason why we say ‘bamboo shoots after rain’ is that a number of bamboo shoots (culms) are said to come out of the ground after rain. Note that ‘takenoko’, a Japanese word for ‘bamboo shoot’, is written in hiragana (たけのこ), katakana (タケノコ) or kanji (‘筍’ or ‘竹の子’)
In Tokyo, the number of bubble tea shops has increased significantly like bamboo shoots after rain.
A sea of fake news websites appear like bamboo shoots after rain.
Onomatopoeia for Rains
1. ポツポツ/パラパラ：sound of raindrops
- It is often used to describe when rain has just started to fall.
2. しとしと: sound of light rain resonating in a quiet place
3. ザーザー: sound of heavy rain
4. 土砂降り (どしゃぶり)
- 土砂降り is yet another Japanese word for heavy rain. It is compose of どしゃ (sound of heavy rain) and ぶり (falling). The kanji ‘土砂’ (どしゃ) is 当て字 for どしゃ, and therefore the meaning of 土砂, ‘earth and sand’, has nothing to do with 土砂降り.
当て字 (あてじ) means using kanji characters to represent the pronunciation, but not the meaning.